I love my home state, but sometimes it just exhausts me. Case in point: The woeful condition of our cities. And roads. And schools. But I repeat myself.
So this past week was a particularly painful exercise in holding up a mirror to Michigan’s collective failures and depressing, decade-plus slide in prosperity. Let’s review:
The week kicked off with the Michigan Municipal League releasing a shocking report that found the Mitten with the dubious distinction of being the only state in the country where municipal revenues actually declined from 2002-2012. Yes, while state revenues rose by 39 percent over that period, state revenue sharing to cities fell by more than 8 percent, with more than $7.5 billion in funds diverted away from cities.
“The bottom line is, the state solved their budget issues on our back,” Tony Minghine, associate executive director and COO of the Michigan Municipal League, told The Detroit News:
“At the end of the day it’s that simple. That’s something they’ve been doing strategically going all the way back to governor Engler, throughout the entirety of Gov. Granholm’s administration and continuing to this day (in the Snyder administration).”
The decade examined was a bleak one here, with Michigan struggling through a single-state recession led by the decline of the Detroit Three automakers, two of which eventually declared bankruptcy and received massive government bailouts to stay alive. But it was compounded by the financial crisis that began in 2007, which caused real estate values to plummet — and along with it, the property tax revenues that cities depend heavily upon to fund essential services like police, fire, water and sewer, and libraries.
So that was ugly.
Then on Wednesday, the independent panel tasked by Gov. Rick Snyder to root out the cause of the Flint Water Crisis released its report. And it was scathing, laying the blame primarily at state government and the controversial emergency-manager law:
Neither the Governor nor the Governor’s office took steps to reverse poor decisions by MDEQ and state-appointed emergency managers until October 2015, in spite of mounting problems and suggestions to do so by senior staff members in the Governor’s office, in part because of continued reassurances from MDEQ that the water was safe. The significant consequences of these failures for Flint will be long-lasting. They have deeply affected Flint’s public health, its economic future, and residents’ trust in government.
It went a step further by focusing on what it called “environmental injustice.”
“Flint residents, who are majority black or African-American and among the most impoverished of any metropolitan area in the United States, did not enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards as that provided to other communities,” the report concluded.
Ken Sikkema, a Republican former state Senate Majority Leader who was part of the five-member task force, told The New York Times that the issue “needed to be addressed. It’s not just race, it’s income status, too. Low-income people shouldn’t be subject to a different level of environmental protection than high-income people.”
If that wasn’t enough to make Snyder squirm, the report was also critical of state government’s underfunding of public health programs, saying “The consequences of underfunding include insufficient and inefficient responses to public health concerns, which have been evident in the Flint water crisis.”
Let’s move on, shall we?
Here comes a report from the Michigan Department of Transportation that found our fair state’s roads will continue to deteriorate despite the Byzantine $1.2 billion road-fix package lawmakers passed late last year. “It’s going to slow the decline,” Mark Van Port Fleet, MDOT’s chief operations officer, said reassuringly.
can't maintain the pavement we have, but we're adding more anyway ¯_(ツ)_/¯ https://t.co/3UmMXgBkMh
— Jimmy McBroom (@jmsmcb) March 25, 2016
This really shouldn’t be surprising. I expressed my feelings about the roads package here.
Hope for the future?
Nearly buried in the avalanche of bad news was the 75-point plan Snyder released early in the week to improve Flint and deal with the lead contamination crisis. It does include some calls to apply for federal funds for things like blight remediation and job training, though with no real dollar amounts listed, and it stops short of calling for a complete rebuild of the city’s water distribution system, as Flint’s mayor has urged.
Reading it one is left wondering whether the governor fully grasps the extent of the economic crisis in cities like Flint, Detroit and Saginaw. Or whether he’s ever taken a drive through the Upper Peninsula or rural areas like Baldwin, which are dotted with abandoned and decrepit trailer homes.
The evidence is all around us: This state is showing worrying signs of strain.
Here’s what the Freep said in an editorial the other day:
For years, the Free Press Editorial Board has asked Snyder whether he’s concerned about the way Michigan funds its cities — whether he’d make it a priority to re-evaluate the way the state provides dollars for cities to hire cops and firefighters, offer solid schools, keep streets paved and clear — the myriad local government services that most directly impact quality of life. And for years, his answer has been that he’d take a look, if the Legislature chose to put something on his desk.
So in other words, don’t hold your breath.