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Posted on Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 5:40 p.m.

Conan Smith praises governor for supporting increased road funding and regional transit authority

By Ryan J. Stanton

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's call for $1.4 billion in increased transportation funding in Michigan is welcome news, says Ann Arbor Democrat Conan Smith.

Smith, chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and executive director of the Ferndale-based Michigan Suburbs Alliance, attended the governor's speech on Wednesday in Southfield and said he left excited about the possibilities.

"I hope Democrats will get behind the governor's proposal," Smith said, calling it especially important for the future funding of roads throughout Michigan.


Conan Smith

"We have a $1.4 billion gap that needs to get filled and he's made a proposal for new revenue that works on that gap," Smith said. "So the Legislature — Democrats and Republicans alike — need to step up to that challenge."

Smith, who also supported Snyder's proposed changes to the state's emergency financial manager law earlier this year, said he's particularly excited about the governor's enthusiasm for a new regional transit authority for southeast Michigan.

Smith is serving on the planning committee for the authority along with the governor, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and other officials from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Smith said the governor wants to start meeting next week.

The format being considered for the RTA is a new approach, Smith said, and it would link the city of Ann Arbor to Detroit and the rest of the region. He said it wouldn't intrude on the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's operations, but rather complement them.

"It will support and feed into AATA, but our local transit authority maintains its independence and control," he said. "What this RTA is meant to do is provide key corridor connections between those major areas like the Detroit Metro Airport and Ann Arbor."

Smith's wife, state Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, is co-sponsoring legislation to create the RTA, along with Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, and Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.

Smith said he also likes that Snyder is interested in eliminating the state’s 19-cents-per-gallon gas tax and 15-cents-per-gallon diesel tax. Instead of a retail tax charged to consumers at the pump, Snyder said a better approach might be a wholesale tax on fuel.

Smith pointed out that would be a tax on oil companies, and it would be tied to inflation. He predicted it would be revenue-neutral in the first year, but raise more money in future years.

"I expect that is going to be a benefit to consumers at the pump, where we will see marginally lower prices, but we'll also se marginally higher transportation revenues for the state," he said. "That's a game changer. Over 10 years, that's probably half a billion dollars."

One of the most important aspects of the governor's proposal, Smith added, is that he's talking about changing the state's transportation funding formula so it's based more on road use and traffic volumes — as opposed to a measurement of lane miles. The current formula, Smith said, sometimes gives too much preference to many roads that aren't heavily traveled, while other roads that are "just beat to hell" from traffic don't get the funding they need.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 9:15 a.m.

Yeah, we will get those stinkin' "BIG OIL" companies. We will stick them with a 19 cent per gallon tax at the wholesale level. I am scrathin' my head at that one. If you think they are just eating that one, there is some prime Real Estate I have off of Brush St. that I would like to sell to you.

Tony Dearing

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 5:14 p.m.

A number of comments and replies were removed because they were off-topic.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:50 p.m.

I surely don't praise him for increasing taxes again.

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 11:15 p.m.

This story would benefit from a direct reference to the point in the story you have linked to in the first line. Namely, that most of the new revenue would come from an increased registration fee of $120 per year per individual passenger car. I'd like to hear Smith's direct comments on that. Since Conan Smith is also on the county Board of Commissioners, it would be interesting to hear his take on the proposal to allow county BOC to assume the duties of county road commissions. This would eliminate a certain amount of overhead (salaries and support of road commissioners) but I suspect many county commissioners would find that it would be a case of the dog who caught the car. Hours of listening to complaints and regional fights over allocation of dollars to particular roads.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 3:01 a.m.

Thanks for responding, Conan. I certainly agree that we need more transportation funding. (And I'm fine with paying more if it is well administered.) The changes ("reform" is in the eye of the beholder) in Act 51 need more elucidation and will be interesting to follow. Many municipalities have formed their long-term budget expectations over the current formula. From what little I could grasp from the presentation, it seemed that money would be diverted from more rural areas to highly traveled corridors. There is a certain logic to that, but some issues too. Good luck with that whole road commission/road millage thing.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:51 a.m.

Wow! Conan Smith, our esteemed Board of Commissioners chairman, glad you were able to join our humble discussion. The Road Commission is the highest-paid and most sought-after appointed position among the various boards and commissions that are under the juris- diction of the Board of Commissioners. Ken Schwartz after losing his re-election bid to the BOC received a Road Commission appointment as a "consolation prize".

Conan Smith

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:19 a.m.

Hi Vivienne, I'm not a big fan of the vehicle registration fee as the, ehem, vehicle for funding transit services but it seems like a decent approach for road funding given the revenue challenge created by dramatic increases in fuel efficiency. I think we do need a user-fee (like the gas tax) to compensate for revenue losses that we may experience over the coming years. I think our road maintenance and preservation needs are pretty severe right now, and if we don't take some different approaches to revenue we are going to reach a point where repair costs become extraordinary, perhaps beyond our ability to pay. Some estimate that it could cost six times as much to rebuild a road that slips under the recovery level as it would to simply maintain it. I'm much more interested in the potential of the proposed changes to improve the funding picture for public transportation. A reform of Act 51 could immediately generate a 20% increase for local services, and the freedom to dedicate a local revenue stream to transit is intriguing. However, the State constitution still requires that 90% of specific taxes on vehicles and fuels essentially go to road, which is why the vehicle registration fee is not my favorite. This is complicated by the regressive nature of a flat tax (as the registration fee is presumed to be) which would best be offset by significant increases in funding for public transportation. The road commission language is very interesting too. You're absolutely right on both counts that we could see some small administrative efficiencies and that the public engagement requirement is significant. That said, I'm intrigued by the opportunity such a move presents to better integrate local transportation investments into our economic development and sustainable land use strategies.

Mike K

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 11:01 p.m.

We need to get rid of Snyder. Too liberal. Now Democrats are praising him. I think I'm going to start a recall campaign for Slick and his anti corporate, pro public sector cronies.


Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 10:59 p.m.

This is a classic case of tax people who get no benefit in order to spread out the costs over more people. The Regional Transit Authority will tax all of the people outside the major cities in order to pay for luxury buses and trains to benefit Ann Arbor and Detroit. The wholesale fuel tax will tax home heating oil so that they can make it seem like you are saving money on gasoline. Conan is only a Democrat because a Republican can't get elected in Ann Arbor. He is whatever the Democratic equivalent is for a RINO (Republican in Name Only).


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

This is the first I've heard of the wholesale fuel tax including home heating oil (I'll do some searching). What does home heating oil have to do with road repair? I know a truck delivers the fuel to my house but that's just like UPS, FEDEX, USPS, Art Van, etc. I have one heating oil delevery per year. Not what you could consider a major contributor to road degradation. Especially since a large protion is on unpaved roads.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:21 p.m.

What else but DINO?

average joe

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 10:52 p.m.

I can't get past the first four words of the headline......

lloyd payer

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 10:39 p.m.

florida here i come good ridden to michigan

hut hut

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 10:02 p.m.

Angling for a position in the Snyder administration?