Lawmakers heard public comments on the current road funding package in Lansing this week, with several individuals expressing concern that the plan does not fund public transit. Most who addressed the adequacy of the proposal’s estimated $450 million revenue stream agreed that more funding is needed to repair our entire transportation system, with estimates ranging from $1.6 to just over $2 billion dollars.
Rich Studley, President and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce framed the funding issue in terms of jobs and the economy, noting that while states surrounding Michigan have taken action by passing comprehensive funding solutions for transportation, Michigan has lagged behind, managing only to talk about a substantive increase for the past 14 years. “If the train never leaves the station, we won’t get to the destination,” Studley said, referring to the need for lawmakers to hammer out a comprehensive funding solution across the aisles. He said the plan is a good starting point, but to make Michigan more competitive, additional funds will be needed – somewhere around $1.6 billion. Transportation funding is one of the Chamber’s priorities, and Studley expressed the need to fund roads and public transportation.
Executive Director Clark Harder of the Michigan Public Transit Association continued the conversation by referencing the 1997 transportation package that both he and Studley worked on during Harder’s time in the Legislature. The 1997 package was the last substantive increase to transportation funding, and included a 4-cent tax on gasoline that went exclusively to roads. Harder said the Legislature in ’97 didn’t do enough to raise adequate revenue for transportation. If they had, we wouldn’t have our current funding deficit and poor infrastructure. Harder also said that when the Legislature cut out public transportation from the 4-cent increase, it was a serious setback.
“We carved out public transit from the 4-cent increase, and public transit has been paying ever since,” Harder said. He urged lawmakers to include public transportation in the current funding plan, citing funding needs across the state and transit’s economic development potential. Harder mentioned severe cuts proposed by Flint’s Mass Transportation Authority, which would cut evening service from many routes due to a lack of funding, as an example of serious cuts occurring throughout the state.
Michigan Environmental Council President and CEO Chris Kolb recognized the road proposal as a step forward, but called on lawmakers to run the funding proposal through the full Act 51 funding formula to ensure public transportation gets its fair share of revenues. Currently, almost all of the funds skip the top half of the formula that includes the Comprehensive Transportation Fund, public transit’s source of money. “The transportation network is more than just roads and bridges,” Kolb said, noting that public transportation has lost an estimated $259 million dollars since it was cut out of the 1997 funding increase. After mentioning several benefits of public transit, including $730 million in economic benefits across the state, Kolb said that running the proposal through the full formula would help secure transportation options for those who rely on public transit to get to routine medical appointments, school, work and the grocery store. Kolb also said overall transportation funding needs to be higher to meet Michigan’s needs, and that lawmakers should work towards a comprehensive funding solution closer to $2 billion.
Representative Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) added that public transit has been mentioned by Governor Snyder and others as a way to attract and retain talent. Millennials and other groups value the ability to use electronic devices while traveling, and public transit provides this opportunity. Representative Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) said that officials in his district are looking at public transit as a way to plan for accommodating an aging population. Representative Dianda said that much of his district is rural, and around 60% of his constituents are aged 65 or older. A strong public transit system would allow older individuals to retain their independence and mobility.
Legislative Associate John LaMacchia of the Michigan Municipal League rounded out the bunch advocating for the funding plan to go through the full Act 51 formula. “This has to be about more than just roads,” LaMacchia said, tying public transportation to our state’s competitiveness.
Testimony from these Trans4M members demonstrated the value of transit to their organizations and to Michigan residents. Now, we would like to hear why public transit is important to you. Tell us using hashtag #transitmatters on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Add your story to the conversation!
Written by: Jeff Prygoski, Fellow, Transportation for Michigan