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 Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan discusses the newly introduced House Bill 5229, which proposes to change state law to provide funding for regional transportation in Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties, at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak Nov. 18.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan discusses the newly introduced House Bill 5229, which proposes to change state law to provide funding for regional transportation in Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties, at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak Nov. 18.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

Regional transit is aim of newly introduced bill

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published November 22, 2019


METRO DETROIT — On Nov. 18, leaders from Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties, as well as legislators from around the state, gathered at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, to voice their support for a new bill in the name of regional transportation.

House Bill 5229, which was introduced Nov. 7 and has yet to be heard by the House Committee on Transportation, proposes revisions to the Municipal Partnership Act in terms of how taxes can be levied.

The Municipal Partnership Act, enacted in 2011, outlines standards, powers and duties for certain joint municipal endeavors, including levying property taxes to fund specific services if approved by voters.

Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties joined together to create a foundation for a three-county regional transit plan. Macomb County opted not to be part of the venture.

The three proposed amendments would allow voters to approve any municipal partnership levy by a majority vote within each participating jurisdiction; exempt the partnership from millage caps; and protect millage revenues from Downtown Development Authority and Tax Incremental Financing captures, according to supporters.

“This is not a transit plan,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said. “I’m here with my colleagues to announce a new tool to get us to a three-county plan.”

First, the bill must pass in the House, pass in the Senate, and be signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. If that happens, the three counties would conduct a public input process and negotiate the partnership. The goal is to secure voter approval of a regional transit levy in all three participating counties in November 2020.

“I’ve always wanted to see a four-county transit plan under the Regional Transportation Authority, but I respect the fact that the Macomb County leadership feel it’s not a priority at this time,” Evans said. “For those of us that want to keep our children in this region, we need to make a serious effort and attempt at providing real transportation.”

He said proponents of the bill hope to build on the existing services of the RTA, the Detroit Department of Transportation and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation to improve transportation services in all three counties.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said that Macomb County is already fully covered by SMART, but he supports the efforts of its regional partners.

“Macomb is very much connected with the system we have, but there are communities that Oakland and Wayne can’t connect with,” he said. “This is about a change in legislation to vote on how to tax people. I don’t need to be part of that legislation.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said he believes the arrival of a new Oakland County executive changes the conversation.

“A quarter of our residents in the city of Detroit do not own a car, which means their ability to get to work, school and entertainment is limited by a transit system which is probably the worst in the country,” Duggan said. “Nobody is going to repeat the mistakes of (the failed five-county RTA proposal in) 2016. We’re going to be very prepared, and people in the communities will help design the plan, which, ultimately, will be the right key.”

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said improved transit and mobility, if done right, has the potential to enhance economic development, resolve workforce constraints and improve the quality of life for residents.

State Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance, in Monroe County, sponsored the bill. He said the potential legislation change could benefit communities all across the state of Michigan.

“None of this is a mandate. None of this is something that’s forced upon the citizens. It’s all something that can be chosen and done based upon a county’s involvement and the voters in each jurisdiction,” Sheppard said. “We’re working hard on transportation plans and what we do for the future, and it’s not just this particular bill we’re talking about. It’s a comprehensive approach about what we’re trying to do to improve infrastructure and dollars utilized in the entire state of Michigan.”

Senator Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, said she is a proponent of the new bill.

“I think what’s strong about the bill is it emphasizes local control,” McMorrow said. “I’m the youngest member of the Senate, and what I heard from people all over the district when I was running, particularly younger residents, is that the lack of a regional transit system is holding us back.”

She said she commutes to Lansing three days a week and one day tried to map out a route using public transportation. She learned it would have taken 6 1/2 hours — one way.

“Obviously, this is a very, very preliminary first step just for the counties to start talking, but it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m glad to see Oakland County participating,” McMorrow said. “I’m happy to work with my colleagues in the House to get it through. It’s an important tool to allow locals to take ownership of it themselves and, honestly, they shouldn’t have to wait for the state, but let’s move it forward.”