Transit Gets Republican Boost in Indiana and Michigan

By: - January 24, 2012 12:00 am

Public transit in Indianapolis and Detroit got a boost in recent weeks from Republican governors in their states, as both Indiana’s Mitch Daniels and Michigan’s Rick Snyder backed plans to let local voters decide whether to raise taxes for transit.

“We should trust the people of central Indiana with the decision whether to raise local dollars for mass transit if they believe it crucial to their future quality of life,” Daniels said during his State of the State speech .

A Republican-sponsored bill to allow the vote still faces an uncertain future, the Indianapolis Star reports. The proposal has bipartisan support, but the measure’s lead sponsor said not enough of his colleagues have publicly backed the measure. “I need to know that my peers have an interest and are going to be supportive,” state Representative Jeff Espich told the paper.

During his address to Michigan lawmakers, Snyder reiterated his support for creating a regional transit authority for the Detroit metro area. The governor and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing last month proposed developing a rapid bus system for the region, and a small stretch of light rail in downtown Detroit could still be part of that system.

The stance Daniels and Snyder are taking stands in contrast to the approach taken by their Republican counterpart in neighboring Ohio. Last year, Governor John Kasich stripped money that his Democratic predecessor designated for public transit, and drastically scaled back support for a streetcar in Cincinnati .

Still, proposals to boost public transit face formidable obstacles in other state capitals this year.

Democrats from the Pittsburgh area asked Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, to back a measure that would divert toll money from the state’s turnpike to shore up bus service in Allegheny County. But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said it did not look like Corbett was on board with the measure.

“The Port Authority’s problems were created locally, and they should be solved locally,” a Corbett spokesman told the paper. “(Governor) Corbett wants to see the problem solved, but the Democrats, who have controlled Allegheny County for all but a handful of the past 80 years, will have to do their part.”

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton wants to include a light rail project for Minneapolis in his statewide bond proposal, arguing that it would help create jobs. But House Speaker Kurt Zellers, a Republican, questioned the governor’s priorities. “Fixing our deteriorating roads that people drive every day should be a priority over spending millions of dollars to staff up for nonexistent light rail lines,” Zellers said, according to KARE-TV .

A Maryland proposal to hike the gas tax could, among other things, help pay for rail extensions in Baltimore and the Washington, D.C. suburbs. The leader of the Senate Republicans, who are in the minority in Maryland, told the Baltimore Business Journal that rail expansions ought to be funded with local sales taxes, rather than a statewide gas tax. Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is widely expected to push for a gas tax increase.

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