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Michigan gone mad

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

— Albert Einstein

Gov. Rick Snyder and Treasurer Andy Dillon — even though he resigned only two days ago —  need to ponder Einstein’s definition of madness. For 13 years, the state of Michigan has controlled the spending in Highland Park in one way or another. The first EM appeared in 2001, left in 2004 as the second EM slipped in. In 2009, the second EM left under unfavorable press to have a former Chrysler exec take over.

Ever since, the city has supplied monthly financial reports to the state; had annual audits performed; spread voter approved bond payments onto the tax roll; suffered — at Dillon’s command — the everyday presence of a recent college graduate unprepared for the city’s structural financial problems. The state agent ordered the Highland Park water plant shut down to take Detroit water without a signed contract in place; and welcomed a monthly visit from a representative of the state treasurer’s office to go over the  books some more. Meanwhile, the library remains shuttered; code enforcement is absent; there are no certificates of compliance for rental properties; more and more adult foster care homes have occupants wandering the streets unsupervised; and part time police officers with no benefits are working for $15 an hour.

The quality of life has not improved under state control; it has declined rapidly and sharply. Health and safety of citizens — the state’s first constitutional duty — is at risk daily. Moreover, the situation leading to emergency managers has worsened rather than held steady, let alone improved. EMs cannot solve the basic problems since they are not within the city government, they cannot fathom the problems facing cities like Highland Park.

The governor calls himself a nerd. But he misses much. Even a nerd gets it at some point — the issue is lack of revenue, trying to make do with too little. The story of Highland Park, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Flint, Detroit and Royal Oak Township is the tale of dwindling resources. Poverty. Structural racism. Lack of opportunity.

The state has contributed to the ongoing losses with measures that failed to address a dwindling tax base and declining revenues. Some of these losses came from state cuts in revenue sharing, state eradication of residency requirements, state failure to put a moratorium on predatory-lending induced foreclosures, state inability to see that corporations produce the jobs they promised for the tax breaks they received, state approved and financed sprawl… The list of state failures is as deeply entwined in the story of urban decline as is the struggle of city officials to keep it all afloat, hold it all together.

We see the governor sending false messages on television as he launches his campaign for reelection. Discover the truth, come live in a city under emergency management and find yourself in third world conditions. Most who live in the cities don’t have a choice.

Michigan needs honest candidates first. Most of all it needs candidates who understand this is a shared problem. Race and income should not define the quality of civic life, style of governance or benefit of law citizens enjoy.


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