2018 State of the County
Warren C. Evans
March 13, 2018 at 7:00 PM
I want to start by applauding those unsung heroes you just saw who work for Wayne County. They come to work, roll up their sleeves and get the job done. They've done this during the good times and the bad, suffering painful cuts, and I find it inspiring.
Will those Wayne County employees from the video, please stand and be recognized.
I'd also like to thank our lead sponsor Ford Motor Company. Tonight, we're going to talk about where we can take Wayne County in the coming years, and there's no doubt Ford Motor Company is driving innovation and making key investments in our communities. They will play a critical role in our future. Thank you.
I want to also thank the Arab American Chamber of Commerce for supporting this event. Organizations like the Chamber are critical partners and add so much to the fabric of our community. I'd like to thank Fay Beydoun for her continued leadership.
Thank you to Salvador Salort-Pons, Gene Gargaro and the DIA team for providing the fantastic backdrop for tonight's address. The DIA is one of our absolute gems and adds so much to the arts and culture scene in our region. Thank you.
Before moving on, I'd like to take a moment to talk about someone who sadly couldn't be here tonight, Commissioner Burton Leland. For 11 years he faithfully and passionately served this County. He was truly one-of-a-kind, and a good friend and colleague to so many. He was also a loving husband and father who will be forever missed. Please join me in a moment of silence for our friend Burton Leland.Thank you.
MOVING BEYOND GRATIOT: ROCK DEAL OFFERS GREAT VALUE
For the past few years the County's finances and the failed jail project have dominated the narrative of Wayne County. We had to have our fiscal house in order before we could be an effective government.
As you know, we successfully avoided bankruptcy and have restored fiscal stability.
Last week, I announced a deal with Rock Ventures to build a state-of-the-art criminal justice center that will house our jail, criminal courts, juvenile detention center and offices for the prosecutor and sheriff.
I'd like to thank Rock Ventures for their professionalism throughout this long negotiating process, and Dan Gilbert for pushing his team, even when success seemed remote.
I'd also like to thank Sheriff Napoleon, Prosecutor Worthy, Clerk Garrett and Judge Kenny, as well as everyone else who helped us design this campus to meet County needs.
In particular, I want to recognize the two public servants who led my team in negotiating this deal. They put their heart and souls into this project: Deputy CEO Rick Kaufman and Corporation Counsel Zenna Elhasan. While many on all sides put in long hours, this deal doesn't get done without the sweat equity Rick and Zenna put in.
Rick and Zenna, please stand. Thank you.
And because we've put our fiscal house in order, taxpayers will save millions of dollars due to the lower interest rates our bonds will command. Rates no one thought possible just a few short years ago.
The deal with Rock and the land swap with Detroit have been submitted to the County Commission for approval, as well as the Wayne County Building Authority and Land Bank, as needed. While they'll obviously need to do a thorough review, I encourage them to act swiftly. We want to start preliminary work on the site in October, and finish construction by the fall of 2022.
Wayne County will invest the first $380 million for the new criminal justice center. Rock will pay the remaining costs, which are expected to be more than $150 million.
Most importantly, Rock will bear the risk of cost overruns. As we're painfully aware, cost overruns were the death knell of the fail jail project.
We've structured this deal to prevent that from happening, and Dan Gilbert has personally guaranteed Rock's obligations for this project.
While it has taken longer than I wanted to negotiate, this deal is very good for Wayne County. Factoring in demolition costs, the properties Rock receives are worth $30 million to $55 million.
As you recall several years ago, the offer from Rock for all parcels was $50 million. The deal, today, is $153 million and Rock will cover all cost overruns. I think we did well. And we have a say in the type of development that goes there and who builds it.
The deal includes development requirements to ensure that Wayne County businesses and residents benefit from construction of the new criminal justice center and the mixed-use development Rock will also build at Gratiot.
Rock is required to employ at least 51% Wayne County residents in building these projects and this must be an inclusive process. Rock will have to make significant efforts to include Wayne County businesses.
Rock will also contribute $500,000 to parks in Wayne County located outside downtown to encourage more investment in the neighborhoods.
An additional $250,000 provided by Rock will go to support career and technical education programs for previously incarcerated citizens.
This deal will lead to three major projects that will create jobs, investment and add to the momentum in this city and region.
