The dissolution of Detroit

The competition for America’s worst city is spirited, but Detroit is a strong contender.  Decades of one-party Democrat rule have left the bleak vision of a near-future Detroit from “Robocop” looking mildly optimistic.  The city made some headlines last year by making plans to build a statue of Robocop, but they might be better off by upping the budget enough to buy the real thing.

Unfortunately, there’s not much of a budget to speak of these days.  As CBS News reports, this has led to proposals for dissolving the city of Detroit altogether:

WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick reports some state Republicans are talking about giving the city the option to vote itself into bankruptcy. And mid-Michigan Senator Rick Jones said all options should be considered ??? including dissolving the city.

???If we have to, that is one idea we have to look at. We really have to look at everything that is on the table,??? Jones said. ???Again, if this goes to federal bankruptcy, every employee down there will suffer, the city will suffer and the vultures will come in and take the jewels of Detroit and they will be gone.???

Residents of the city are said to be understandably reluctant to take such a dramatic step, but Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, sounds like he’s not ruling out the idea: “Detroit needs to solve their problems, but they need support and we???ve been very supportive partners, I believe, in terms of offering different ideas and thoughts. And I just encourage them to work harder about working better together.”

Others think a new City Council or mayor would do the trick, although it’s not as if Detroit’s slide into the hell hole began a couple of years ago.  The current fiscal crisis involves city council decisions that have jeopardized millions in funding.  The city council blames the mayor for the situation.

Writing for The Detroit NewsRobert Laurie thinks talk of dissolving the city is mostly bluster to cover some less-dramatic restructuring, possibly including the elimination of the city council.  He also perceptively notes that the surrounding municipalities probably would not be eager to “absorb Detroit’s mess.”  But he finds it significant that the idea of dissolution is being taken seriously, when it would have been dismissed out of hand as absurd just a few decades ago:

By stubbornly refusing to put its fiscal house in order, Detroit has become the nation’s ultimate white elephant. It seems attractive, but no one in their right mind wants to deal with the burden of its care. Politicians view it as toxic – locals see it as an unsolvable Rubik’s cube.

Within the next few weeks, it will run out of money. By next summer, it will be millions in debt. As of now, it doesn’t look like anyone is coming to the rescue, so it’s on its own. Talk of dissolution is the surest sign yet that its troubles are nearing catastrophic levels.

Detroit, you’re on notice. Fix it yourself. The rest of the state is sick of propping you up.

It’s not just Detroit, either.  The tottering, bankrupt, possibly un-reformable federal government is perched atop some even more insolvent states, many of which contain intractable cities facing impossible crises.  As with Detroit, these crises have been brewing for years.  A particular set of bad decisions or political squabbles might grab headlines, but it’s really a matter of municipal voting cultures producing a long string of bad administrations.  Whatever their shortcomings might be, the current mayor and city council didn’t make Detroit what it is today.  Generations of residents did that.  External economic factors surely played a major role, but in the end, it is the responsibility of local governments to deal with factors from beyond their borders.  Throwing up their hands and declaring the whole thing an ungovernable mess is not an option, for the leadership of Detroit or any other city.  Voters must demand better… and that means they’re going to have to compromise on some of their other demands.

While the current insanity of “fiscal cliff” negotiations make us wonder how long a system that regards $60 billion tax increases as the solution to trillion-dollar deficits can endure, the awful truth is that America’s collapse is likely to begin far from Washington, as the most bankrupt local and state governments implode, creating a shockwave that the hollow city on the Potomac cannot stand against.