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Howes: RTA squabble highlights regional divisions in Southeast Michigan

May 31, 2018

Audio: A conversation with Daniel Howes, Detroit News business columnist. 

One hot topic at the Mackinac Policy Conference this week is the future of regional transportation in Southeast Michigan — particularly a proposed millage to fund the expansion of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan.

Daniel Howes is a Detroit News business columnist. He speaks with Stateside about regional divide and larger issues at the core of the RTA debate. 

For the first time in decades, Howes said the suburbs are seeing capital flow away from the suburbs and into Detroit, and are becoming increasingly concerned. 

“There seems to be an announcement every other week of some corporate relocation and in a lot of cases it is coming at the expense of the suburbs and I think the RTA squabble is kind of a flashpoint of a much bigger issue,” Howes said. 

Howes finds it interesting that the business community has come to align itself with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; historically this was not the case. 

“It used to be that the mayor tended to be a problem that they (the business community) would complain about — that the city was anti-business,” Howes said. “Now you have a mayor who’s basically put an open for business sign on city hall and you’ve got suburban leaders who have long championed themselves as supporters of business basically telling business to go hang.”

A new coalition of business leaders called the Employers for Transit Coalition has come out strongly in support of regional transit for southeast Michigan. Howes believes there still will not be enough support to get the issue on the ballot. 

“I heard this morning there was more discussions at lower levels of trying to get this thing back on track and that may happen,” Howes said. “It's important to note here, the mayor told us in interviews up here on Mackinac Island that he believed he had a deal and they all thought they had a deal on this. Then Brooks and the later Mark Hackel broke from the deal and they are very frustrated.”

If the RTA does not make it on to the November ballot, Howes thinks supporters will take the battle to the legislature, and attempt to reduce the reach of the potential RTA. 

“People who live way out on the edges of these counties, who probably have low millages anyway and having to pay another millage for a service they are probably not gonna use because of where they live. One way to eliminate that is to shrink the footprint a little bit in to the more densely populated areas of metro Detroit,” Howes said.   

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