Where Detroit Stands

Mar 14, 2012

Sadly, it appears that the state of Michigan will be taking over the city of Detroit, one way or another. There are a lot of reasons that this is a tragedy, and also a few reasons to be happy about this.

However the next few weeks play out, the city, one way or another, seems likely to get the help it needs to straighten out decades of terribly mismanaged finances. Yesterday, Governor Snyder announced details of a proposed “consent agreement” which would bring radical change and fiscal responsibility to Detroit.

Essentially, it would establish a nine-member board which would have huge powers to restructure city government and finances. Mayor Dave Bing and the city council would still retain some power, though they would give up a lot.

Yesterday, Detroit’s politicians lashed out angrily at the plan, saying that it was an undemocratic power grab, and that they would never accept it. But the fact is they don’t have much choice.

Detroit is on the point of collapse. Decades of mismanagement and corruption have drained the city’s coffers and sold out the people’s future. The city is mortgaged way beyond the hilt. For every dollar of assets, Detroit has $33 in debt.

Within a few months at most, Detroit will entirely run out of cash. The politicians have known this for months, but have entirely failed to do anything about it. You don’t have to be a supporter of the governor to admire the diplomatic way he put it yesterday:

“"For several months, I have made it very clear …that the best possible outcome would be for the city to develop its own, workable plan to address this financial crisis. Over time, it has become increasingly clear that may not come to fruition.” he said.

Granted, making the hard choices would be very hard indeed for politicians who want to be re-elected. But that’s what we elect leaders for. Yesterday, it was hard to see any sign of leadership among Detroit’s politicians. They denounced the plan as unacceptable. None came forward to accept any share of responsibility for letting the city get to this point. To show how out of touch with reality they are, a few even demanded the state give the city more money. This, on the very day when it was revealed that Mayor Dave Bing is forfeiting $72 million in federal money for poor people, because he had to shut down the human services department for incompetence and corruption.

There is no choice for Detroit now, or actually, only one. The city has two weeks to accept the consent agreement, or an emergency manager will clearly follow. Those elected to lead the city can participate in trying to save and reinvent it, or be swept out of the way.

There are things that anybody might quarrel with in the proposed agreement. Some modifications could be made. But Detroit is out of time. This is clearly a path to a long, difficult, but possible rebirth for what was once a great city.

The fortunes of everybody in this state depend on a fiscally solvent, and some day, hopefully, healthy Detroit. This agreement is the last best hope for her leaders to help their stricken city get there.