March 25, 2011- My friend Judith Browne-Dianis, who runs the Advancement Project, just turned me on to this evil mechanism that allows governors to take over local decision making. On the heels of Wisconsin’s move to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, Michigan has taken things to the next level: stripping cities of self-governance.
Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act. Now he can declare any city or district in financial emergency, appoint an emergency manager (at county, city, district or township level) and give that person the power to control budgets, sell off assets, bypass city councils and boards of education, take over school systems, de-certify public unions, and even to dissolve the city itself as an entity. This is corporate martial law—it won’t be the military taking over, but business interests that constitute an authoritarian regime.
The idea is that the state will punish localities where incompetent public officials and administrators are wasting money. This is the punishment angle on the master narrative that Republican governors across the country are taking up—“balancing the budget requires sacrifice.” Of course it only requires sacrifice from the people who have already cut to the bone. Simultaneously, Snyder, supposedly a moderate Republican, proposes a state budget that includes a 60 percent cut in corporate taxes, along with plans to tax pensions and kill the earned income tax credit.
Browne-Dianis points out that of the four Michigan cities and school districts (Benton Harbor, Detroit Public Schools, Pontiac and Ecorse) with this status right now, three are majority black. She says, “I believe this is the waterfront and Detroit bill. This is how Detroit will become gentrified. This is how corporate interests and developers will get to have wholesale control of our towns, our land and there’s nothing we can do about it.”