Detroit City Council approves new budget, continues to argue over consent agreement

May 24, 2012

The Detroit City Council approved a new budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday.

But the Council spent a lot more time talking about Detroit’s consent agreement with the state—and whether to challenge it in court—than about the budget.

The budget that Council approved by a 6-3 vote is pretty similar to the $1.1 billion plan Mayor Dave Bing’s office proposed in April.

The Council restored some money to the budget. But they mostly preserved the roughly $250 million in cuts the mayor proposed.

They didn’t have much choice, because the city’s consent agreement requires Detroit to spend within its means. And that consent agreement is still contentious among Council members.

Some support the city’s lawyers challenging the agreement in court. Last week, corporation counsel Krystal Crittendon wrote an opinion calling the consent deal "void and unenforceable" because the state owes the city money. The state disputes both those claims.

But other Council members, like Ken Cockrel Jr.,s ay going to court is pointless--and won’t do Detroit-Lansing relations any good.

“They won’t continue to play ball with us if we’re not playing ball with them,” Cockrel said. He noted other contracts between the city and state, such as revenue sharing agreements and bonds, could also be voided with the same legal argument.

Council President Pro-Tem Gary Brown says he’s confident the city’s final budget will meet the requirements of of the consent agreement. But he says this is just the beginning of a long haul.

“I’ve always been confident, after the consent agreement was signed, that we’ll fix the finance part of it," Brown said. "But that’s the small part of it. The larger part of it is, how do we restructure city government to provide services more efficiently?”

Brown says he’s not that concerned about how a legal challenge, with city lawyers have the right to pursue without the support of the Council or Mayor, would affect the consent agreement.

A decision on whether to take the issue to court is expected early next week.