The city is running out of money because it spends far more than it collects in revenue, and it owes 33 times the net value of all its assets.
And the city is running out of time, because the clock runs out on the state’s financial review on Thursday. If there isn’t an agreement among Gov. Rick Snyder, the Detroit City Council and Mayor Dave Bing about how to move ahead together by then, the state will be left with no choice but to impose an emergency manager who will go ahead alone.
These are monumental stakes for a council whose core — the five new members elected in 2009 — is inexperienced but reform-minded, with fortitude and the ability to recognize reality.
The truth is that the city sunk to this low point by failing to manage population and tax-base declines that have their roots in myriad social and cultural dynamics. Race and poverty played a role. Animosity grew on both sides as the city became a symbol of black political power and independence.
But it’s also true that no one forced Detroit to mortgage its future several times over, continuing to badly overspend while refusing to reshape government infrastructure to match a dwindling population. No one forced city officials to promise unsustainable benefits to Detroit’s workers and retirees, to the point where between a third and a half of the city’s money goes to something other than providing city services.
And no one made a string of mayors or council members tolerate the managerial incompetence at City Hall that has helped hobble the ability to get buses running on the roads, enough cops patrolling the streets or the lights switching on when the sun goes down.
Detroiters are the ones who suffer now because of those decisions. It will take real leadership to insist that something different be done to ease that suffering. It will take uncommon moral certitude to acknowledge that Detroit’s elected officials cannot fix this on their own and need help managing the city toward a more stable future.
The consent agreement that was unveiled last week outlines a plan to balance the city’s books and begin refocusing resources on critical city services.
Stephen Henderson is editorial page editor for the Free Press and the host of “American Black Journal,” which airs at 1 p.m. Sundays on Detroit Public Television.
Read this entire article by Stephen Henderson in the Detroit Free Press
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