By David Fleet
A pair of House Bills that would help pave the way for a Regional Transportation Authority is all dead.
Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) tabled the bill that had attracted the ire several lawmakers and more than 20 Oakland County supervisors including Brandon and Groveland townships.
The RTA goal, created in 2012 included the City of Detroit, Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties is to create a region with sufficient and secure funding to support enhanced public transportation options for residents.
The role of the RTA will be to link communities where gaps in bus service exists. However, under HB 5229, Macomb County was not part of the plan will be exempted from the RTA.
If the RTA and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners had decided 1.2 mills will not generate adequate tax revenue, due to Macomb County’s exemption, HB 5229 would have still allowed the RTA millage to be increased up to 5 mills. There was no opt-option for townships in HB 5229. In 2016, voters in Wayne and Washtenaw counties approved a tax to create rapid transit lines and modern rail service while Oakland and Macomb counties opposed it.
Senator Ruth Johnson, (R-Groveland Township) had worked to oppose the bill.
“I want to thank every citizen in Oakland County who made calls, wrote letters, or visited their representatives to tell them to stop Lansing from raising their taxes,” said Johnson in a statement. “Lansing asked the legislature to vote for a property tax increase of up to $16 billion for regional transit, and other projects that would have had little or no benefit to our communities.”
House Bill 5500 was introduced by Rep. Dianna Farrington, (R-Utica) on Feb. 26, to replace the controversial HB 5229. Both bills received strong opposition from taxpayers in the northern sections of Oakland County. Their concern with both bills was that they would prompt undue burden without receiving benefit.
“Furthermore, Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter and others wouldn’t even share the plan of how this would benefit all residents of Oakland County,” she said. “In fact, he even told one township official ‘If I showed them the plan, then no one would vote for it.’ They would not even allow us to see how the regional transit money was being spent under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Taxpayers deserve better than this and I will keep fighting for accountability and responsible spending should these bills or related proposals be brought up again.”
Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter, communications director Bill Mullan, responded to the challenges in Lansing.
“HB 5229, which was introduced by Republican leadership and has bipartisan support, if approved, will give us another tool in the toolbox for creating a new transit plan. It will enable the Board of Commissioners to draw the transit footprint in a way that serves the needs of everyone in Oakland County.”
In 2016 voters in Brandon and Groveland townships joined Oakland County voters rejecting an regional transit plan. Brandon voters dumped the plan 2,299 yes to 5,057 no, while Groveland voters tallied 811 yes to 2,033 no
Johnson explained that national experts agree that property taxes are not the best solution for public transit.
“Raising the cost for something every person needs – a place to live – has real impacts,” she said. “Even with our strong economy, 4,000 people in Wayne and Oakland County lost their homes to tax foreclosure last year. This does not include bank foreclosure, but just for property taxes.”
“According to the United Way, up to 45 percent of residents in the north Oakland County communities I serve currently live in poverty or are the working poor,” she said. “I grew up, in part, under the poverty level and I know the struggles families face. It might not seem like a lot to some of the business executives and politicians pushing House Bills 5229 and 5550 but raising property taxes by hundreds or even thousands of dollars on every property owner hurts many including seniors, young families, farmers, renters, and business owners.”
Like Johnson, Groveland Township Supervisor Bob DePalma had strongly opposed the bill.
“This shows that when you question whether or not getting involved makes a difference when all the municipalities get together in unison, with the help with Sen Johnson, and all the supervisors, together we were able to make a difference and stop it,” said DePalma. “That proves that government works.”