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Little regional unity on display from metro Detroit's "Big Four" leaders this year

The "Big Four." From left: Mark Hackel, L. Brooks Patterson, Mike Duggan, Warren Evans.
Detroit Economic Club
via Twitter
The "Big Four," from left: Mark Hackel, L. Brooks Patterson, Mike Duggan, Warren Evans.

This year’s gathering of Metro Detroit’s “Big Four” political leaders highlighted more points of division than unity.

Those leaders are Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

A spirit of regionalism did not prevail at this year’s event, held annually at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show. And the future of regional transit was a major source of contention.

Duggan and Evans are pushing for a millage proposal on the November ballot that would fund a new regional bus rapid transit system. The leaders have been in talks for the past several months, trying to put together a similar but more limited ballot proposal than the one that narrowly failed in 2016.

There was hope that a new proposal would roll out this month. But in recent weeks, Patterson and Hackel have indicated they’re not on board.

“Right now, we don’t have a plan,” said Patterson, who said his office would spend the next several weeks “canvassing” Oakland County to get voter feedback on the issue.

Hackel expressed even more doubts. He questioned whether it’s a good idea to “invest in more bus routes,” suggesting Detroit automakers have better ideas about improving the overall transportation system.

Evans called that an untenable position. “Nobody has that amount of time,” he said. “Buses are what we have now. Wherever we need to go, we need to be more about developing about the plan and getting the tax base to get us where we need to go.”

Duggan called transit “a central question of this region’s competitiveness,” especially when it comes to connecting workers with job opportunities. “And if we don’t address it, we’re going to keep falling farther and farther behind. I don’t think it’s some casual thing we put off for two years because we don’t get around to it.”

Duggan and Patterson also sparred over reforming Michigan’s auto insurance law, which provides lifetime medical coverage for accident victims.

Duggan revived his aggressive campaign to restructure auto insurance coverage. A prior effort fizzled state legislature late last year. Duggan has cited the issue as his number one second-term priority, saying the current system makes insurance unaffordable for too many Detroiters.

But Patterson shot back, suggesting that Duggan is advancing the insurance industry’s agenda with an eye on the state’s catastrophic claims fund for accident victims.

He says that system, with its lifetime medical coverage for car accident injuries, has made car insurance unaffordable for many Detroiters.

Patterson, who was seriously injured himself in a 2012 car accident, shot back that Duggan is pushing the insurance industry’s agenda. “There it is, around $22 billion. The insurance companies see, that and they want it,” Patterson said.

As for the 2018 governor’s race, Evans and Duggan both said they would support whichever Democrat emerges from the primaries, while Patterson, the lone Republican, said he would support that party’s nominee.

Hackel said he’s “waiting to see what Mike [Duggan] is going to do.” Duggan, again, reiterated that he doesn’t plan to jump into the governor’s race.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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