Disrupting DARTA


Published January 7, 2003

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler allowed petty politics to mar the conclusion of his 12 year tenure as the state's chief executive. Two days before Gov. Jennifer Granholm was sworn into office, Engler vetoed House Bill 5467, a popularly supported transportation bill. HB 5467 would have created the Detroit Area Regional Transit Authority, in an attempt to coordinate transportation systems in southeast Michigan. The transit authority, which took legislators two years to develop, must now be reintroduced.

Beside the obvious benefits of linking Detroit's and the suburbs' bus systems, DARTA would have created a vehicle for establishing a long-term transportation plan for the Detroit area. Metro Detroit's current system is a completely inadequate tool to provide transportation for the region's population. Once the region begins to consider this new transit option, an organizing body such as DARTA is essential.

Engler had proposed the establishment of 15 charter schools under the direct control of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. After much debate on the House floor, the proposal passed the House on Dec. 13, the same day DARTA also passed the Legislature. On Dec. 30, the Senate voted against the charter schools proposal. That same day, Engler vetoed the DARTA bill, reportedly stating "that if the region couldn't get its act together on education, it didn't make sense to help transit." Engler's rationale is disconcerting and indicative of the attitudes toward Detroit that marked the Engler era. The governor's decisions to treat the city with kid gloves and exploit tensions between Detroit and its suburbs in order to generate political capital led to sour relations between Detroit and its surroundings.

The charter schools legislation would have established schools in the Detroit area, which would have been detrimental to the public school system in the state. Supporters of the bill claim that students at these schools perform better than those in the present public school system. However, these charter schools would only be band-aid solutions for the ongoing problems with city schools. Instead of establishing a few marginally improved schools, the state should increase funding in order to improve the entire system.

Incoming legislators should garner the state's discontent about the veto against DARTA in order to gain support when reintroducing the bill. Promptly passing it again with the new Legislature is necessary to get this authority off the ground. A failure to pass this bill relatively soon would hinder securing federal funds for the authority. This link would allow for a free flow of peoples and ideas within the area, which would help build a vibrant city and metro area.