Metro Detroit leaders reach regional transit deal

From The Detroit News:

An eleventh-hour deal was struck Aug. 2 by the top elected leaders in Metro Detroit to save a $4.6 billion transportation millage proposal to help fund regional rapid transit.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said Tuesday that a “deal to make the deal” had been reached.

“It’s a huge breakthrough today,” he said.

The agreement comes after the Regional Transit Authority’s board voted 4-5 Thursday against placing the 20-year, 1.2-mill tax on the Nov. 8 ballot that would fund rapid transit.

A recent rift between counties threatened the authority’s millage proposal, but the secret afternoon meeting Tuesday addressed the concerns raised by county executives Mark Hackel of Macomb and L. Brooks Patterson of Oakland, and secured their support.

At issue was whether future funding votes would protect the interests of a few or each county, guarantees on funding allocations and concerns about when the authority would take over the M-1 Rail system now known as the QLine. In addition, Oakland received assurances that transit service would be granted to more communities in the master plan, officials said.

Patterson also said the deal addresses concerns such as ironclad assurances that every county receives 85 percent of what they raise in terms of tax revenue from the millage and that each county will have to approve any funding allocations in future votes.

“Now we’re going to set about memorializing it in writing so we know where we stand,” said Patterson.

The group of regional leaders met in downtown Detroit on the last day to move forward to have the ballot language for the transportation millage certified by county clerks in time for the Nov. 8 ballot.

A tentative meeting was set for Thursday to vote on the plan for Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and RTA chief Michael Ford also attended the meeting.

The 20-year millage would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $120 annually.

“I congratulate the other members of the Big Four, because nobody went in there with the idea to sink it,” Patterson said. “We all wanted to save it.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the eleventh-hour negotiations addressed his concern about governance of the transit authority with representatives from Detroit and Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties.

“There will be at least one vote from each county and the city of Detroit,” he said, adding that the structure ensures no community will be marginalized.

“It’s a great way of resolving the issue,” he said.

The latest development was good news for Ford, the transit authority’s CEO.

“We’re pleased that the regional leaders have reached agreement on a regional transit plan to place before voters in November and look forward to a successful vote at the special RTA board meeting Thursday morning,” Ford said in a statement.

Evans said after meeting that he remained hopeful that residents will be able to vote on the millage in November.

“While there are still minor concerns that must be addressed, our goal is to improve the public transit system in southeast Michigan,” Evans said in a statement. “The improved public transportation system that the RTA is proposing will build upon the progress that Detroit and Wayne County have made in the past few years, progress that has strengthened our region. With this plan everybody wins.”

Duggan also issued a statement Tuesday following the agreement.

“We appreciate our partners agreeing to come together and move our region forward,” Duggan said. “This regional transit plan will bring not only independence and opportunity for people all over southeast Michigan, but it will allow us to compete with metropolitan areas across the country for development and investment. This agreement also signifies that our region is starting to move beyond a half-century of infighting that has served only to divide us and hold southeast Michigan back.”