Michigan Gov. Snyder Moves to Supersede Detroit’s Elected Government

Monday, March 04, 2013
Gov. Rick Snyder

Democracy has been taking a beating in Michigan lately, with Detroit’s citizens the latest to lose their right to self-government because of a law voters actually repealed in a referendum last November. Counting Detroit, more than half of Michigan’s African-American citizens have lost their right to urban self-governance, their cities being run instead by nearly omnipotent managers appointed by the state’s Governor, Rick Snyder, a member of the overwhelmingly white Republican Party.


At issue is Michigan’s emergency financial manager law, known as Public Act 4, which was enacted in March 2011, shortly after a new Republican majority took control of the state legislature. Under the law, a state review board appointed by the Governor has the power, under certain circumstances, like large budget deficits, to declare a “financial emergency” in a given city. Such a declaration gives the Governor the power to appoint an emergency financial manager with broad powers to enact austerity measures, including the authority to overturn local laws, void union contracts, and ignore local voters and officials.


After emergency manager takeovers led to declining living standards and rising crime in cities like Pontiac (pop.: 59,515), which was forced to close its fire and police departments; and Flint (pop.: 102,434), which cut city employee wages by about 20%, cut city employee pensions by about 50%, and also raised water and sewer rates, voters last November voted to repeal Public Act 4.


Instead of accepting the will of the voters, Michigan’s Republican legislators—who also lost their majorities in November—used a lame duck session in December to ram through a nearly identical bill (Public Act 436) to replace Public Act 4. They even added an unrelated fiscal appropriation to the new law to make it ineligible for repeal by voter referendum.


On February 19, Governor Snyder’s state review board declared a financial emergency in Detroit (pop.: 713,777) giving Snyder the authority over Detroit he has so long publicly craved. He is said to know whom he wants to appoint to run Detroit, but is keeping the name secret.


The odd thing about all of this is that the budget problems of Michigan’s cities are being exacerbated by state policy. In February 2012, for example, the state budget showed a surplus of $457 million, but rather than help enhance and improve the state’s urban areas, the Republican legislature cut corporate tax rates $1.7 billion just for 2012, and cut city governments’ revenue-sharing budget by 10%.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Detroit faces ‘Emergency’ Takeover despite Voter Disapproval: Governor to Use Special Powers in Bid Resolve Motor City's Fiscal Woes (by Paul Abowd, Center for Public Integrity)

Are over Half of Mich African Americans about to be under the Control of an Emergency Financial Mgr? (by Chris Savage, Eclectablog)

Snyder to name Detroit emergency financial manager, has candidate in mind (by Matt Helms, Detroit Free Press)

Michigan Voters Overturn Law Allowing State Takeover of Local Governments (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Unelected Czar of Benton Harbor, Michigan, Rejects City Council’s Resolution Honoring Constitution (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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