As part of the land swap deal involving the old AMC Headquarters, the city and Mayor Duggan now have significant acreage for a future development on the city's west side.
And the criminal justice center near East Warren will infuse that area with a $533 million development that would not otherwise have existed. With about 1,500 people visiting the center each week day, there will surely be other spin-off development. Businesses will be needed to serve the police, prosecutors, judges, jurors, visitors and all County staff who will frequent the criminal justice campus.
Then there's Gratiot. This deal will lead to another major urban, mixed use development that could reach upwards of $1 billion at a location many consider the Gateway to Detroit. It will finally connect downtown to Eastern Market and serve as the catalyst for other projects and much needed investment.
This is a big win for Wayne County and the region as a whole.
It rebuilds our entire criminal justice system in one project.
It will bring jobs for Wayne County residents and work to Wayne County businesses.
It's a huge step forward in rebuilding Wayne County.
I'm very proud of this deal and hope you are too.
I started as a deputy in Wayne County in 1970.
I know our jails well. I also know why people populate them.
Every person sitting in a cell is a lost opportunity. We have a moral obligation to do better. We need to do more to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system.
Moving beyond Gratiot will allow us to better see the road ahead and get us to where we need to be.
We've all driven by that old rusting jail on Gratiot too many times.
It's stood out as our region's most prominent symbol of government failure and wasted taxpayer dollars.
Thinking about it irritates me. Watching news clips of the failed jail stings.
Driving by it makes me cringe.
I'm not alone.
We expect demolition of the Gratiot jail to start this summer.
The horrible eyesore that's been rusting all these years is going to be ripped down.
It's been like an anvil on our collective psyche and it's overshadowed the progress we've made over the past three years.
It's stunted our pride in the great community that is Wayne County. Soon this Gratiot failure will no longer weigh us down. We are 43 unique communities and one great County!
REBUILDING TALENT AND CHANGING CULTURE
The past three years have been focused on recovery, the years ahead will be about rebuilding.
This will be rebuilding in every sense of the word. Rebuilding facilities, talent, and infrastructure.
It will take time and money. It will take patience. It will require continued efforts of working together by everyone in this County.
Together we're going from Recovery to Rebuild in order to create a more prosperous future for our Wayne County.
As we make the transition into rebuild, it was critical to have the right CFO to continue the momentum created by our Recovery Plan.
Recently, we hired Henry Dachowitz as the County's CFO. Henry helped Nassau County in New York overcome similar financial challenges. As Nassau's Treasurer, Henry produced budget surpluses and achieved 11 bond-rating increases.
We look forward to Henry's leadership as we put together our rebuild plan.
With the new criminal justice center on a path toward resolution, we can now turn our attention to other challenges, including the condition of our inadequate civil court facilities.
Piece by piece, we're going to rebuild our facilities while also trying to work smarter, to better serve you.
Our rebuilding will also depend on good talent.
This recovery process has been hard. Our employees have felt it at every step and deserve better. We've made tough cuts and now have surpluses to reduce borrowing costs for capital improvements. That's by design. Surpluses better position us to put more money toward infrastructure, roads and pensions. We will take proper measures to invest in our people where we can, but also can't revert back to our past fiscal practices.
I believe my administration is thinking differently about our employees. One of our successes is the Joint Labor Management Steering Committee, which we created to ensure that there's a free-flowing dialogue between management and labor. As a result, we've identified areas of critical need where we struggle to attract talented people.
One job classification we've struggled to retain is our snow plow drivers. All too often, as soon as drivers are trained, they are in position to take a job elsewhere for more money. The same is true of our sheriff's deputies who work in our jails.
Recognizing that problem, we were able to proactively negotiate a pay increase for snow plow drivers. We also worked to increase the starting wage of deputies, and managed to give them a 5% pay increase each of the last two years.
While none of these moves will completely address our problems, it reflects a different and positive approach by this administration.
I want to share an anecdote that touches on the culture we're trying to create.
Last spring, leadership received an email from David Friedrich an employee who has been faithfully working in the equipment repair division since 1990. His son, Kevin, works in the same shop.
His son came to him for career advice. Should he stay with the County, or leave for a better opportunity?
Having seen cuts and outsourcing, the father couldn't with a clear conscience tell his son to stay. It's a skilled trade that our competitors pay dearly for, while our wages lag.
