Notwithstanding its place on the map, most people think of West Michigan as the state’s more right-leaning half, a conservative counterpart to the east side’s labor bastions. In the state Senate, there’s not one Democrat to be found west of Lansing. Yet that didn’t stop western Michigan voters from approving five out of five transit millages on the ballot last week. Now it’s time to see whether their GOP senators follow their lead, breaking with one conspicuous radical who’d like to see buses busted.
Last Tuesday, West Michigan voters made like a mitten and gave buses a “high five,” approving transit taxes in metro Grand Rapids, Holland, Grand Haven Township, Benzie County, and Kalkaska County. The latter three measures won with over three-fourths of the vote. Unfortunately, notwithstanding broad public support for transit, one legislator from the region has carried on a running crusade against what he’s called “continual running of empty buses.”
This Thursday, House Transportation Committee Chair David Agema (R-Grandville) prevailed on fellow House Republicans to slash $20 million in transit funding from Governor Snyder’s proposed budget and turn it over to roads. A longtime transit opponent, Agema states that he’s “trying to do everything I can to get roads built without raising your taxes,” and advocates ratcheting up bus fare instead – citing the fantastical proposal for privately built, hydrogen-fueled rail lines along Interstates as one transit program he could support.
Those with a mind to be generous might conclude that Agema simply suffers from the widespread misconception that roads pay for themselves (not true) and transit doesn’t.Yet a review of Agema’s other legislation suggests it’s part of a broader tendency to be just plain mean. Agema has also sought to pass an Arizona-style law against undocumented immigrants, slash funding to universities that offer domestic partner benefits, and cutting out the state clothing allowance for poor orphans. Cutting transit funds is just one more “efficiency” at the expense of assorted have-nots.
Sadly, Agema’s House GOP colleagues approved his cuts May 5, just after the resounding pro-transit vote two days earlier, and despite bipartisan efforts by Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids), and Richard LeBlanc (D-Westland) to restore the money. We can only hope that Senate Republicans give more weight to constituent voices over anti-transit ideologues, and turn back Agema’s mean-spirited – and job-killing – assault on Michigan public transit.