Transit Dollars At Risk

June 27, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Separate transportation budget bills passed by both the House and Senate for fiscal 2006 propose taking money from the state's Comprehensive Transportation Fund and transferring it to the General Fund.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposed transportation budget also diverts more than $11 million in auto-related sales tax from the CTF to the General Fund.

That has local transit officials worried, because transit programs are the primary recipients of CTF monies.

Just as worrisome to transit officials are the proposed levels of bus capital funding for 2006, which they say are far short of what The Rapid needs to secure the maximum amount of matching federal transit dollars.

The local transit system would see the most severe cuts under the Senate's budget proposal.

The governor's budget plan increases Local Bus Operating funds by 1 percent over fiscal 2005, to $163.3 million, and increases bus capital to $18.8 million, or $10 million more than in fiscal 2005.

The House (HB 4831) proposes diverting $11 million from the CTF to the General Fund, as well, and calls for Local Bus Operating and bus capital funding levels consistent with the governor's plan.

The Senate (SB 281) proposes approximately $1.5 million less in Local Bus Operating funds than the other two budget bills, cuts $7 million out of the bus capital line item and cuts roughly $21 million in CTF funding.

Historically, federal transit dollars are appropriated at 80 percent and the state typically has to provide a 20 percent match to secure the federal funding.

According to The Rapid's executive director, Peter Varga, without adequate state funding, those federal dollars can't be secured and other states could easily become the recipients of them.

He said more than $30 million is needed to adequately match and secure all federal transit money that's expected to be available in 2006, but under both the House and the governor's budget plans only $18.8 million would be allocated for bus capital, and only $11.8 million would be allocated under the Senate's plan.

With $30 million in bus capital funding, The Rapid could secure $120 million in federal funds, for a total of $150 million, Interurban Transit Partnership board member Chris Meyers pointed out at the ITP board meeting Wednesday. That's money that could be used to buy buses, maintain the bus fleet and renovate or build facilities.

"The objective is to preserve money in Michigan to get the federal matches," Varga said. "We'e still short $11 million to $12 million."

With just under $19 million in bus capital finding, that leaves more than $40 million in public transportation dollars on the table for another state to grab, Meyers said.

The other issue is the reduction in CTF monies proposed under all three budget plans, Varga noted. He said transit officials and supporters of public transit need to take their concerns to local legislators and impress upon them just how much public transit in Michigan is at risk.

The proposed cuts are especially troublesome considering local ridership surveys. The most recent Rapid survey indicated 62 percent of area residents use the bus to get to and from work, Varga noted.

Varga backed the less painful House and governor's budget plans. The ITP board resolved to personally contact local legislators on the appropriations committees of both the House and Senate and ask them to support funding at the levels proposed in both the House and governor's budget plan.    

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