In a recent emergency address to the citizens of Detroit, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced that merely cutting 700 jobs within city government would not save enough money to balance the city’s budget. Due to a $230 million deficit and a mounting debt, Kilpatrick said the city will now look to lay off even more workers and significantly cut public services. Although it is important to have a balanced budget, chopping major city services will only exacerbate the problems that Detroit is facing. In the midst of this continued financial crisis, Detroit must seek long-term solutions that bring businesses, people and money back into the city.
The proposed job cuts will hit city workers across the board. The nearly 1,000 employees that will be laid off will come from every city department, with the exceptions of police and fire. Even for those that are fortunate enough to retain their jobs, money spent on health care, workers compensation and retirement benefits will be reduced. All nonunion employees will see a 10 percent wage decrease.
More worrisome than job losses, however, is the imminent threat of damaging program cuts. Most notable is the possible elimination of nightime bus services. Considering that one out of every four Detroit households lacks access to a car, shutting down the bus system would force many people to stay home at night. Absent night bus services, many of these individuals would have no way to commute to night-shift jobs. This would create grave problems for low-income workers who seek the higher wages paid at later hours, as well as the corporations that rely on night-shift labor. Other late-night cost cutting measures include turning off streetlights — a move that would surely hurt efforts to overcome the city’s unsafe image.
While service cuts and wage decreases may balance the city budget, they will also lower the quality of city services and drive more residents into the suburbs. If the city continues to tackle its financial problems by harming those it serves, it will deepen the crisis it is currently facing, as more citizens and businesses leave. The city should adopt a long-term solution for addressing its budget crisis by embarking on a plan that streamlines government, focuses on effective development strategies and brings commerce — and therefore money — back into the downtown area.
Detroit’s government is large enough to serve a far more populous urban area. With that in mind, budget cuts that trim superfluous administrative positions and bureaucracy from the city budget are clearly worthwhile. Furthermore, eliminating perks for some white-collar employees could save money: for example, Kilpatrick has stated that mayoral appointees will no longer receive city vehicles. This step will help save insurance, fuel and maintenance costs and will only affect well- paid advisors who can independently afford their own vehicles.
Most importantly, however, the city must finally experience the renaissance it was promised three decades ago. The pressing problem of capital flight must be addressed. In order for the city to establish a firm tax base and solid economic foundation, major corporations as well as small businesses must relocate into the downtown area. Increased economic activity will raise the city’s employment level, drive up average wages and quality of life and allow the city to provide reliable public services.
In the immediate future, there is no easy answer to Detroit’s problems. However, a steady focus on a long-term solution — economic revival of the downtown district — is vital if the city is to ever be reborn.