How will Detroit function after the bankruptcy is over?

Feb 20, 2014

The city of Detroit actually has a person whose title is Director of Community Engagement. Yesterday, her job was to tell people to go out and clear ice and snow away from the drains on their streets to prevent flooding.

The city no longer has enough manpower to do this, she explained. They’ll be lucky if they can keep the drains open on the main streets. So the residents need to do it, and while they’re at it, clear the hydrants in case there is a fire.

Nothing wrong with that. I’ve done the same with both snow and leaves from the drain on my suburban street.

But it indicates in a small way one of the big problems Detroit is going to have after the bankruptcy is over.There is not enough money to provide basic services or to maintain basic infrastructure.

Bankruptcy isn’t really designed to fix that. It is designed to get rid of debt. We are still waiting for emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s plan to get there. He does talk about directing more money into basic services, such as police and fire and removing blight.

That’s nice, and very necessary. But I worry that we aren’t thinking enough about what happens with Detroit when the bankruptcy is over.

The city may be shorn of debt, but how will it run basic operations and stay solvent? Much of that debt was accumulated because the city didn’t have the money to do what it needed to do. So it borrowed to pay the bills.

Detroit isn’t going to be able to borrow when the bankruptcy is over; its credit will be effectively ruined.

So how will Detroit function? Where will the resources come from to give it a shot at prosperity?

Were this a rational society, our leaders would be saying that we all have to bite the bullet, and pour billions and billions into not only repairing the infrastructure of Detroit, but of society as a whole. This devastating winter has been hell on our roads.

I have never seen potholes so bad. But they are going to be a lot worse when the spring thaw starts in earnest. Yet our legislature seems entirely disconnected from reality. For years, the governor has tried to get them to appropriate the $1 billion-plus a year that will be needed just to get our roads back to reasonable shape.

Our lawmakers completely refuse to do it. The other day, state Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, normally a hard-line conservative, sponsored an amendment to provide $100 million to help local communities cope with the devastation this winter has wreaked on our roads.

“What I am hoping people will realize is infrastructure is important,” he said. But yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he thought $100 million was too much.

Perhaps they don’t drive on his planet.

Meanwhile, a House legislative committee yesterday voted to cut the income tax rate, which would further cripple our state’s ability to provide basic services. This is, frankly, insane. Once upon a time, we expected leaders to think about our future.

Today, they seem unable even to face up to the needs of the present. If that doesn’t scare you, it should.