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Welcome to SEMCOG's Think Regional/Act Local blog! SEMCOG is the only organization in Southeast Michigan that brings together all governments to solve regional challenges and enhance the quality of life for the seven-county regions 4.7 million residents. With this regional perspective in mind, we work with member local governments to sustain our regions reputation as a great place to work, play, and do business.

 

Our panel of SEMCOG staff bloggers will post daily to this blog, discussing SEMCOG's data, federal and state legislative issues, and environmental and fiscal sustainability best practices for local governments all with the goal of creating a successful future for the region.

 

Meet SEMCOG's Blogging team:

Amy Mangus
Member Services
About Amy . . .
Read Amy's past posts

Dave Boerger
Government Efficiency
About Dave . . .
Read Dave's past posts

Bill Anderson
Local Government Revenue
About Bill . . .
Read Bill's past posts

Carmine Palombo
Transportation
About Carmine . . .
Read Carmine's past posts

Xuan Liu
Data & Demographics
About Xuan . . .
Read Xuan's past posts

Grant Brooks
Public Outreach
About Grant . . .
Read Grant's past posts

 

 

Think Regional/Act Local

The Doomsayer’s Vision for Our Region…I’m not buying it

(Data) Permanent link

SEMCOG recently adopted a new forecast of population, households, and jobs for our region and our communities to Year 2040. We forecast relatively stable population growth (1%) and slow, but steady job growth (12%) after a painful decade 2000 to 2010.

 

Our forecast generated a lot of despair by those who chose to be doomsayers. We’re not gaining people. We won’t replace all the jobs we lost in the last decade. We’re getting old. We’re facing “stagnation and deterioration,” said one observer.

 

To those doomsayers, I say go wallow in your despair. I’m not buying it.

 

We don’t need (we probably don’t want) a great influx of additional population. Let’s create the high quality-of-life amenities for the people we do have…good roads, improved transit, good schools, access to our abundant natural resources, quality and affordable housing, and government services second to none. Let’s give our young people choices for well-paying jobs available as a result of job growth and us baby boomers moving on to enjoy retirement…well-paying jobs to support themselves and their families. And, for those of us getting up in our years (one in four of us will be over age 65), let us enjoy retirement here, because we want to retire here…our communities have everything we need and want.

 

Yes, I see a different future for Southeast Michigan than the doomsayers have chosen to interpret from our forecasts. I’m betting on my future…one in which I will enjoy retirement here, one in which my daughters will prosper, and one in which my grandchildren will thrive.

 

Paul Tait
Paul Tait joined SEMCOG in 1972 and has served in a variety of planning and administrative capacities – becoming Executive Director in 1998. This experience gives Paul a rich perspective on the past, present, and future of our region. Please join him as he blogs about issues of importance to the region’s local governments and residents.

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Looks like up to me

(Data, Regionalism) Permanent link

There is an old song with the lyrics “Been down so long, it looks like up to me.” That’s the way I felt about our region’s economy for this past decade. No question, our economy took a deep dive in the 2000s…we lost 351,000 jobs. A lot of individuals and families took huge hits.

 

Thank heaven, I can look at the last decade in the rear view mirror. Our economic dive has bottomed out. Our forecasts for the next 30 years make me feel much better. We’re looking at over 12% job growth in the next three decades. Even more promising is when I look at the real numbers. Recent job numbers show us growing two and a half times the national average…over four times the national average in high-wage jobs.

 

It looks like up to me. We have taken the punch thrown by a transforming economy. We are still standing and the future is bright. I’ve got to find a new song to hum.

 

Hope you’ll join us at our General Assembly today. We’ll provide additional information and members will adopt the 2040 Forecast. Two documents are ready to download – Retrenchment and Renewal: The Economic and Demographic Outlook for Southeast Michigan Through 2040 and Southeast Michigan 2040 Forecast Summary.

 

Paul Tait
Paul Tait joined SEMCOG in 1972 and has served in a variety of planning and administrative capacities – becoming Executive Director in 1998. This experience gives Paul a rich perspective on the past, present, and future of our region. Please join him as he blogs about issues of importance to the region’s local governments and residents.

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Progress?

(Transportation, Legislation) Permanent link

Last week, the Senate passed their version of the federal transportation reauthorization legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). This has been discussed for some time now, but they finally passed it and by quite a margin. Now all eyes are on the House of Representatives, who were so concerned about this that they took the last week off!

