Anti-tax group urges no vote for SMART tax

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

A taxpayer group opposed to a SMART bus tax that will appear on the Aug. 7 ballot launched a campaign against it Monday.

The Michigan Taxpayers Alliance is urging voters to oppose the tax with the slogan “Nothing Smart About SMART.” They're mailing fliers and making phone calls to encourage voters to pass on the tax. 

"I think it's a lot more feasible that we can have an impact than anybody expects," said Leon Drolet, a Macomb County commissioner and treasurer of Nothing Smart About SMART.  "SMART is spending huge amounts of money on radio and television ads because they know they're in trouble."

The Michigan Taxpayers Alliance is urging voters to oppose the tax with the slogan “Nothing Smart About SMART.” They're mailing fliers and making phone calls to voters encourage voters to pass on the tax.

Drolet said it would be cheaper to offer transit vouchers "so they could use it for the transit of their choice."

"They could use it for a taxi ride, Uber, Lyft or a bus ride," he said. "It is vastly more convenient for the rider and a lot less expensive for the taxpayers."

U.S. Census data shows that few residents use SMART buses, the alliance said in a statement. Each bus rider costs over $13,000 per year, said Drolet.

"We could buy each rider a new car and pay their insurance every three years for less than SMART costs taxpayers,” he said.

Voters will be asked to vote on a 1.0 mill property tax for SMART. 

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who recently attempted to drum up support for the SMART millage, said: "“Leon Drolet would vote against Christmas if he could." 

SMART general manager John C. Hertel called for maintaining "an unbroken commitment that we’ve kept with seniors and the disabled by providing the bus service they need to maintain their quality of life."

If the tax is defeated, "not only would it negatively impact our riders, who would not be able to get to work, get paid and provide for their families, it would very negatively affect the businesses that our riders work for and severely impact this region's economy.”

Drolet contends that senior citizens and disabled riders are only a tiny part of SMART’s budget and that it is funded primarily through gas taxes, not from property taxes. 

Hertel responded: "Mr. Drolet is misinformed on which funds are used to pay for service. SMART receives approximately 25 percent of its funding from the gas tax.  Without local funding, SMART or any transit agency cannot receive reimbursement for expenses from the gas tax."

Millage money operates SMART services including Americans with Disabilities Act service required by federal law, Fixed Route and Connector, Hertel said. 

SMART also helps in running local bus service for 76 communities, he said. 

"Certainly, SMART Connector is an important service for seniors and people with disabilities," he said. "However, of the more than 2.1 million rides SMART provides for seniors and the disabled annually, 70 percent are riding SMART’s fixed route service.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who urges voters to support the SMART bus tax, said he is not worried about the group's campaign.

"I still think it will get a big response," he said. "That does not concern me." "What does concern me is that people will think this SMART millage is about (the Regional Transit Authority) and it is not. The people have supported every one of the SMART millages."

He said  homeowners would pay about $100 a year on a $200,000 house.  That "would be about $10 a month for service," he said.