Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
Week 56 of the Occupation
April 29, 2014
Emergency Manager Orr has offered almost no structural change in his proposals to move Detroit toward financial health. He has slashed city workers, privatized services, and colluded in the sale of public lands for private gains. But he has done little to actually enhance revenue into the city. Other than increasing parking tickets, he has not used his powers to reassess revenue streams.
The Mayor and City Council need to demonstrate the courage and imagination to enact such changes. They also need to take up their responsibilities to guide the development of the city in an equitable, sustainable direction.
Eight of our ten major employers do not pay property taxes. Like many cities, much of our city is given over to a medical-educational complex. These tend to generate high paying jobs for the suburbs and a smaller number of lower paying service jobs within the city. As anchor institutions these non-profits are generally exempt from property taxes. Yet all those who commute to work, to classes, and to appointments for services depend upon the city infrastructure and services. User fees should be assessed to create a predictable revenue stream, drawing regional dollars for regional use.
One of the clear engines for the economic development of the Cass Corridor has been not only the expansion of the ed-med sector of the economy, but the commitment under the leadership of Allan Gilmour, former President of WSU, Nancy Schlichting of Henry Ford Health System, and Mariam Noland of the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan to increase the use of local suppliers. Their joint decision to increase their institutional purchasing of goods and services has helped circulate needed dollars within the community. Unfortunately their effort has not been picked up as common practice by other institutions. It is undermined by the privatization efforts of the emergency manager and it is ignored by most of the for profit business community.
The Mayor and City Council should establish clear local hiring and purchasing goals for every company doing business in our city. The city of San Francisco has already adopted such polices, ultimately aiming for 75% of goods and services used by businesses within the city to come from within city limits.
Throughout this bankruptcy process the role of the banking-finance industry has also come under scrutiny. The Law is rigged to protect them. Last week the New York Times decried the “double standard” in federal bankruptcy law that forces pensioners to negotiate away their incomes while protecting bankers. This, along with the responsibility of banks in decimating cities with foreclosure practices, should give the Mayor and City Council the will to create municipal banking practices that encourage local investment. Such policies are being adopted around the country by other cities.
In fact, while democracy in Detroit is being destroyed, mayors and city councils elected in 2013 are bringing unprecedented levels of civic innovation to life. Last week The American Prospect published “The Revolt of the Cities” by Harold Meyerson. He concludes:
“In one major city after another, newly elected officials are planning to raise the minimum wage … drafting legislation to require inner-city hiring on major projects and foster unionization in hotels, stores, and trucking. They are seeking the funds to establish universal pre-K and other programs for infants and toddlers. They are sketching the layout of new transit lines that will bring jobs and denser development to neighborhoods both poor and middle-class and reduce traffic and pollution in the bargain. They are – if they haven’t done so already – forbidding their police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities in the deportation …and requiring their police to have video or audio records of their encounters with the public. They are, in short, enacting at the municipal level many of the major policy changes that progressives have found themselves unable to enact at the federal and state levels.”
It is time for the Mayor and City Council to join these efforts.