We listened and took action. After analyzing the market, we proactively negotiated an initial wage increase and, more importantly, are on the brink of implementing a comprehensive plan to make salaries competitive, and retain and recruit qualified mechanics.
I hope that's part of the culture we're creating. I'd like to thank two employees tonight.
Dave and Kevin Friedrich, employees like you are helping us rebuild this County the right way. Dave and Kevin, please stand. Thank you.
INVESTING IN ROADS AND BRIDGES
No part of our rebuilding plan is more important to our 43 communities than our roads and bridges.
There's an infrastructure crisis both short and long-term, and it's been exacerbated by the legislature's willingness to kick the can down the road.
The emergency funding recently passed by the Legislature is merely a drop in the bucket and should have come much sooner. At Wayne County, we aren't waiting for the Legislature or federal government. We're working hard to use our funding as efficiently as possible. We've issued an RFP to determine how much it will cost to fix our roads and bridges.
As part of this process, we are exploring ways to maximize our funding to make our money go further. This project should allow us to fix more of our roads and bridges each year. However, I want to make two things very clear.
We will not have enough funds to get all of our roads and bridges to where they need to be. In fact, I expect to fall woefully short.
And no matter what we do on the local level, we need the state and federal government to have a candid conversation about this important issue.
Michigan's infrastructure as a whole is in horrible shape, roads and bridges are just one piece of the puzzle. I wouldn't be surprised if it's going to cost a billion dollars to address Wayne County's infrastructure challenges.
No one wants to pay, but the bill is coming and it'll cost more the longer we wait. The victory lap taken around this state in 2015 for the so-called roads fix was not only disingenuous, it took attention away from the problem.
And here we are in 2018 with roads crumbling and bridges closing.
INCREASING EFFICIENCIES, STRENGTHENING PENSIONS
Amid my frustration, I realize it's the County's obligation to maximize every dollar.
One of the most effective ways to do that is by selling County facilities that can be operated as good or better by another entity, and selling unused or underutilized property to a private party who can return it to the tax rolls.
None is as large as the pending sale of the Downriver Wastewater Disposal System for $57.5 million to DUWA. In February, the DUWA board unanimously voted to advance a definitive transfer agreement to its 13 communities. If passed, we hope to close the transaction by September 30th.
If finalized, the proceeds of that sale will go to further fund our pension system and reducing unfunded health care liabilities for our retirees.
I remain committed to protecting our retirees' pensions. While we've increased pension funding from 45% to 54%, I'm committed to working with the Commission to push that over 60% this year with a long-term goal of at least 80%.
An old County facility at 640 Temple is another example of turning a minus into a plus. Sparsely used yet expensive to operate, we sold this building for $11 million to an investment group backed by businesswoman Gretchen Valade. They currently have a $65-million development in the works.
The sale of the historic Eloise property in Westland is pending Commission approval but stands to save the County hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in operating costs. There are plans to convert the property into a $24-million residential development for seniors while keeping the Wayne County Family Center open.
We've also partnered with local communities to help them with key properties. We all want to see the McLouth steel plant in Trenton put back into productive use. This year we finalized a $4-million sale to Crown Enterprises which is working to close the deal with the Environmental Protection Agency to address the environmental issues on that property. We hope they can come to an agreement soon and move forward.
WAYNE COUNTY AS A WORLD-CLASS LOGISTICS HUB
While efficiency and getting the most out of our dollars is important, we must also focus on growing the economy.
My vision for Wayne County is to become the premier transportation, distribution and logistics hub in the North American market.
At the start of my tenure, I retooled the County's economic development program so we could create a more community-focused, back-to-the-basics effort. I also decided to maintain our support of Aerotropolis. And today, that decision is paying off in a big way thanks to all the communities involved.
Aerotropolis landed four major projects and more are in the pipeline. Amazon selected Romulus as its first robot-operated center in the Detroit area, designed to distribute smaller products to people faster. The project is expected to create 1,600 jobs and lead to $140 million in new investment.
Penske Logistics opened a new distribution center creating over 400 jobs and nearly $100 million in investment.
In New Boston, automotive supplier Brose is expanding its facility to create 300 jobs while investing about $105 million.
When MOPAR was looking to open its second automotive parts distribution center in the United States, it picked Aerotropolis. This beautiful state-of-the-art facility will ship its parts worldwide. That's an additional $10 million and 100 jobs.
