Southeast Michigan transit tax plan won't make the ballot

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The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan rejected plans to put a $5.4 billion, 20-year package of upgrades to the voters.

The plan would have used a four-county property tax levy to raise the $5.4 billion. Backers were pushing to the measure on the November ballot and the Thursday vote by the authority represented the last chance to meet an August deadline.

The measure was the latest in a series of proposals that have been shot down because of divisions between leaders in Macomb and Oakland Counties and those in Washtenaw and Wayne counties and the City of Detroit.

The most recent draft of the Connect Southeast Michigan Plan for Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties included a 20-year property tax at 1.50 mills, which would have generated $5.4 billion in millage revenue, and leveraged an additional $1.4 billion in state, federal and fare revenues for in regional transit.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans supported the new plan. Evans said he was disappointed over the outcome but it won't deter him from continuing to push for a deal.

“Connect Southeast Michigan was an achievable, reasonable solution to a problem this region has struggled with for 50 years,” Evans said. “It took into account the input of all four counties after a year of negotiations that we assumed were conducted in good faith. Yet, this effort was torpedoed by shortsighted politics. The residents of Southeast Michigan are smart enough to see through the politics. The silver lining is that communities, including some opt-outs, are considering their transit needs more than ever before, and I’m confident we will get it done moving forward.”

Dave Massaron, Detroit’s chief operating officer, said voters deserved the right to consider this plan in November. “This region desperately needs investment in transit to stay competitive,” he said. “The city will continue to invest in its system and will work to find a regional solution in 2019.”

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel have publicly opposed the plan.

Patterson said he wants a regional plan that features a smaller taxing footprint to include only the county’s 38 communities that opted in to SMART in 1995. He said a plan can be agreed to in 2019 if all the major issues are resolved among the regional leaders and the RTA.

“The RTA didn’t want to reduce the footprint,” said Patterson. “This fight is not over yet. If they (the RTA) would just sit down and negotiate with us, instead of blowing us off, we might be able to make some progress. The RTA’s biggest obstacle was that they got greedy. They thought they had the votes and were going to stick it to the taxpayer. I wasn’t going to double- cross my opt-out communities.”

The plan called for new bus routes connecting job centers, increased service on existing lines, improved service to regional airports, expanded commuter rail service, and infrastructure work that support transit. Under statute, 85% of tax revenue generated in an individual county would have to be spent there.

It was larger than one floated in 2016 that was rejected by voters. The $4.6 billion millage request failed 50.5% to 49.5%. While Washtenaw and Wayne counties favored the millage, Oakland County voters were split and Macomb County rejected it.

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