The state’s $160 million
transportation fund is at risk. Last week, the state Court of
Appeals ruled that the fund is not protected under the Michigan
Constitution, which means that the little money Michigan has to
provide vital transportation services to its citizens could soon be
cut. The state’s mass transit system is already lacking and
this most recent blow has the potential to make the situation even
worse.

Kate Green

The battle over transportation funding began in 2001, when Gov.
John Engler redirected $12.7 million of state sales tax revenues
from the transportation fund to the general fund. State public
transportation organizations sued, taking the issue to court. In
2002, the Ingham County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the
transportation groups, granting them a preliminary injunction,
which prohibited the transfer of money to the general fund.
However, last week’s Court of Appeals ruling leaves the fund
unprotected, meaning that Gov. Jennifer Granholm, as well as future
governors, will potentially have the power to cut the
transportation fund even further in the future.

It is essential that the state keep its transportation fund
intact because every dollar would be sorely missed. A large portion
of Michigan’s transportation fund is used to qualify for
matching funds from the federal government. This means that for
every dollar the state takes away from transportation, the federal
government takes away additional funding.

Public transportation in Michigan is already inadequate and
cannot afford to undergo further cuts. Last January, Engler vetoed
House Bill 5467, which would have created the Detroit Area Regional
Transit Authority, a proposal to integrate the Detroit and suburban
bus systems. If implemented, DARTA would have facilitated suburban
residents’ commute to the city. Due to the economic slowdown
Detroit has been suffering from for the last several years,
well-paying jobs have been moving outward toward the suburbs,
making it especially important that low-income workers have an
affordable and efficient means to gain access to these jobs. Public
transportation is an essential ingredient to revitalizing Detroit
and maintaining the economic health of the state.

Furthermore, public transportation is needed to help alleviate
the Metro Detroit traffic crisis. Despite expanding highways for
several years, Michigan’s roads remain congested and
overcrowded. The only remedy for this problem is a mass transit
system that would allow residents to commute to and from work
without the use of cars, as DARTA would have done.

The state’s transportation system is already inadequate
and in need of repair. It cannot afford to undergo even harsher
cutbacks. The Michigan Public Transit Association should appeal the
Court of Appeals’s ruling to the state Supreme Court —
as it plans to do — in order to attempt to maintain its
current level of funding. In the meantime, Granholm should refrain
from cutting public transportation funding.

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