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Emergency management is a failed policy experiment

State Treasurer Andy Dillon

State Treasurer Andy Dillon

The city of Detroit is in a financial emergency. This announcement, given at a press conference Feb. 20 by State Treasurer Andy Dillion and the Financial Review Team appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in December, is not surprising.

The emergency management trajectory began years ago. Suburbanites will say it began the year of the “riots” in 1967 when Black leadership began to take over. We agree but for different reasons. The economic divide between Black and white America is real and increasing after the last economic downturn.

Black poverty is a persistent problem because of years of systematic disadvantage. Black leadership has always recognized that this is the fundamental problem and whenever that leadership has created policy to help its residents, many of those leaders have been met with harsh criticism from corporate media and worse.

The city of Detroit, like other public entities, from Detroit Public Schools to cities such as Benton Harbor, Highland Park and Pontiac, will go under emergency management and come out worse off.

Dillon says, rosily, financial stability for Detroit is possible under emergency management. “It would be very difficult to restructure this city and have to adhere to all of the requirements of the charter,” Dillon said, indicating the governor will not follow local custom, rule or law to achieve savings in Detroit’s financial emergency.

He claims emergency management will restructure Detroit’s debt — and he doesn’t mean the billions of interest from bonds, but the billions in retiree obligations. He believes the EFM team, along with the EFM, will be able to manage the ongoing obligations of the city. Dillon said retiree healthcare benefits, underfunded pension funds and subsidies for Public Lighting and the Detroit Department of Transportation are unsustainable for the city.

This optimistic and in-control-of-the-world, accountant-like stance is one city residents are tired of hearing. And it does not hold the solution to the problems in Black cities.

That is the myth of emergency management — that there is an answer. There are no easy solutions to dealing with American racial inequity. Accountants can’t help and you can’t blame Black management. This is the lie. This isn’t about poor management. This is the result of poor national and state policy.

If you look at an income map of the region, there are many areas in the city where the median family income is less than $16,000 a year. Yet, median income immediately rises beyond Eight Mile Road.

Racial and economic segregation is real and reinforced by policy. Regional transit in most metropolitan areas is a shared expense but in Michigan, Detroit and DDOT shoulder the bulk of these costs alone. Much of the state’s poverty is isolated to the city.

So when the state allows the shuttering (because their mostly white communities aren’t affected) of mental health centers, local police fire and other services are overburdened. Detroit’s schools and resources are disproportionately overburdened.

At the same time, revenue sharing is reduced. The isolation of Black poverty has benefitted the state and suburbs. You cannot have white suburban wealth without Black inner city poverty. These smug state officials can’t fix Black problems — not like this. Emergency management is a failed public policy experiment.


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