Just because the state government takes over a local government with a handpicked administrator doesn’t mean that the state bears any responsibility for the administrator poising the city’s citizens to save a few bucks:
Gov. Rick Snyder’s staffers worried in September that the issue of lead in Flint’s drinking water was being politicized and that the state’s responsibility for the crisis was being exaggerated.
“I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that (then-treasurer Andy) Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject,” Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore wrote to Snyder in a Sept. 25, 2015, e-mail.
He followed it up the next morning, writing: “The real responsibility rests with the county, city and KWA,” referring to the Karegnondi Water Authority. “But since the issue here is the health of citizens and their children, we’re taking a proactive approach.”
Claire Groden has a superb article tying the Flint poisoning to the elimination of local democracy by people who think there’s some magic solution that can overcome the effects of a lost tax base though the magic of a recently-minted MBA (or, as applicable, a friend of the governor who got a copy of Who Moved My Cheese? from the library and absolutely intends to read it):
By 2013, six Michigan cities—and almost half of the state’s African-American population—were under emergency management. In many of these cities, public services were pared down to the minimum. Pontiac’s emergency manager whittled the city’s employees to around 10% of their previous number, outsourcing almost every city service down to its cemetery workers. In an exit interview with Michigan Radio before the Flint water crisis reached its zenith, Flint’s fourth and final emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose, reflected on the limited city that emergency managers had left behind. “There’s just a point in time there’s just not enough gas in the tank. There’s just not enough revenue from the local taxpayers to solve the problems that are here,” he said. “Whether the city’s here or not, people will be here. And they’re going to have some basic needs that have to be met, one way or another.”
Critics of the emergency manager law have long protested that the appointees cut services to realize short-term savings, with little eye to the long-term structural problems the cities face. “The assertion is that these are cities that are running deficits because the elected governments are not capable of keeping spending under control. The problem from my perspective is that these really are structural deficits…It’s almost impossible for anyone to solve these problems,” says Peter Hammer, a law professor at Wayne State University and a director of the school’s civil rights center. Structural problems like the fact that 40% of Flint’s residents live in poverty—presenting an impossible tax base for the city to draw upon—go unanswered.
That short-term budget logic is exemplified by the decision that led Flint to switch its water supply. Sourcing from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department was expensive, and though Flint planned to join a cheaper regional water authority, that infrastructure wouldn’t be completed for a few years. So, under emergency manager Darnell Earley, Flint turned to the Flint River—a notoriously polluted nearby tributary—as a temporary solution that was projected to save the city $5 million in just two years.
The inevitable next step is that criticizing the (in)actions of the state’s governor and his staff is “politicizing” the issue:
Anytime Republican politicians do stuff like, say, poisoning entire cities, the entire conservative-industrial complex starts screeching about how wrong it is to politicize politics! The meta-point is that it’s actually the fault of liberals! If only they wouldn’t politicize politics, conservatives wouldn’t have to poison everybody!!!
And it will be the citizens of Flint and Michigan taxpayers on the hook for this. Republican accountability is exemplified by the manager in Wall Street: “Somebody’s got to pay. Ain’t gonna be me.”