Friday, March 22, 2013

Undemocratic takeover

    For decades, Detroit has been the poster child for the struggles of America’s older cities. The city has $14 billion in debt, a $327 million deficit in 2013 and former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was recently convicted of multiple counts of fraud and extortion.
    Last week, Gov. Rick Snyder took advantage of an astounding Michigan law that gives him the power to take over and run a city or school district with no input from local voters. This law gives state-appointed emergency managers power to renegotiate union contracts, change pension agreements and sell public assets.
    Such a fiscal czar would be able to sell Hailey’s Roberta McKercher Park, as an example, and Hailey residents could do nothing about it.
    Economically, there’s little evidence that a czar leads to long-term health for cities that have had one. The budgets of Flint, Pontiac, and Highland Park, Mich., still run in the red two years after their czars’ contracts ended.
    Instead of emergency managers, the fiscal solution to cities’ problems might better be found by insisting that states support distressed cities. In Michigan, Snyder has slashed revenue-sharing with cities. In contrast in New York in 1975, when President Gerald Ford told New York City leaders to “get lost,” the state stepped in with investments and helped regenerate what’s now a world economic engine.
    More disturbing than the ineffectiveness of a fiscal czar is how completely it dismisses democratic principle. In November, Michigan voters struck down emergency powers by 52 to 48 percent. Snyder ignored the vote and pushed a lame duck Legislature into reinstating emergency powers 52 days later.
    States need to look at supporting their cities in hard times, not engaging in undemocratic government takeovers.

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