Patterson on forcing cities to opt into transit tax: ‘I’ll never do it’

By: Terry Oparka | C&G Newspapers | Published February 12, 2018

 Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson

OAKLAND COUNTY/PONTIAC — Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson ended his Feb. 8 State of the County address before a packed house at the Flagstar Strand Theatre for the Performing Arts with a strong message, drawing a standing ovation: He will not force communities that have opted out of public transit to fund it.

Patterson said the communities that currently opt out of SMART bus service — Novi, Waterford, Lake Angelus, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake, Orchard Lake and Bloomfield Hills — “would see or utilize very little, if any public transit service.”

Patterson said regional leaders rejected his plan in which a “tax area” for Oakland County would include only the 24 opt-in communities currently supporting the Oakland County Public Transportation Authority — which provides services via the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation.

In 2016, voters in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties narrowly defeated a proposal to allow the Regional Transit Authority to levy 1.2 mills to fund mass transit.

The proposal aimed to add high-speed transportation to Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties. The 1.2-mill property tax assessment would have collected approximately $3 billion over 20 years and would have been combined with $1.7 billion in federal and state matching funds to create rapid bus and rail lines, and to cover operational costs.

“The Wayne/Detroit/Washtenaw advocates decided that the potential tax area my administration proposed, one that could raise some $1.2 billion over the next 20 years, would be inadequate. … A request was made that I force opt-out communities into the plan,” Patterson said.

“They call it leadership,” he said. “I call it betrayal. I won’t do it. I’ll never do it.”

Bill Mullan, spokesman for Patterson’s office, issued this statement: “When the regional leaders met in Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s office to discuss regional transit, together they reviewed a map developed by Kresge Foundation-funded transit consultants HNTB, which shows a reduced taxing footprint for regional transit. It’s the same map Patterson utilized in his 2018 State of the County speech transit section. In addition, when members of the Patterson administration met with their regional counterparts regarding transit, they made it very clear from the outset that any new plan must entail a reduced taxing footprint. Yes, Patterson is committed to a good faith effort to create a plan for regional transit for the November ballot, but one that is grounded in reality and respects the will of voters.”

Others weigh in on transit issue
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans was at the event, and he issued this statement Feb. 8: “I have a lot of respect for Brooks Patterson — that’s not going to change. We’ll undoubtedly continue to partner on some things, but he’s wrong on this. Regional systems work because everyone is in it as a region as a whole. No matter the footprint, you can’t cut out holes in the middle and work around them.”

He said Amazon passed over Detroit for a second headquarters because the city lacks the transit to attract the talent it needs.

“I believe there’s enough support for transit in this region that it’s going to come in some form. ... If my peers in Oakland and Macomb say they don’t want it, that’s their decision. That should have been expressed long ago. We’ll shift gears as needed. We need to build something. Ideally, it’s with the entire region on board, but we can’t wait forever for everyone to be on board. The stakes are too high.”

Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward, D-Royal Oak, said in a statement that Patterson is “completely out of touch. We heard tonight his disdain for improving regional transit, and little or nothing about workforce preparedness, fixing our roads and sewers, or raising the wages of working people. Democrats are committed to addressing these issues with or without Brooks’ support. Over the next couple months, we will propose bold, yet achievable solutions to address our problems, move our community forward and secure prosperity for all in our county, and not just the rich.”

Investment continues
During his speech, Patterson touted the $1.2 billion in investments made in Oakland County:

• A $75 million investment by Japanese company Denso International America to expand its North American regional headquarters in Southfield.

• A $22 million investment from Sweden-based Autoliv to consolidate operations in a new facility in Southfield.

• A $25 million investment from LG Electronics in a Hazel Park assembly plant and to enlarge its tech center in Troy.

He also talked about Mackevision of Troy, which designs and produces high-end 3-D visuals, animations and visual effects, and created many visual effects for the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

Patterson said another area in which Oakland County is booming is robotics: Over two-thirds of Michigan’s robotics companies are located in Oakland County, accounting for 4,400 jobs.

He also discussed the opioid epidemic, comparing the marketing efforts of opioid manufacturers and distributors to “big tobacco.” He discussed the pending lawsuits filed by Michigan communities — including Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties, and Detroit — targeting multiple drugmakers, distributors and retailers for their role in the opioid epidemic across the country.

“It costs our counties millions of dollars a year in treatment, law enforcement costs and public health endeavors to combat opioid abuse,” Patterson said.

Patterson paid tribute to fallen Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Overall and Deputy David Hack, who was critically injured when he was struck by a passing car while investigating a car crash in front of Rochester Adams High School Jan. 4.

Patterson also joked about his new pacemaker. “The rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated. While at the hospital recently I asked, ‘Is that (Oakland County Sheriff) Mike Bouchard on the phone?’ I said, ‘Not yet, Mike. It was only a pacemaker.’”

Staff Writers Julie Snyder, Kayla Dimick and Linda Shepard contributed to this report.