The Budget Crisis in Michigan Puts Democracy on the Chopping Block
When the city of Pontiac in Michigan ordered the shutting down of its fire department in December, Councilman Kermit Williams found all about it in the morning paper. This was only one is a chain of sweeping realignments for the city, where the elected government has been substituted by one individual with extraordinary power over almost every aspect of city policy.
A law that Michigan passed in March of 2011, which is known as Public Act 4, has removed elected city officials like Williams out of the process. The law allows Gov. Rick Snyder to provide emergency managers independent authority over municipalities and school districts they supervise.
Williams said, “They couldn’t get elected if they tried.”
Labor contracts can be nullified by appointed managers. They can also sell public utilities, as well as dismiss elected officials. Michigan cities like Ecorse, Flint, Pontiac, Benton harbor and two school districts are all under emergency management. The largest city in the state, Detroit, has been under financial evaluation by the state.
Recently, however, a Michigan judge ordered the suspension of the state review of the finances of Detroit, pointing out some violations committed by the team of the Open Meetings Act for public officials. The decision is expected to be appealed by the state’s attorneys.
Michigan is among the 23 states where the Republicans control both houses, as well as the governor’s mansion, since the 2010 election. With help from free-market think tanks, the state legislature utilized its one-party rule to pass a host of legislations aimed at the prolonged great recession in the state, which is marked by the auto industry’s flight and further compounded by the housing market crash of 2007.