INTRO: Governor Snyder appears to be in position to sign a law to fix the roads. It will also boost funding for public transit. But it will require a special election in May where voters raise the Michigan sales tax from 6 to 7%. Transit would get an extra $110 million a year. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports on the legislature’s resistance to paying for transportation.
The group Transportation 4 Michigan knows that to get better mass transit it has to lobby for the whole transportation package. They too have to call for fixing the roads. But how? Said Bill Rogers the Republican from Brighton and brother of Congressman Mike Rogers.
“The irony of this is that everybody says don’t tax me and in the same breath ‘you have to fix the roads.’ That’s a very tall task especially when things have gotten to the point they have. My whole focus has always been how do we create something for longevity.”
The advocacy group brought in concerned citizens from around the state who stopped legislators in the halls of the capitol. They started inside the Michigan Municipal League where they got coached from lobbyist John LaMacchia.
“The senate has put forward a very responsible plan that’s comprehensive. It maintains transit funding. We want to maintained at the end of any solution that’s out there and to utilize new revenue to solve this problem. That’s the direction I would go in.”
The current transportation budget is $3 billion. The deal announced this week would add another $1.3 billion a year for transportation. The more conservative House wanted to cut $43 million from public transit. That would have limited the purchase and maintenance of buses. Mary Priebe is from Howell and needs the bus for medical treatment in Ann Arbor. She takes the Livingston County Essential Transportation Service called LETS.
“Letts has to turn people away because they don’t have enough funds. We have buses that don’t have heat. Their wheelchair lifts don’t work so they have to use them manually. I would love to have some of the representatives ride the buses just for one day.”
I told Priebe and other citizens that most legislators aren’t concerned with public transit because the majority of Michiganders never use it. Republican owned cars at the capitol have bumper stickers that read ‘friends don’t let friends raise taxes.’ But Bill Rogers said his party won’t forget about transit riders.
“I would be hard pressed to believe that we’re going to cut all of those folks out and say we’re not going to transport you. But are going to be willing to vote for raising revenue on its own not taking from another pile of state money?
“I don’t believe in the senate plan, just pure revenue. No I don’t. And 95% of my constituents have said so.”
Michelle Barney works in health care and lives in Ypsilanti. I echoed republican talking points to her.
“I understand your friends don’t let friends vote for taxes. What I don’t understand is you want the economy of Michigan to improve. How are you going to improve anything without investing in it?”
“Give tax breaks to the job creators,” I said.
“And you don’t see transit as a job creator. Maybe that’s the mistake we all made: stressing the neediness of people. What you don’t see is that there are plenty of us. I am one. I am 71. I have a job three days a week every week and I pay taxes on that job to Michigan. And I couldn’t do that without a bus. Don’t the legislators see that?”
I went back to talk to Republican representative Rogers.
“You’re going to have to be able to say you gotta raise some taxes.”
“Can’t say. I like our plan right now. It’s still predicated on growth. There still will be additional revenue. I don’t believe in arbitrarily say we’re going to have to tax you more.”
Legislators remain scared of raising people’s taxes. So they will ask voters in a special election in May to raise taxes on themselves. Clark Harder is a former republican state representative from Owosso. He directs the Michigan Public Transit Association. They are lobbyists. Harder is satisfied.
“It definitely would provide the kind of revenue stream to do things like the Southeast Michigan RTA and some of the advancements in public transportation that the governor has talked about for sometime.”
For Michigan Now I’m Chris McCarus in Detroit.