Citizens shut out?

By law, the governor of Michigan is required to appoint a citizen advisory committee to provide input on the quadrennial task of determining how billions of dollars in state transportation funds are spent.

The law's intent is to ensure a broad range of interests are formally heard from before legislators decide how to dole out approximately $2 billion to state and local road agencies and public transit agencies.

But the process this time around is winding down and Gov. John Engler still hasn't appointed the panel, which is supposed to represent groups as varied the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers and the Michigan Concrete Pavers Association.

The citizen advisory committee is to examine the work of the Transportation Funding Study Committee, better known as the Act 51 committee, which Engler appointed in February to "recommend updated funding distribution formulas for both state and local road agencies in Michigan," according to Michigan Department of Transportation. The Act 51 committee includes business executives; labor, commerce and tourism representatives; and state legislators from both parties. "Here's the rewriting of an enormous law. We have a huge transportation system in this state," says Kelly Thayer, Michigan Land Use Institute's transportation project coordinator. "The governor's office has left citizens out."

Asked why the committee hasn't been appointed, Engler spokesperson Susan Shafer told Metro Times that all 21 organizations the law says should be represented on the committee haven't submitted nominations. "It seems like one organization, by not turning in a nomination, shouldn't be able to hold up the nomination of an entire committee," observes Thayer, who has been pressing the administration since spring to make the appointments.

Shafer and Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Gary Naeyaert say that even if the citizens' committee had been appointed by the end of 1999, its members would have had only about three weeks to a month to get acclimated before reviewing the Act 51 committee's draft report, which is scheduled to come out Jan. 27. State officials contend that a month is plenty of time for the citizens advisory committee to cover the same material that has taken the Act 51 transportation funding study committee nearly a year to examine.

Thayer says all reasons he has heard for the committee not having been appointed so far "defy common sense."

"This isn't a very radical position we're taking here. The law says citizens can be involved and we think there ought to be a decent amount of time to do that and the governor's office is opposed to that."

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