Amazon. Penske. MOPAR. Brose. These are some big names that could locate anywhere. They don't invest on a whim, and when they make a move, other global investors notice.
Under the leadership of new director Rob Luce, I think the sky's the limit for Aerotropolis.
WAYNE COUNTY LAND BANK AND ACTION BEFORE AUCTION
Another area I'd like to touch on is the Wayne County Land Bank.
There's no denying that Wayne County receives money annually from the Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund. But I push back on the notion that Wayne County benefits from it. I believe that premise ignores how foreclosures impact the region over the long haul.
Our county government is funded primarily by property taxes. When houses foreclose, it devastates property values, including all the houses around it. Foreclosures lead to blight which creates a terrible cycle that strips entire neighborhoods of their value.
Lower property values translate to lower property taxes. Year after year that can and has had a devastating impact on much of this County.
Wayne County is far better off over the long term with people in their homes working and paying their taxes. Period.
Foreclosure is a nasty thing and my heart goes out to any family or resident who has to go through that process. But they happen. Our system of government doesn't work if we don't collect property taxes. While it can appear cold and callous, the Treasurer has to do it, and in the last couple of years the Treasurer has made great progress with programs to reduce the number of foreclosures and keep people in their homes.
And that's where the Wayne County Land Bank enters the equation. Their primary mission is to help put tax-foreclosed properties back into productive use and prevent blight. And that often means keeping people in the house they own or rent.
This helps protect property values and strengthen neighborhoods.
Their work is critical and under the leadership of its new director Bali Kumar, I have high hopes. Since I took office, the Land Bank has returned over 500 tax-foreclosed properties to productive use.
Last year, the Land Bank piloted a program to obtain foreclosed properties before they went to auction. The goal was to stop speculators from purchasing properties and letting them sit undeveloped for years.
The Land Bank took 141 properties and sold them to developers and non-profits with purchase agreements to hold the purchaser accountable. Such terms could not be included if these properties were sold at auction.
The Land Bank engaged the people living in them and gave the option to own or lease the house or provided re-housing assistance.
This year the Land Bank is looking to increase the size of this program, which we are now calling "Action Before Auction."
What sets this program apart is that we require developers to work with occupants to keep them in those homes and do what they can to make it more affordable for them to stay.
To further this effort, Bali and his team knocked on doors this fall. Behind one of those doors, they found a seventy-two-year-old woman who had resided in her house in Detroit for the past decade, but due to chronic illness fell behind on her taxes.
The Land Bank worked with the developer and her daughter, as we were able to provide her the option to stay in her home.
Here's another example, Daraamire Bains of Detroit along with her young children had been renting a house in Detroit since 2013. They were shocked to learn their landlord had stopped paying taxes and the property was foreclosed. It's a sad story we hear too often.
The Land Bank team visited Ms. Bains, who signed a new lease agreement and she will remain in her home.
Those are just two stories we hope to build on next year in "Action Before Auction."
HEALTH CARE AND FIRST CONTACT PROGRAM
Another critical component of quality of life is obviously health. Folks below the poverty line often look to County government for their health needs. It's an important responsibility and we are proud to take it on.
Unfortunately, Wayne County continues to rank 83 out of 83 Michigan counties in health rankings.
It weighs heavy on our minds as we treat patients in our two federally qualified health clinics. As part of our "No Wrong Door" program, we're continuing to reduce barriers to health care.
While we know the sobering realities of the state of health care in Wayne County, we are taking steps to improve the care we deliver. Last year, our two health clinics in Hamtramck and Wayne earned national accreditation for meeting or exceeding nationally recognized health care standards.
And our Wellness Division, earned state accreditation. In fact, it achieved a perfect score for the first time since auditing began in 1999.
This year we increased childhood immunization by another full percentage point and remain above the state target. We also delivered community-based services to about 3,200 at-risk youth through our "First Contact" program while continuing to produce historically low recidivism rates.
This year we equipped our hearing and vision technicians with mobile hotspots, allowing them to enter school screening data from the field rather than upon returning to the office.
I'd like to share the story of Michelle Vaquera, a Wayne County hearing technician, and 8th grader Samantha Provenzano.
