Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Detroit Council Pres. Brown calls for transit sales tax; Oakland County nixes idea in online comment

Bus stop: Oakland isn't having any regional transit tax.
Locked in a contest with Mayor Dave Bing over Detroit's budget, City Council President Gary Brown says a 1.25% regional sales tax is needed to preserve bus service in the city and bolster transit around the region, as  reported by MLive's Jeff Wattrick. Yet that idea drew a sharp rebuke from the office of Oakland County Executive and self-proclaimed sprawl king L. Brooks Patterson, which quickly dispatched its hired online-comment hands to meet Wattrick's article with a six-paragraph response labeling transit taxes a "job killer."

The budget proposed by Brown and his City Council colleagues would cut $8 million from the Detroit Department of Transportation bus system; Bing proposed restoring $5 million in an amendment that Council rejected today. Brown made clear that over three decades after dissension between Oakland County and Detroit stymied a regional transit system, the same dynamic continues to stall progress today. “The mayor and Brooks Patterson have to go in a room and hammer it out,” he told Wattrick. “[Wayne County Executive] Ficano and [Macomb County Executive] Hackel will fall in line.”

Of course, that's easier said than done. In a comment posted to Wattrick's article, Patterson media and communication officer Bill Mullan argued that a sales tax would require a constitutional amendment, that DDOT pensions and labor agreements would incur massive costs for a regional authority, and that "it is just plain common sense" that "a regional sales tax will be a job killer."

(For those unfamiliar with the practice, the Patterson administration's use of top staff to post extensive rebuttals of online complaints about the Executive is well established. A sample, from another six-paragraph essay by Deputy County Executive Phil Bertolini: "[Patterson] continues to provide vision and leadership for our county that will benefit us long after his administration is over." Whether county taxpayers consider hired Patterson homages in cyberspace an efficient use of funds is unknown. Shouldn't the men who brought us "Automation Alley" have some kind of robot for this task? )

It's true that the Michigan Constitution raises hurdles to a regional sales tax, and the issue of DDOT's union obligations has been a sticking point for Oakland since the 1970s. The notion of a regional transit tax as a job killer, however, is absurd. Sales taxes are among the most common methods for funding transit in the United States, used by major metro areas from Chicago to Denver to Seattle. Last we heard, all three of these regions had better employment statistics than Detroit, and it was a good deal easier for workers there to actually reach their jobs, something that remains a thus-far-impossible dream for thousands in metro Detroit.

If Patterson and Team Sprawl want to know who the real job-killers are - the transit obstructionists who thought they could sit high and mighty while Detroit crumbled under their weight - perhaps they should consider a look in the mirror.


  1. While I disagree with what the L. Brooks rapid-response team has to say most of the time, I have to give Bill Mullan credit where it's due. It's smart and forward-thinking for him to be making this a core part of the CE's communications strategy. I would not have expected L. Brooks to have a team that is so on top of new media. The Bing administration could certainly learn a few lessons from them on messaging.

  2. Online postings, in response to news articles or a blog, aren't usually used for more in-depth analysis (though they can and you have brought more in-depth coverage), they can be used to make a case in at least summary and citation.

    I think neither Bill Mullan, Brooks' media and communications officer, nor yourself in fairness, make a case to show a correlation between jobs and sales taxes used for public transit.

    I'd be interested in some recommended sources to learn about this. I'd even recommend looking into it for a future posting.

    Let Mr. Mullan know how you feel about this blanket, baseless statement: found @

  3. I do think government should be on top of new media, but posts by communications officers to MLive strike me as odd. Letters to the editor are one thing, but comment threads tend to be a little less dignified. I guess we're still working out the etiquette, but does anyone know of other officials who do this? There are some who make personal posts to the Ann Arbor Chronicle, but that's a much more rarefied venue.

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