If not EFMs, then what?

My friend Chris Savage at Eclectablog has been making a compelling case against Governor Rick Snyder’s Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) law, Public Act 4 of 2011, which allows Snyder to install dictators in Michigan cities to nullify contracts, fire elected officials, reverse agreements with unions, sell off or privatize community assets and otherwise kill representative democracy.

In his latest post, Chris makes the case that “emergency managers do not solve the systemic problems that bring cities and school districts to the crisis point. They are simply a band-aid on a gaping wound, temporarily staunching the flow while private businesses reap profits and anti-union forces play out a long-awaited plan to rid the state of public employee unions.”

The Detroit Public Schools and the cities of Flint, Pontiac and Benton Harbor already have state-appointed EFMs. Snyder administration officials have threatened to appoint one to run Detroit – which faces an accumulated deficit of more than $200 million and a $45 million cash shortfall by April – and the city’s mayor, multimillionaire Dave Bing, has stated publicly that he wouldn’t mind if Snyder appointed him to the post.

I’ve opposed Snyder’s power grab from the beginning. Snyder administration officials love to point out that they’ve only strengthened something that was originally signed into law by Governor Jim Blanchard back in 1988. And they claim that contrary to media and Internet claims, Snyder doesn’t have the authority to remove local elected officials at will – an EFM fact sheet put out by the state insists that “local officials can only be removed from office if they refuse to provide information or assistance.”

I’d laugh if this weren’t so serious.

Earlier this month, Congressman John Conyers (D-Detroit) asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review the law’s constitutionality in an attempt to block the governor from installing a manager in the D. And Conyers – who thinks the law is “being applied in a discriminatory fashion” in Michigan municipalities with large African-American populations – appeared at a press conference with celebrity activist Jesse Jackson to promise civil disobedience and protests against Public Act 4.

My friend Tom Watkins, who served as state superintendent of public schools from 2001 to 2005 and is now an education and business consultant, thinks the EFM law is responsible leadership, not a power grab by the state.

In a Facebook exchange, when I objected to embracing the EFM law at the expense of representative democracy, Tom told me that “doing the same thing and ignoring the problems is crazy” and said “having a thoughtful debate on alternatives makes sense.” He pointed out that the people of Detroit pay some of the highest taxes and get little in return, and they deserve better.

So what do you think? If Tom is right and just saying “no” to EFMs is irresponsible, how should local fiscal problems be addressed?

 

Sources: Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, Detroit News, Michigan Forward.

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Patrick Diehl, 49, has been writing professionally for almost three decades. Pat lives in a Lansing suburb with his partner, Anita, and their four young children. He enjoys politics, music, writing, surfing the net and being with his kids - not in that order.
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Comments

  1. Well I think there are a handful of things that need to be done:

    1. Urban renewal planning, proactive management of urban centers. Create cultural centers and other attractions to downtown areas. Promote local economies.

    2. Reinvest / reboot public housing programs so that they are kept in good repair and are transitional structures.

    3. Reinvest in public education and higher education.

    4. Reinvest in inner-city anti-poverty programs.

    5. Amend the Michigan Constitution to allow for a progressive tax structure.

    6. Raise taxes on the upper class so that it either encourages reinvestment in the local economy to avoid the tax, or it is collected and used toward the renewal programs. Either way this funds 1-5.

    It’s a lot more complex than those 6 things … this is just a simplified framework for a long term solution. Also, there would be room for the Democratic version of the Emergency Financial Manager in this framework; the EFM originally was a resource to help the City figure out how to solve these problems. Snyder’s Emergency Managers are a completely different animal.

  2. The only two answers are not dictatorship or bankruptcy, just as those aren’t the only two choices for the American economy as a whole. The correct choice is to fix this broken system which has resulted in the destruction of the middle class, the bankruptcy of people, companies, and cities, and the relative engorgement of a small number of people. I know that’s not a practical short-term answer, but it’s the only one that will work in the long run. In the meantime, if bankruptcy is good enough for big companies, it’s good enough for Michigan cities. The EFM answer is just another way of saying “austerity,” which is NOT the answer to any of our economic problems. Recalling Snyder would be a good start.

  3. I’ve openly supported Emergency Financial Managers, though Eclectablog’s evidence that they don’t work long term is making me re-think that.

    Talking long term solutions like rebuilding the middle class so these poorer regions have some semblance of social mobility is important…

    …but we also need a short term solution for cities that simply don’t have the financial base enough to provide basic civic services. For the love of god, we’re organizing a charity drive to get PENCILS to the Muskegon Heights School system.

    We don’t like the notion of a State Takeover, and there’s evidence it doesn’t work, so we need to either:

    1. Create massive, and I mean MASSIVE financial incentives to get businesses to move into these regions to create jobs

    2. Find a way to shut down portions of the city like they’re doing in Flint and Detroit so they can save resources that way.

    3. Offer help to individuals who want to move elsewhere where there’s a possibility of social mobility.

    4. Maybe create a state brokered inter-city annexation, so that citizens still have representation, but the city itself is dissolved into one with more dough.

    But what we can’t do is talk pie in the sky solutions without coming up with short term, brass tacks solutions that address the problems people are facing right now.

  4. Agree with Chris, great comments here. Muskegon Critic, if my stuff came across as “pie in the sky” I can see why it would, but I think that the long term best case scenario ideas do have a place. When someone asks “what do we do” we definitely should include long and short term. If we start by looking 10, 20, 30+ years down the road and then start working backwards, we might find a short-term process that has a greater chance for success than these little dictators that Snyder is sending to the cities.

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