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New report analyzes transit millage proposal

flickr user Matt Picio
Detroit's Department of Transportation will get $6 million to replace buses.

Voters in four Southeast Michigan counties will decide on November 8 whether to raise property taxes to enhance mass transit systems in the region.

The ballot proposal would authorize the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan to levy a new 1.2 mill tax for 20 years in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and Washtenaw counties. That would mean about $120 a year for the owner of a $200,000 house.  

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a non-partisan research group, released a report today analyzing the pros and cons of the proposal. The report said the new tax would generate $3.1 billion over the course of 20 years,  with $161 million expected in its first year.

According to Council President Eric Lupher, the report provides an examination of the issues so that voters can make an informed decision, but the Council does not take a position on the issues.

"If you value mass transit, then this would be a good thing to accomplish," said Lupher.  He said the proposal could spur regional economic development, bring more federal money to the region, and make life better for the elderly, disabled and those without cars or a preference for public transportation.

"While there are elements to the proposed use of funding we can consider positive to the region," said Lupher in a written statement, "it must be recognized that the use of property tax as the funding mechanism increases an already high property tax burden relative to the rest of the state and many other metropolitan regions in the nation."

Lupher said generally, transit systems in other states are funded through regional sales taxes, and this is not an option in Michigan without an amendment to the Michigan Constitution. 

According to the report, funding for mass transit in metropolitan Detroit is far less than in other regions in the U.S. of similar size and industry. It says even if the ballot proposal passes, spending per person on transit in Southeast Michigan would remain lower than its peer regions, except Atlanta. But the spending gap would be reduced.