Don’t Wait Another 28 Years to Fund Michigan Transit: Freedom Riders Endorse Proposal 1

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It’s official: The Freedom Riders have joined the Michigan Public Transportation Association, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and Transportation Riders United in support of Proposal 1 on the May 5 ballot. At last Thursday’s meeting, a majority of our Steering Committee voted in favor of endorsing the measure.

Why? Simply put, Proposal 1 would increase statewide funding for public transit for the first time since 1987. (Yes, there has been no increase in state support for public transit in nearly thirty years, since the Michigan Legislature cut public transit out of transportation funding when it raised the gas tax in 1997.) Proposal 1 would generate nearly $116 million annually for Michigan’s Comprehensive Transportation Fund, most of which is distributed to public transit systems around the state. For context, that’s more than twice the annual budget for DDOT, which is far and away the largest transit system in the state.

As discussed in our previous analysis, Proposal 1 is not perfect. So what? Politics is the art of the possible, and Proposal 1 offers our best opportunity – perhaps our only opportunity – to get more money for public transit across the state, as well as patching the potholes that take a toll on buses and cars alike. It’ll also provide more money for education and restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for Michigan’s working poor.

Our main issue with Proposal 1 is that a sales tax increase is inherently regressive, falling most heavily on the backs of the poor. As an organization dedicated to racial and economic justice, we wouldn’t have chosen that mechanism ourselves. However, for working families, the restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit more than compensates for the tax increase. The Michigan League for Public Policy, probably the state’s most trusted advocate for working families, has done a helpful analysis of that issue which you can read at this link.

What happens if Proposal 1 doesn’t pass? That’s hard to say, but whatever happens, it probably won’t be good for public transit. Some Republicans in Lansing are already saying that they want to revive last year’s “Bolger Plan,” which would  shut public transit out of any new road revenues. With Lansing dominated by outstate legislators, most of whom have never been on a public bus in their lives, it’s highly unlikely that any “Plan B” will do any good for bus riders.

Let’s not wait another 28 years to increase state funding for public transit. Tell your friends to get to the polls on Tuesday, May 5, and vote “yes” on Proposal 1.

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