Years ago when Samantha was a kindergartener at Roosevelt Elementary School in Livonia, she missed her routine hearing test and could have lost her hearing test opportunity. But that was not going to happen on Michelle's watch.
She followed up with the six-year-old whose nickname is "Sammy."
That screening came back positive for hearing loss. A follow-up visit with a physician discovered the cause of the hearing loss was a brain tumor. The end result, a ten-hour craniotomy to remove the tumor.
Sammy, now in middle school, wrote an essay entitled "My Personal Michigan Hero," about Michelle Vaquera the woman who saved her life.
Here is what Sammy wrote: "The world is a better place because of people like Michelle who put love and passion in everything they do."
I am especially proud because Michelle is a Wayne County employee.
Let's recognize another one of Wayne County's unsung heroes, Michelle Vaquera. Michelle, please stand.
As I mentioned, Wayne County's "First Contact" programs provide support services and resources to keep at-risk youth out of the criminal justice system and in their homes with their families.
"First Contact" is one of the few available programs to serve at-risk youth in this unique way. It offers the greatest opportunity to address underlying issues that often lead to delinquent behavior. Data shows that if you engage at-risk youth early, you can improve their lives and save tax money in the long run.
In Wayne County, we believe good government means smart government.
Last year, the State of Michigan was pushing to stop the donor funding model we use to fund "First Contact." The result would have been a $6 million shortfall, and likely end the program.
We made our case to the State's Department of Health and Human Services, and legislation passed solidifying the future of Wayne County's "First Contact" program.
MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT AND MENTAL HEALTH AUTHORITY
There's another area, perhaps even more critical to diverting people away from the criminal justice system and into a healthy life: mental health and substance abuse.
Many of us have a loved one, or know someone, who is struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.
Unfortunately, the Wayne County jails are functioning as our de facto mental health hospitals.
Throughout last year, Wayne County delivered psychotropic medication and more than 47,000 services to about 3,700 inmates suffering from mental illness.
Many of these inmates have serious mental health issues that require specialized treatment, and they're not getting it. Although Wayne County provides a range of medical and psychiatric services, county jails are more like a clinic and not a hospital. We are not equipped to provide the mental health services that mental health institutions are designed for and obligated to provide.
No matter how competent the mental health treatment is that we provide in our jails, many of these patients leave the jail without access to continued care.
It's a nasty cycle. The person often returns to the criminal justice system because of the unavailability of adequate mental health treatment. This is not only a sad situation, it is also not cost effective.
Every dollar intended to go to mental health must be used for that very purpose.
The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority does critical work and serves the same 1.7 million constituents that I do.
That's why I was disappointed last year to learn that the mental authority was ready to accept $95,000 from a vendor that overcharged them, when an audit showed they may have been overcharged by nearly $2 million.
Untreated mental illness destroys lives and rips families apart, it was unconscionable for the Mental Health Authority to substantially compromise on what it was owed.
Although I was reluctant to intervene, the board had a fiduciary responsibility to pursue every penny owed. I expect things will change, especially under the Mental Health Authority's new leader, Willie Brooks.
Willie comes to us from the Oakland Community Heath Network and is a recognized leader in the field. He is uniquely positioned to help us navigate changes in the system and the looming privatization debate.
I'm excited to see what Willie does. His work will be critical to the future of mental health and certainly the well-being of Wayne County.
One thing greatly impacting the work of the Mental Health Authority is the opioid epidemic.
In 2016, opioid-related deaths in Wayne County alone totaled 817 people, up from 506, in 2015, a 61% increase.
Wayne and Oakland counties, filed a joint lawsuit against multiple drug manufacturers and distributors alleging the deceptive marketing and sale of opioids, including OxyContin and Fentanyl.
This is a full-blown health crisis from which the drug companies made billions.
People are dying and lives are being destroyed.
We see the devastation every day in our hospitals, in our jails and at the morgue, and it's only getting worse. There has to be a price when corporations show such disregard for human life.
As communities like Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and the City of Detroit, continue to shoulder the burden of this epidemic, justice demands that the companies responsible, pay the costs of the tragedies they've created. We will hold them accountable.
BETTER CONNECTING OUR PARKS
Another way we are creating a healthier Wayne county is through our parks.
Wayne County oversees more than 5,600 acres of designated park space and 50 miles of trails.
