Detroit has once again been forced to make budget cuts, and this time the fat-trimming is expected to occur within the week. Last Monday, the Detroit City Council convened to discuss the city’s finances, one week before Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s deadline for the city to make budget cuts. In a desperate effort to avoid being given an emergency financial manager by the state, the council is looking to privatize services like ambulances, close recreation facilities, increase bus fare and garbage collection fees and merge its health department with Wayne County’s. One week to make cuts to a city that’s been hurting for decades is unreasonable and likely to hurt most residents. While cuts are necessary, it is essential that this deadline be extended in order to allow for careful, reasonable decisions that lessen adverse effects on Detroit residents.
Though Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is counting on substantial savings through concessions with unions, City Council is not so confident. It’s likely that Bing’s current proposed plan will only reduce the city’s budget by $44 million — far short of the $102 million necessary to avoid an emergency manager. However, the City Council’s job is to respond to its residents’ needs, not to virtually disappear for the sake of reaching budget cuts. On Monday, Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown justified the hastiness of the belt-tightening and affirmed that Detroit is “really out of time.”
It’s certainly true that budget cuts need to happen quickly in order to avoid the appointment of an emergency manager who is fiscally in charge of the city. However, the budget should not shave off essential services like garbage pick-up to residents nor should it employ lay-offs, of which another 1,300 may occur. There are other ways of implementing budget cuts, like bringing back the State Revenue Sharing Program. This program redistributes sales tax collected in the state to local governments. A program like this would not only benefit Detroit now, but could also help other distressed cities in the future.
If cuts are not implemented, Snyder will appoint an emergency financial manager for Detroit or will form a consent agreement that would involve shared fiscal responsibility with city officials. However, the proposed partnership has also been met with opposition. Since the mayor and council would essentially be given the ability to institute fast-track changes in how the city is run — such as changing administration details or privatizing city services, it seems that the option only differs from that of the emergency manager in its bureaucratic makeup. Both the City Council and an emergency financial manager would have the power to greatly impact the lives of Detroiters.
Impulsive decisions that focus only on the short-term can become huge problems in the long run. The Detroit City Council, Bing and Snyder should all look for ways to extend the deadline and come up with solutions that are minimally harmful to Detroit’s residents.