Appointment vs. direct election “one person, one vote”

LIVONIA, Mich. – Sept. 21, 2017 – The Citizens Research Council of Michigan’s newest report questions whether the legislatively-created governance structure of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) played a role in its failure to gain voter support for the RTA’s November 2016 millage request. The underlying question – should single-purpose special authorities be treated similar to general purpose local governments to ensure representative governance and accountability to taxpayers?

The millage would have paid for the implementation of the RTA’s plan and vision for connecting a four-county region by expanding current public transportation options and adding new ones. The vote failed and many have questioned the reason – Was it the type of tax, the failure to communicate the benefits to the region, or the region’s divisive political and racial history that led to the millage’s defeat?

Four key takeaways from Citizens Research Council’s new report Questions About the Governance of Regional Authorities in Michigan

  1. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that general purpose local governments adhere to the “one person, one vote” principle, i.e., elected government officials should represent roughly equal numbers of people.
  2. The governance of regional authorities, such as the RTA has not been required to adopt the “one person, one vote” principle. Regional authorities are generally governed by appointed boards representing the participating local governments.
  3. Regional authorities are created to provide a single government service, but when they possess broad powers including taxation, the question of governance becomes more relevant.
  4. Policymakers, and perhaps the courts, must decide whether governance of regional authorities is best served through appointments to the board by participating local governments or direct election of representatives based on the “one person, one vote” principle.

“Since the RTA board may again approach voters with a millage request in November 2018, it makes sense to reexamine the RTA’s governance structure, as well as regional authorities generally, to determine whether these organizations should represent governments or people,” said Craig Thiel, Citizens Research Council research director. “Our focus is on the RTA in Southeast Michigan, but single-purpose special authorities are found throughout Michigan and the question of the proper governance model can be applied to all of them.”

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For more information, contact Research Director Craig Thiel 517.485.9444 / cthiel@crcmich.org or Research Associate Jill Roof 616.294.8359 / jroof@crcmich.org.

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