THINKING FOR OURSELVES
EFM is new Jim Crow
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, March 13-19, .2011
Many of us hoped that spring would bring the end of Robert Bobb and his role as Emergency Financial Manager over the Detroit Public Schools. Instead, we have seen three deeply disturbing decisions by the new governor and legislature.
Bobb’s contract has been extended until June 30. The state has ordered closing half of our public schools. And there are plans afoot to appoint another Emergency Financial Manager, most likely a close associate of Mayor Dave Bing.
While many of us think that Robert Bobb brought a unique combination of arrogance and ignorance to his job, the problems with Emergency Financial Mangers go far beyond the personality limitations of Mr. Bobb. Emergency Financial Mangers are not compatible with democracy. Their creation and imposition violate our democratic rights.
The fact that the state legislature enacts laws to create EFMs does not make them a legitimate expression of democracy. State legislatures have a long history of enacting laws that violate the human rights of many citizens. A look at the history of Jim Crow laws is all it takes to remind ourselves that State Legislatures have been in the forefront of creating legal fictions to control and repress the desires of Americans to live full, productive lives.
The only cities to suffer under Emergency Financial Mangers are those with majority African American citizens.
Emergency Financial Mangers are the modern effort to eliminate our right to govern ourselves. Whatever the final outcome of the current legislation, the debate around it has revealed the contempt the state legislature has for the people of the city of Detroit, for unions, for teachers and for our children.
Legislators have argued that emergency financial situations justify eliminating mayors, city councils, school boards, unions, public assets and contractual obligations. They have also argued for empowering EFMs to borrow money and increase indebtedness.
This assault on democracy is justified by an extreme financial crisis. Yet the crisis itself has been manufactured by legislative actions that have systematically dismantled the public sphere. It is a crisis created by fostering an ideology of individual greed, claiming that we have no shared responsibilities for common life. It is a crisis created to justify turning public responsibilities into private profits.
Those who support the EFMs have been engaged in a propaganda campaign to say that the financial crisis we face is our fault because of corruption, bloated unions, over-extended pensions and incompetence. While we have certainly experienced all these, the crisis we face.was not produced by these foibles.
In a recent article in the Kalamazoo Gazette, long-time budget analyst Julie Mack wrote:
“The biggest factors in Michigan’s ongoing budget struggles lie elsewhere. In the late 1990s and into the early part of the past decade, lawmakers did a lot of tax-cutting without offsetting reductions in expenditures. For years, balancing the state budget involved a series of one-time fixes and accounting tricks, from draining the state’s rainy-day fund to selling out the state’s tobacco settlement for pennies on the dollar.
“The numbers tell the story: In 1999-2000, state revenues for its general fund budget were $9.7 billion. For 2010-11, it’s $8 billion. Incidentally, if state revenues had kept pace with inflation, they would have been $12.7 billion this fiscal year — 59 percent more than what we have in the coffers right now.”
We have consistently elected state leadership that has refused to maintain or raise taxes to meet public responsibilities. In contrast to this state-wide trend, the citizens of Detroit have passed every single tax increase to support public responsibilities from zoos to museums, parks and schools.
We don’t need emergency managers,. We need a serious debate about our obligations to one another and about our responsibilities as citizens to define, create and support the common good.