Metro Council Is Heading To Lansing

April 16, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Interurban Transit Partnership and the Grand Valley Metro Council will travel to Lansing tomorrow to try to snuff out a bill in its early stages.

The targeted bill, SB 1103, would amend the state’s general sales tax act and reduce funding to public transit entities in the state for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. But the concern doesn’t stop with that date.

If the bill does become law, local advocates of public transit fear the funding cut could be implemented in future transportation budgets. They worry that fewer dollars for public transit would hurt the local economy and make further development more difficult, because workers who rely on bus service might not be able to get to their jobs if ITP has less money for The Rapid’s routes.

In addition to ITP and the Metro Council, The Right Place Inc., the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Wyoming chamber have voiced concerns about the bill.

“I really appreciate the support behind this,” said Peter Vargas, ITP director.

Sen. Shirley Johnson, R-Royal Oak, is the lone sponsor of the bill, which would cut the share of the sales-tax revenue that public transit receives from 27.9 percent to 24 percent.

Johnson chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.

“She has the right, and the influence, to exact these changes for future years, as well,” said Don Stypula, Metro Council executive director.

ITP received nearly $8.1 million in state revenue for the last fiscal year, an amount that accounts for 37.5 percent of its entire operating budget. Stypula said he wasn’t certain how much funding ITP would lose if the Johnson measure does become law, but he felt that any loss right now was too much.

“It will be very difficult for transit systems to deal with that type of a cut,” he said. “It’s pretty significant.”

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation is holding public hearings this week on the transportation bill the House passed last month. The first hearing will be held tomorrow, April 20, and Stypula said a local contingent would attend the opening session.

“West Michigan will be very well represented to implore the senators, including Senator Johnson, to maintain this funding,” said Stypula.

The Metro Council unanimously passed a resolution at its last meeting that called for the funding to continue. Stypula said he would present the document to the subcommittee when he addresses the group on Tuesday. He also is expecting vocal support for public transit, at least from local attendees, to be strong.

“When we had the House transportation subcommittee meetings on the budget, there were a number of people who came out to testify to that House panel in support of public transportation,” he said. “Four-fifths of the individuals who testified were from the Grand Rapids area. There is great support for our public transportation system here.”           

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