If Michigan lives or dies by Detroit, it's time to take a hard look at Rick Snyder's revenue-sharing plan
Whenever I write about Detroit, I prepare myself for the inevitable onslaught of negative reader comments:
The city is a sinkhole for tax dollars. It’s irrelevant to those living in the rest of the state. It’s corrupt. Let the city disappear into the Detroit River.
But it turns out those views, most of them expressed anonymously, may not accurately reflect how most of Michigan’s citizens view the state’s largest city.
In a recent statewide poll by EPIC-MRA of Lansing, 72 percent said a financially healthy Detroit is either important or essential to the state’s vitality.
And this is largely a bipartisan view. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats said Detroit is important or essential to Michigan’s economic success.
EPIC-MRA President Bernie Porn, who conducted the poll at the end of February for the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV, said the survey reflects what he believes is a growing appreciation of the city’s importance.
“I think (the negative view of Detroit) has changed a lot over the years,” Porn told me. “It’s not the same as when Coleman Young or Kwame Kilpatrick were running the city.”
That’s at least in part due to the election of Mayor Dave Bing, a no-nonsense businessman who is working to restore the city’s financial and moral footings after years of Kilpatrick using Detroit’s treasury as his personal ATM.
Voters also elected Gov. Rick Snyder, who made clear during his campaign that he believes Detroit and other large cities in the state must succeed if Michigan is to prosper.
“For Michigan to be a world leader again, the state’s central cities need to be revitalized into vibrant places where families want to visit, work, and live,” Snyder said on his campaign website.
In addition, many of the young people Michigan needs to retain want to live in the kind of bustling cities they can’t find at home, so they’re moving to places such as Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.
“Try to find a state that’s performing well and is not being led by a big metro that’s centered by a big city,” said Dan Gilmartin, executive director of the Michigan Municipal League.
But Snyder’s proposed budget betrays his advocacy for strong cities. At a time when many cities are struggling to provide basic services, the governor wants to trim $100 million in revenue sharing mandated by state statute.
The remaining $200 million in statutory revenue sharing would go into an incentive pool that cities would receive based on sharing services and reducing employee benefit costs.
The EPIC-MRA poll found that 59 percent of voters favor Snyder’s revenue-sharing plan.
But Bing has said the cut has “potentially devastating consequences for Detroit.” And Gilmartin said it’s unrealistic for cities, which have lost $4.2 billion in statutory revenue sharing over the past decade, to take more cuts.
“It’s like telling cancer patients it would be nice for them to start jogging,” Gilmartin said. “That doesn’t work.”
Tough financial decisions have to be made in the state budget. But we’ve all seen the terrible results as Detroit and other cities fell into poverty.
Pushing them deeper into the hole will make Michigan a less attractive place for young people and business investment.
E-mail Rick Haglund at firstname.lastname@example.org.