We are currently rethinking the way we serve the public and will continue our efforts to connect regional parks with open space corridors and support an integrated trail system with local and neighboring municipalities.
Ultimately, an improved parks system will translate to a healthier and more prosperous Wayne County.
DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH AND WAYNE UNITED
My Administration has always valued this county's rich diversity. Embracing diversity has given us the varied perspectives we need to solve our most pressing problems.
I take pride walking into a meeting and seeing people of all races, genders, colors, religions, and creeds dedicated to making this county a better place.
In Wayne County, we believe that America is great only when all feel welcome, when all feel valued, and when all feel like they have a role to play in the success of the American experiment.
Given the current national climate, I'm proud that we are launching an initiative called Wayne United. This program will help raise awareness about the impact and benefits of diversity. Just last week, partnering with LA SED and a non-profit, "Books for a Benefit," and with generous donations from Wayne County employees, we were able to open a literacy library. It will be utilized by English as Second Language students, those training for citizenship, and other enrichment activities.
There is so much more to do. Wayne United will need your input, your support, and most importantly, we need you to help us tell Wayne County's diversity story.
Diversity has dividends. Wayne County has benefitted from it for generations. So under the banner of Wayne United, we're going to work toward building a more inclusive community with the other great organizations already working in this space.
We're going to show people the cultural, social and economic benefits of diversity and inclusion.
In February, I asked Commission Chair Gary Woronchak to bring a resolution before the commission naming Wayne County a "Welcoming County". I'd like to thank the commissioners here today for their enthusiastic support that day.
We sent a message loud and clear. We value diversity. We don't care where you're from, how you talk, who you love, what god you worship or what you look like ... you are welcome here in Wayne County.
Diversity, however, can't just be an abstract concept. Diversity is an opportunity to really get to know different people. To make them your friends and mentors. To make them co-workers you trust and respect. To make them people you can laugh and cry with.
Those are the bonds that will lead to lasting change and a positive evolution of our society.
Here today we have as a special guest, Khalilah Smith, Michigan State's first black rodeo queen and future veterinarian.
Khalilah and I share a love of horses that drew us to a recreational opportunity where there just aren't a whole lot of people who look like us.
We both fell in love with horses and riding as children.
Khalilah, literally put her boots on the ground to begin to create diversity in this area.
I'm proud to have her here tonight alongside my 11-year-old granddaughter Camden who took up riding three years ago.
I'm proud of Khalilah. There is no doubt countless people view her much differently because of her talent, grace and personality.
It takes a lot of courage for a young person of color to walk out in front of a crowd in a cowboy hat where none of the faces in the audience look like yours, except maybe your mother.
Khalilah please stand.
TRANSIT IS A MORAL AND ECONOMIC IMPERATIVE
Diversity is a common theme of thriving regions. Another is transit. And I've got a few words to say about regional transit.
Let me start by recognizing one of the key members of my management team, Khalil Rahal, who oversees Wayne County's economic development program, but does so much more.
There is no one over the past year in our region that has put in as much time in developing a regional transit plan than Khalil.
Khalil, please stand. Thank you.
Amazon served this region a big reality check when they said "thanks, but no thanks."
Amazon told us: our lack of mobility was a deal-breaker. They needed to build a workforce, not just a headquarters.
While this serves as a high-profile example, the economic and social cost of not having adequate regional transit has been apparent for years.
We don't spend on transit like other regions. So it should be no surprise we have an inferior system.
Metro Detroit spends $67 per capita on transit. Compare that to Seattle which spends $409, or Boston at $380. And it's not just a coastal thing: Cleveland spends $158.
While Detroit sank from the 5th to the 18th largest city in America, others invested heavily in transit, using it as a tool to attract business and talent.
The business community understands transit benefits all too well. They understand recruiting, and beyond that, a need for getting people to work.
Not everyone can afford a car, gas and insurance for minimum wage jobs. Especially when they live in a City with the highest auto insurance rates in the country.
There are several additional reasons to support transit. What is abundantly clear is that transit benefits everyone, regardless of age, color, creed, religion and income level.
Whether it is decreased congestion, higher property values, better air quality or enhanced productivity, the benefits of transit impact us all.
There is no national debate over public transportation, only a Southeast Michigan debate. So why do we continue to ignore it?
Consider Aerotropolis. It's half way between Ann Arbor and downtown Detroit. That stretch includes the airport, city of Detroit, University of Michigan, and the American Center for Mobility.
