A plan to raise $1.7 billion in transit taxes to support a regional transit plan for Southeast Michigan was quashed by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

Patterson said in his state of the county address on Wednesday he would oppose asking voters across all of Oakland County to help fund a regional mass transit system.

The plan floated by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans' office would have drawn a new boundary for the Regional Transit Authority to include nine communities which opted out of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation in the mid-1990s, but exclude the other 30 communities in Oakland County that have opted-out of the SMART bus system, said Bill Mullan, spokesman for the Oakland County executive.

Evans and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan hit back at Patterson.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan at the Detroit Economic Club in September 2015.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says he is surprised Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has pulled support for a regional transit plan. Bloomberg

Evans said that Patterson’s decision to allow some communities to opt out of the plan was wrong.

“Regional systems work because everyone is in it as a region as a whole,” Evans said in a statement. “No matter the footprint, you can’t cut out holes in the middle and work around them.”

Evans said he believes “there’s enough support for transit in this region that it’s going to come in some form.”

“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 aboard, the stakes are too high,” Evans said.

Duggan said in a statement on Thursday that it was Patterson himself who lobbied for and helped pass Public Act 387 in 2012, the law that requires the RTA to have countywide transit plans. The legislation requires that at least 85% of funds the RTA collects from a county be spent there. “So when he told the public last night that Oakland County communities would be assessed by the RTA for a "tax machine" for which they would receive little to no benefit, he knew full well that what he was saying was false,” Duggan said.

Duggan said that Patterson had given his word that he would work in good faith to try to develop a countywide plan in time for the 2018 ballot. “That’s why it was so surprising to hear him last night declare he would 'never betray' his Oakland County communities by pursuing such a plan,” said Duggan.

Patterson had been meeting with leaders in Wayne, Macomb and Washtenaw counties, and Duggan, to try and work out a new transit plan since late last year. The hope was to put together a ballot proposal and millage, under the umbrella of the four-county Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority.

In November 2016, a $4.6 billion Regional Transit Authority 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.

Patterson said on Wednesday that he offered a deal to regional leaders on a new Regional Transit Authority that would raise $1.2 billion in taxes over the next 20 years for an improved mass transportation network, but exclude Novi, Waterford, Lake Angelus, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake, Orchard Lake and Bloomfield Hills from a new millage.

He said elected leaders in Detroit, Wayne County and Washtenaw County want those nine communities, which opted out of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation in the mid-1990s, included in a proposed service area to raise nearly $1.7 billion in transit taxes over 20 years.

"I've been asked to force into the tax plan those nine communities that have long ago opted out of the current transit tax," Patterson said. "I want you to know that as long as I’m County Executive, I will respect the wishes of the voters of the select nine Oakland County opt-out communities. I will not betray them and slip some, or all of them, against their will, into a tax machine from which they can expect little or no return on their investment.”

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