On Monday, Kevyn Orr, emergency financial manager for the city of Detroit, released his 45 day report assessing the city’s finances along with a list of suggestions to help the city find solvency. Unsurprisingly, Orr found massive flaws in the city’s management of funds and services. His report indicates that he is prepared to take serious action in pursuit of Detroit’s long term fiscal solvency, suggesting major restructuring of police, fire and public transportation, the privatization of public lighting services and the possibility of cutting pensions for retired city employees. Orr is taking necessary action to help the city begin its long road to financial recovery, but his efforts as emergency manager can only affect the city’s bottom line. In order for Detroit to make a true recovery, the state must realize that short-term fiscal solvency won’t necessarily lead to the growth and stability that the city needs.
Given Orr’s track record in handling bankruptcies, there’s no doubt he can put the city’s finances in order again. However, a number of his suggestions for saving money could be potentially disastrous to thousands of Detroit residents, harming economic recovery in the name of fiscal responsibility. Cutting pensions to retirees is a perfect example — the city’s pension funds are certainly a mess financially — but the sheer number of people who would be hurt by this measure could very well end up doing more harm than good. The same goes for the restructuring of public services like lighting, transportation and police.
Kevyn Orr’s very position as emergency manager is the topic of much debate. However, whether or not the job Orr holds is legitimate is not at issue here — he was appointed and is doing his job, regardless of who agreed or disagreed with his appointment. Moreover, the state has a role to play in the city of Detroit’s restructuring and management even after Orr’s term has expired. The city simply doesn’t have the resources to function without some kind of external aid. In the future, the state must take an active role in promoting regional partnerships and subsidize projects that will improve Detroit, and by extension the entire state of Michigan.
Earlier this year, the Detroit Works Project presented a long term master plan called the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework. This plan includes major changes in how city services are structured in order to save money and make serious improvements to public safety, transportation and blight. Though this plan certainly has its flaws, and many groups in the city disagree with its principles, it’s an idea that could radically improve the city’s image and the lives of residents. Along with its attention to fiscal solvency, the state must promote and develop ideas like the Future City plan in order to truly grow Detroit and prepare the city for the future.