It's crazy not to connect these assets. We are undercutting our own strengths like no other major region in the nation.
Not taking action in the wake of Amazon would be a colossal failure of leadership.
Transit is also the intersection of moral and economic imperatives.
We have a moral obligation to ensure that people have access to education, jobs and getting to their doctor. And we should want to create a vibrant region, which includes a well-functioning transit system, so our children can choose to pursue their dreams right here, at home.
Transit and education are how people change their lot in life and move up the social ladder.
According to Harvard economist Raj Chetty, the regions offering the greatest chance to move from the bottom fifth to the top fifth of income across generations, are those regions where the cities rank high in the quality of its public transportation.
But what we've kept missing is that building a talented workforce requires investing in the people who are already here.
For decades, a huge portion of our population has been written off, with many either viewing them as poor or somehow inferior.
We need to realize that our talent pool includes everyone here, as well as everyone we can attract.
Talent is distributed across race, opportunity is not.
The economic case for transit is a strong wind growing stronger, and while the moral reasons, alone, should move us to improve transit, I'm okay focusing on the economic imperatives to get something done.
NEXT STEPS FOR REGIONAL TRANSIT PLAN
Since April, the region's county executive offices and city of Detroit started working on a plan we could all support.
With the generous support of The Kresge Foundation, we created a plan that incorporated the lessons from 2016.
The product of this work is a new plan that's bigger, better and more flexible then what was created in 2016.
It is a full, four-county plan that is less reliant on capital investment and more focused on increasing bus rapid transit service.
It will get us in the cue for federal funding for light rail so our tax dollars are spent here and not on paving some road in Montana.
In our current system, there are too many inefficiencies between DDOT, SMART and local transit providers. Our people in DDOT and SMART work hard and provide a great service, but we've built this system like a patchwork quilt that is horribly inefficient and more expensive than it has to be.
A four-county system with doughnut holes carved in the middle would just compound that problem.
That's why the RTA is so important. Nearly all our communities are already paying transit dollars one way or the other. Many of our communities, including opt-outs, are paying for small community local services that supplement the larger bus systems.
We can do better, and we must do better. We need to pull these existing systems together under one banner working in full cooperation.
This plan offers much more value across the entire region. It has components that can be customized around the needs of all the counties.
It's flexible to evolve with mobility technology and can be part of the solution to our infrastructure crisis by allocating some funds for roads.
But this isn't a roads or buses argument. This isn't cars versus transit. Those are false choices. We need it ALL.
We can't let our transit needs go unmet because Lansing dropped the ball again. Fixing roads goes hand in hand with getting transit right.
So for better or for worse, on Thursday, I will present a new regional transit plan to the RTA Board.
And I will make a simple request: Review the plan and then let's present it for public comment.
I believe that there is enough support for transit in the region to pass the right plan. If they vote it down, they vote it down. But I do think voters deserve a chance to let their voices be heard.
Metro Detroit is at a watershed moment. Mobility and technology are driving change at an unfathomable speed. Every industry we know is being disrupted, flipped on its head, gutted and rewired, and talent is the ante to be in the game.
We've changed the worldwide perception of Detroit as a dying city. And we did it together because we acknowledged that as Detroit goes Michigan goes.
We climbed a hell of a mountain when Detroit emerged from bankruptcy.
And by we, I mean Michigan, not just Detroit. This isn't a Detroit issue, it's a Michigan issue. There are people in every opt-out community walking around with hoodies on that say "Detroit vs. Everybody" and "Detroit Hustles Harder".
They wear it loud and proud, and we should be glad they do. But if this growth we are experiencing is allowed to die in the crib, we are going to slide back faster than we ever climbed.
If we are going to rebuild Wayne County and position this region for prosperity - it's going to take a fully coordinated regional transit system on good roads.
The wealth disparity in this country and state is very real and it's widening due in no small part to lack of transit. If we fail to address this issue of economic inclusion and equity, it will be at our own peril.
We need transit and we can't wait.
I'm all in and I'm going to be all in on transit.
We can do this. We can accomplish what we've argued about for 40 years. We can do it in a way that benefits us all. I am confident we can do it together.
We are building a better Wayne County and a brighter future, and we need transit to get us where we want to be.
I need you with me.