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Latest plan for regional transit dies in Michigan Legislature

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Amidst concerns from northern Oakland County lawmakers, House Republicans declined to bring the legislation up for a vote

A black bus drives down a boulevard between tall buildings. Photo by Michelle Gerard

A united regional transit system in Southeast Michigan will once again be put on hold after Republicans in the Michigan House declined to bring the new proposal up for a vote. It looks like the latest in a long series of failed plans to bring about regional transit.

In November last year, Metro Detroit leadership put forth a plan to amend the Municipal Partnership Act of 2011, which allows for local municipalities to partner on services and raise taxes. If the amendment passed the Michigan Legislature, it would allow Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties to propose a tax millage for the 2020 ballot and leave the most recalcitrant county, Macomb, off the ballot proposal.

But yesterday, when the legislation was expected to come up for a vote in the House, Republican leadership set it aside. House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) said members of his caucus, specifically in northern Oakland County, were concerned that constituents would see tax increases but not commensurate services.

The Detroit News reports that the legislation likely would have passed had it come up for vote.

“Transit should be decided by voters based on an actual transit plan with proposed services, but we can’t even cut through the political smoke screens to debate a substantive plan,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said in a statement. “It’s a complete lack of vision, and our region and state suffer because of it.”

That “lack of vision” has persisted for years. In the 2016 election, a ballot proposal to fund a unified regional transit system narrowly failed.

Leaving out Macomb seemed like an obvious path forward given the resistance by both leaders and residents. In the lead up to the 2016 vote, former Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel expressed skepticism of the plan, and ultimately their counties voted against it. In Oakland, the vote failed about only 1,000 votes. But in Macomb, it was by nearly 75,000.

The two executives then thwarted an attempt to revive the millage for the 2018 election. David Coulter, who succeeded Patterson as Oakland County Executive, is firmly behind regional transit and supported this latest plan.

Given that this issue keeps coming up every two years, it won’t be the last time we hear a plan for regional transit. But another delay seems inevitable.