Ride on

Apr 26, 2006 at 12:00 am

On April 10, the Ferndale City Council unanimously voted to ask state Rep. Andy Meisner (D-Ferndale) and state Sen. Gilda Jacobs (D-Huntington Woods) for help. Try to stay with us here as we explain.

With Ferndale City Manager Tom Barwin among those taking the lead, there's a push under way to drastically improve mass transit in southeast Michigan. One of the questions is where the money to do that would come from. A sales tax increase is being touted as a relatively painless way to raise that money. But for that to occur, the state Constitution would have to be amended so that voters can, in essence, decide for themselves whether they want to fund regional transit projects that way.

And for that to happen — at least in time for the upcoming elections — the state Legislature would have to act to put such a measure on the ballot.

Which is why the Ferndale council decided to ask the two legislators for assistance.

Barwin says that if voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties approved two half-cent increases in their sales taxes — one earmarked for creating new public transit, the other for road repair — that could be $500 million for regional transportation.

"The real message here is that it's time to let the public get involved with the decisions," Barwin says. "Let's put our faith with the people and live with what they decide to do."

But getting from here to there won't be easy. First, it would require a remarkable spirit of camaraderie in the Michigan Legislature to make sure the question got to voters in the first place. Lawmakers would have to approve any additional proposal for the August ballot by June 9. For the November election, the deadline moves to Sept. 8.

Matt Resch, press secretary for state House Speaker Craig DeRoche (R-Novi), says he's "highly doubtful this would even come up for a vote."

Undeterred, Jacobs says she's working on a Senate version and plans to introduce it within a few weeks. Meisner couldn't be reached for comment.

Which brings up the second problem. Readers who place their ears to the ground may already hear the rumblings of anti-tax advocates.

"The plan's not attractive at all," says Oakland County Chief Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who says he's already read the Ferndale council's proposal. "Mass transit is so cost-prohibitive you wouldn't get your money back."

Barwin, who disagrees with Patterson on pretty much everything related to mass transit, disagrees.

"When you do all the math," he says, the tax "would cost residents the same as filling up a tank of gas once or twice per month."

To illustrate the benefits of investing in mass transit, he cites a study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP), a Washington, D.C.-based organization researching transit issues. Besides any convenience that mass transit may bring, the report also states that every $1.25 billion invested in transit results in more than 50,000 new jobs.

"Our feeling is that with gas going up to $3 a gallon, it's completely foolhardy to not be aggressively pursuing a more diverse transportation system," Barwin says.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]