The state House voted last week to approved legislation transferring authority for setting the price rate for water and sewer services from a Metro Detroit run panel to a panel controlled outside of Detroit, primarily from the suburbs. A Senate committee sent the bill up for a vote before the full Senate. The 166-year old Detroit Water and Sewer Department currently serves about 4.3 million residents in southeast Michigan and Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick appoints the board that establishes the pricing rates.
The debate over a suburban takeover of Detroit’s water board is not new. Suburban representatives, particularly Rep. Leon Drolet (R-Clinton Twp.) who drafted the legislation, have been pushing for the takeover for a number of months now. At the same time as the state Legislature has been debating the takeover of the Detroit water board, Kilpatrick has appointed several new officials to the Detroit Public School’s seven-member reform board. With this maneuver, Kilpatrick is attempting to appear receptive to public criticism. The real problem with the schools, however, as would be the problem with a takeover of the water board, is that the state or outside sources are not as familiar with or invested in the future of Detroit.
Since the takeover of Detroit’s public schools, the criteria that were used to justify the takeover have not given any indication that the schools have improved, and, in fact, test scores have gone down since the takeover in 1999. The voting rights of the citizens of Detroit were trampled in favor of a policy that has yet to yield any positive results.
The takeover of Detroit’s schools, as well as the current attempt to takeover the Water and Sewer Department, are both efforts on the part of the state legislature to wrest political power from the city.
Drolet and other state officials have expended their efforts in an attempt to establish greater political hegemony for the state over Detroit, and turned the whole issue into a power struggle with consequences that could be disastrous for the city.
The takeover bill has specific provisions allowing privatization and layoffs, which indicates the detrimental effects that a state takeover can have for jobs and the standard of living in the city. Not to mention that Detroit is already a poor city which needs greater access to more income since tax revenue has fled with businesses and residents over the past few decades.
The takeover of the water board would amount to nothing more than a further attempt by the state to drain the political and economic power of the largest city in the state of Michigan. The legislature should look more seriously for ways to address Detroit’s problems that do not include flooding the city with state-sponsored takeover boards at the expense of Detroit’s political and economic well-being.