 

The House has several options; they can try to raise their proposed five-year bill from the ashes and pass that. They can take the Senate version and use it as the basis for a new proposal, or they can just take the Senate version and approve it. This last option is not very likely to occur. Whatever they do, they have until March 31 to pass something and send it to the president, or another extension of the current bill will be needed.

 

The bill passed by the Senate keeps funding constant with current levels and consolidates the many funding programs into about 30. The House may have a hard time passing the same bill as the Tea Party members in the House reportedly feel the bill is too rich for them. Some $12 billion must be found just to keep funding constant with current levels due to the fact that fewer dollars are flowing into the federal trust fund. They may push for a bill that actually contains fewer dollars. Should that happen and the House actually pass such a bill, there will need to be a conference committee named to work out the differences between the two bills; the compromise then has to go back to both chambers for approval before it goes to the president.

 

I don’t know how Congress can pass a two-year bill in an election year that has fewer dollars in it, but I guess anything is possible. What really gets me going, though, is that Congress will tout this as a significant action. Everyone will say how important this action is and how it means that funding will continue uninterrupted. Yup. It continues the inadequate funding we currently receive. It continues the reliance on the gas tax – a tax that yields fewer and fewer dollars every year and just guarantees we will be in the same exact situation in 18 months – after the election when it will be someone elses’ problem. You call this progress, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century? I sure don’t – I call it a cop out.

 

Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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Caucus Time

(Transportation, Public Transportation, Legislation) Permanent link

Last Friday, members of the Southeast Michigan Legislative Caucus, under the leadership of Representative Jim Townsend and Senator Patrick Colbeck, held a public forum in Romulus. A number of local officials and members of the House and Senate representing Southeast Michigan were present. The purpose of the forum was to explain and get feedback on a package of bills that have been introduced in both the Michigan House and Senate that increase transportation funding and establish a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in Southeast Michigan.

 

Attendees heard presentations from Representative Rick Olsen and Dennis Schornack of the governor’s office, along with SEMCOG, MDOT, and a representative from the Grand Rapids area. After a question and answer period, the attendees were ready to provide feedback to the caucus on their feelings on the proposals. People were invited to respond to a series of questions posed to them by SEMCOG Executive Director Paul Tait through the use of keypad voting. If the intent is to move forward with the legislation, then the results were encouraging. There was almost unanimous support for creation of an RTA and strong support to increase transportation funding through an increase in the gas tax. There was also support for raising vehicle registration fees, but not as strong as for increasing the gas tax.

 

This information will be transmitted to the caucus, who will consider it along with other input they are receiving as they consider action on these proposals. The forum was a great idea to both educate and get feedback to the Southeast Michigan legislators. People do not want to pay more – who does? However, things are not going to improve until we do increase our investments in transportation infrastructure. At the same time, people have a right to demand accountability and they should. It is going to be an interesting year as these bills get debated and hopefully approved.

 

Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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Clear Message

(Legislation, Public transportation, Regionalism, Transportation) Permanent link

This past Tuesday, the state Senate Transportation Committee held a second hearing on the proposed Regional Transit Authority (RTA) legislation. The meeting was held in SEMCOG offices. It lasted from 2-5 pm and I estimate over 200 people attended. It was a great turnout. Not only was it a great turnout, but a clear message was sent to committee members. Speaker after speaker told the committee that the proposed bill needed a little work, but don’t take this as a negative comment and kill the bill – we need the bill. Work to improve it, but we need an RTA for so many reasons.

 

The concerns mentioned most often were that Detroit only gets one voting representative on the RTA Board, as it is currently proposed. The legislation gives the RTA too much power over local zoning decisions and concerns over what happens to the existing transit operators. But all of these concerns were carefully couched in comments that urged the committee to pass a bill and try to address these issues – but pass a bill. These sentiments echo what SEMCOG heard at its Executive Committee last Friday, when members passed a resolution in support of the concept of an RTA, with the realization that some tweaks to the legislation are necessary.

 

I have worked at SEMCOG for a long time and it was incredibly positive to hear people rally behind the concept – that the concept was more important than the specifics – the forest was more important than the trees. Trust me, this sort of thinking doesn’t always take the day. But it did on this day. The Senate Transportation Committee may take some action on the bill as early as next week, sending it on for action by the entire Senate at some point soon.

 

I am starting to be optimistic that this time the RTA bill will pass. It has a long way to go, but I am feeling good right now. Remember, the real work starts after the RTA has been formed – find a way to convince the region to pay for needed transit improvements, including a regional system of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines. 

 

All of the other big cities have done this – and we can too. I think the region took a big step forward this week.

 

Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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