With Obama-esk precision, Mayor Dave Bing punted the multi-million dollar budget deficit solution to the City Council. The legislative body, though, would have none of that.
Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown led the council chorus requesting that tough decisions to reverse the city’s dire fiscal fate be outsourced. Gov. Rick Snyder, according to the audacious Brown and company, might even enter into a “consent agreement” with Mayor Bing and arm him with sweeping financial powers similar to those of an emergency financial manager (EFM). It didn’t seem to matter that abdicating their budget-balancing duty revealed the depth of the council’s repeated failures to address the fiscal deficiencies of city government.
Brown may not be aware that power over the budget is the responsibility of the legislative branch, not a financial mercenary. It is the principle reason why he and he and his colleagues were elected. No one should be surprised, though, that his request provided confirmation that the council is inundated with politicians that have little knowledge of their fiduciary responsibilities, and lack respected judgment about what constitutes good public service.
Although not known for budget solutions, the council’s ethical and professional lapses are legendary. The body historically teeters on the precipice of outright corruption and the misuse of official power and government resources for private enrichment. Allegations of bribery, patronage and campaign payoffs that line their pockets are more the norm than the exception.
Councilwoman JoAnn Watson even proclaimed that Detroit is the victim of a stagnant national economy and in need of a Marshal Plan. She and her colleagues can’t seem to get their minds around the fundamental fact that the lethal combination of high taxes, high crime, poor city services, reckless spending and general inertia is what forces residents out and drives away tax base. The government’s ineptitude shouldn’t be allowed to continually collide with the reasons why businesses and households by the thousands flee.
While giving short-shrift to the fiscal morass enveloping the city, this council is among the highest-paid legislators in America. They make more than enough to own the vehicles and the other amenities provided them by the city. But they lord over an environment where any growth is among the poverty-prone population.
Since it can’t cut much more of the payroll without devastating already meager services, it makes sense to reduce outlays for employee costs that drain the treasury. However, neither Bing nor the council shows any political will to reassess available options and look beyond traditional approaches to service delivery. Even more regrettable is that employees are demonized when the real villians are the policymakers who are complicit in the contract-approving process but who refuse to eliminate wasteful programs or cut pet projects.
Granting second-term-seeking Mayor Bing EFM powers is no guarantee he would move to effectuate meaningful change. Neither he nor the council have an appetite for budget balancing or offending special interest groups. The governmental unit that created the fiscal mess should be accountable for fixing it.
Should Bing and the council shirk from their duty to cut spending down to size, Gov. Snyder should waste no time appointing an independent EFM to seize control of the city and rescue its future. The EFM should immediately strip the mayor and the council of their perks and pay, and reconfigure the finances and service portfolio in a way that benefits taxpayers.
Detroit politicians are testing Gov. Snyder’s resolve. To even suggest that the structural debt be managed by an outside fiscal controller sends the message that the mayor and council are of no use to the budget balancing process. Voters would be justified in sending them packing.