Belle Isle is a rare victory for common sense in government

Oct 2, 2013

Something good happened yesterday, something smart and rational that will help improve people’s lives. This was not typical of the day, mind you. Actually, yesterday was a day of supreme irrationality in federal, state and local government.

Nationally, the government shutdown continued, with Republicans vowing to take the nation over a cliff unless Democrats agree to defund the Affordable Care Act. This happened on the same day that millions rushed to sign up for health insurance plans.

Polls show most people don’t want the law repealed, but Republicans don’t care. Yesterday, Michigan’s budget director said that if this lasts two weeks, everyone, especially the poor, will be facing real problems.

Meanwhile, in Lansing, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer is urging the legislature to end its session for the year, right now. Why? Well, if it did, more than three hundred thousand poor people would be able to get Medicaid health insurance in January, rather than waiting till April. That would not only be good for them, but the state would get more than $600 million dollars from Washington.

We could have had this anyway, had Republicans voted to give the approval of Medicaid immediate effect. But in a fit of spite, they refused. But if the lawmakers did end their session, how would they get done whatever unfinished business is left? Not to worry; the governor could call them back in a special session. But Republican leaders indicated they had no interest in that.

Meanwhile in Detroit, we have recently learned one of the reasons the city pension funds are in such bad shape is that for years they doled out extra “thirteenth checks” to both retirees and employees still on the job. Detroit City Council stopped this bizarre practice two years ago.

But now, with the city in bankruptcy court and elderly retirees in danger of losing their pensions, guess what? The union representing the workers wants this reinstated, and for the workers to get the money they’ve missed the last two years.

So, you are wondering, where’s the good news I promised? Well, here it is:

The state yesterday finalized an agreement to at last lease Belle Isle, Detroit’s beautiful, but rundown, island, and turn it into a state park. Michigan will pour $10 million into sprucing up Belle Isle. Detroit will also save millions. The state will also provide police protection, freeing up 22 Detroit officers badly needed elsewhere.

The state wanted to do this earlier, but it was blocked by a screamingly irrational Detroit City Council. Two of those members, Joann Watson and Brenda Jones, said similarly bizarre things yesterday.

Jones said this was “a true disrespect. It’s a crime to this city.” When it was announced the state would improve Belle Isle, which will remain open to all, Watson said, “It sounds like a rape to me. It should never be touched. It’s a disgrace before God to have this outrageous seizing of an asset.“

Well, the minute the governor has Belle Isle towed away to his cottage on Gun Lake, I’ll agree. Meanwhile, the city and state struck one small blow for sanity in a world of political madness.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day.             

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.