A bill has been introduced to the Michigan state house of representatives that would allow Washtenaw County to opt out of the four-county regional transportation authority (RTA) – which was established by the lame duck legislature at the end of 2012. The proposed amendment to the RTA legislation, which applies to any county or municipality in the RTA region, would provide the possibility of an opt-out on a simple majority vote of the governing body within the first year after establishment of the authority. After more than a year, it would require a 2/3 majority vote. From the draft bill introduced on April 30, 2013 [HB 4637]:
(1) A county or a municipality may withdraw from an authority within 1 year after creation of that authority under this act by a resolution of withdrawal approved by a majority vote of the members elected to and serving on the governing body of that county or municipality.
(2) A county or a municipality may withdraw from an authority at any time after 1 year after creation of that authority under this act by a resolution of withdrawal approved by a 2/3 vote of the members elected to and serving on the governing body of that county or municipality.
The wording of the bill indicates that the opt-out option is available to more than just the four counties that are members of the RTA – Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland. Any municipality in that four-county region would appear to be able to opt out.
The Ann Arbor city council had passed a resolution shortly after the original enactment of the RTA bill, objecting to the inclusion of Washtenaw County. That council resolution echoed sentiments of a resolution approved shortly before that by the Washtenaw County board. And a resolution of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board, approved in February 2012, had supported the concept of an RTA, but conditioned that support on the coordination of new funding so that existing levels of transportation services provided by the AATA are maintained.
Rep. Jeff Irwin, whose 53rd District includes most of Ann Arbor, had opposed the RTA legislation. However, he does not support the idea incorporated into the current draft of HB 4637, which has been referred to the transportation committee. In an email to The Chronicle, responding to a query, Irwin wrote: “I don’t have a good sense of whether this will move.” But for his own part, he continued:
I don’t support this idea. The Swiss cheese model of public transit authorities is contrary to best practices and is intuitively a problem for the provider. SMART currently operates on the Swiss cheese model, driving through communities like Livonia and failing to serve citizens in communities like Canton. In short, the Balkanization of SE Michigan is a limitation, not a feature, of Michigan’s governance model. This bill moves further in that direction. Even though I opposed the RTA bill last winter because of the rail exclusion language and the mismatch of AATA with DDOT/SMART, I still want to have a functional system in SE Michigan. This bill will make that even more difficult.