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A Detroit Suburb’s Rejection of Transit Funds Outrages Local Businesspeople

Troy, Michigan is down one transit center, $8.5 million in investment and an unknown number of jobs this week after City Council voted 4-3 Monday to reject a federal grant aimed at improving rail transit in metro Detroit.

Troy, Michigan Mayor Janice Daniels went against the local chamber of commerce to kill a transit project she said was wasteful. Now a major employer says it will reduce employment there. Photo: ##

The decision, backed by Tea Party Mayor Janice Daniels and the National Review Online, caused a swift and immediate backlash from the affluent Detroit suburb's business community -- which was a strong supporter of the project.

"We are already experiencing some fallout and disinvestment in Troy, and we need to preclude that from happening," Troy Chamber of Commerce President Michele Hodges told the Detroit News yesterday.

Leading the disinvestment wave was Magna International, an auto parts maker that employs 1,000 people in the city. The company's Frank W. Ervin III wrote a letter to the Chamber that was widely publicized in the press saying that as a result of the decision, he would recommend the company reduce employment in the city.

It is also sad to see that the City of Troy has a Mayor who is not there to advocate for the future growth of the city and the betterment of the resident but who[se] narrow view only speaks to her personal agenda and discriminatory practices, I am drafting a memo to all Magna group presidents and our Magna corporate executives strongly recommending that Magna International no longer consider the City of Troy for future site considerations, expansions or new job creation. I have also recommended that where ever and when ever possible we reduce our footprint and employment level in Troy in favor or communities who act in the best interest of both the residents and business and not simply use their public position to advance their own private agenda.

In a 4-3 decision late Monday, with Daniels making the key vote, Troy City Council voted to reject federal funds for the project. The following day, the National Review Online was cheering, saying Daniels "scored a national victory for fiscal sanity and handed President Obama’s Big Green Government scheme — and its establishment cheerleaders — a black eye."

Daniels claimed the station, which was to serve an Amtrak line connecting Troy to Detroit and Chicago, was a "waste of money," adding "I'm not opposed to it if we weren't $15 trillion in debt." Just to be clear about how ugly this thing got, the mayor, who made headlines this summer for using a hateful gay slur on Facebook, lobbied for extra time to be given to anti-transit activist David Wisz to make a presentation before City Council in which he said the train would become a "heroin express." This was a not too subtle allusion to the Detroit region's historic and continuing racial tensions, which have been a major stumbling block for developing a respectable regional transit system.

So, clearly the Tea Party has a vendetta against transit. But to line up against the local Chamber of Commerce as well as an important employer in metro Detroit? And for the National Review to celebrate this decision like it's some sort of victory? What can you say to this except: wow.

Streetsblog published a letter in March from another Troy business owner who complained that the region's sprawl problem was killing his business. He complained that suburban leaders like "sprawl king" Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Executive, "must live in a different cultural universe" than the young, in-demand talent that is flocking from metro Detroit to San Francisco.

Daniels and the National Review Online don't seem to be overly concerned about jobs and economic growth, or the lack thereof, in metro Detroit. Clearly, the only thing that matters is striking an imagined blow to President Obama. (The rejected money will be transferred to another state rather than used to restore the federal deficit, it was always understood by all parties.)

Here's the craziest part: Daniels and NRO are urging other communities to follow suit.

"I would like for Troy to be a leadership city to encourage all cities in the surrounding area to decline debt money from the federal government," Daniels told the Detroit News [emphasis added].

Looks more like Daniels is leading Troy's economy into the toilet. Something tells me healthier cities around the country aren't going to be rushing to repeat this region's mistakes.

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