Synonyms for Headlee Evasion
La victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso
A victory finds 100 fathers, nobody claims credit for a failure.
Galezzo Ciano, 2o Conte di Cortellazzo e Buccari, Diary (1942)
The left wing meme on the Flint Water fiasco is that Governor Snyder seized absolute control of Flint and installed doctrinaire Republican viceroys who ruthlessly slashed Flint’s payroll and expenditures without any regard for the residents.
If only this were so.
The Flint emergency managers had only one common thread in their backgrounds, long records of administration in government and the nonprofit sectors. No productive experience. Experts at spending other people’s money. Well paid experts. Outright Democrats or chameleons politically; typical politics of the bureaucratic class. Look at the backgrounds of the Flint emergency managers:
Edward Kurtz, again
Michael K. Brown, again
Emergency managers are not viceroys with absolute powers. The evolution of emergency management in Michigan was frustrated by public union opposition. Five successive laws, one repealed by referendum. The law in force during the critical Flint water fiasco decisions is PA 436 of 2012. The powers it confers upon emergency managers are:
(2) Upon appointment, an emergency manager shall act for and in the place and stead of the governing body and the office of chief administrative officer of the local government. The emergency manager shall have broad powers in receivership to rectify the financial emergency and to assure the fiscal accountability of the local government and the local government’s capacity to provide or cause to be provided necessary governmental services essential to the public health, safety, and welfare. Following appointment of an emergency manager and during the pendency of receivership, the governing body and the chief administrative officer of the local government shall not exercise any of the powers of those offices except as may be specifically authorized in writing by the emergency manager or as otherwise provided by this act and are subject to any conditions required by the emergency manager.
The emergency managers replace the mayors, council, and chief administrative officers of the municipal governments. While this does indeed give them extraordinary powers of control, their control is anything but absolute. The municipal charter continues in effect and continues to protect the prerogatives of lesser bureaucrats. The vague statutory powers of emergency managers beyond replacing the mayor, council, and chief administrative officer poses unremitting legal jeopardy to emergency managers. Encourages timidity and bureaucratic subterfuge. Not absolute control.
The Flint City Charter of 1974 is a remarkable document. A municipal government modeled upon a UAW contract. The rights and privileges of Flint residents are given short shrift, but the rights and privileges of Flint city employees are set forth in painful detail. How Flint got into repeated financial trouble and why Flint required five and a half years of emergency management in two separate periods.
The economics of Flint’s descent into chaos and the measures undertaken by its emergency managers were studied by the MSU’s Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics. A good read which does not require an economics background. Yes, it shows the decline in population and tax base and which everyone knows. It shows that the emergency managers trimmed government employee rolls and benefits. But it also shows that emergency managers concentrated even more on increasing revenues by massively increasing ‘fees’ and ‘charges for services’. Here they did exercise ruthless authority.
Emergency managers assiduously protected a still oversized, overpaid municipal workforce by extracting money from residents at rates beyond Headlee limits after they maxed out every legal tax. Extravagant Headlee evasion. Blatantly violating Bolt v. Lansing [587 N.W.2d 264 (1998) 459 Mich. 152]. Elevating the fortunes of the government class above the residents they supposedly serve. If Headlee limited taxes won’t support the government class in the style which they are accustomed; let the governed class pay fees and charges.
Water and sewerage charges were at the forefront of those increases. Average water bills in Flint rose from $ 30 per month to $ 140 per month from 2007 on. Stiff increases actually came just before emergency management, but emergency managers doubled down on those water bills. Net of water and sewerage bills over costs became Flint’s largest revenue stream. Greater than income taxes. Greater than property taxes. Greater than state revenue sharing. Flint residents stopped paying their bills. They knew their water bills were a rip off. No one in Michigan invoked Headlee to protect them. Emergency managers came up with further Headlee violations: the streetlight assessment and garbage fee. Michigan’s constitution failed Flint residents. Michigan’s Supreme Court was ignored.
Emergency managers originally considered selling Flint’s water and sewerage operations. They got schooled. Increasing the net revenues from those charges drove the decision to join the Karegnondi Water Authority. Net revenues drove the decision to use Flint River water temporarily. This was a battle in the lower depths of bureaucracy. Was Detroit Water & Sewerage Department or Flint going to get those coveted revenues? The Flint emergency managers and bureaucrats across Genesee County decided that their revenues were not going to Detroit.
We will probably never know exactly who made the various decisions which created the Flint water quality fiasco. Evidence is already disappearing. But we do know the philosophy which created this fiasco, and the class espousing that philosophy. A philosophy which compels very bad decisions. Welfare state liberalism. Welfare directed by capable bureaucrats proud of their Master’s degrees in Public Administration.
Emergency management as now practiced in Michigan does not revitalize dying cities. It does preserve most of the bureaucracy and the entire regulatory state. People abandoned Flint and Detroit in droves because taxes were too high, regulation ridiculous, and services poor. Substituting fees and charges for declining taxes does not make a city more attractive. Improving government efficiency and cutting exactions does. Regulations do not attract new, tax paying residents. Freedom does.
Michigan suffers from an overabundance of capable bureaucrats and public servants; enforcing too many laws and regulations. The costs of the welfare state first overwhelm poor communities with limited tax bases. But the damage is no less real in the rest of Michigan. This is your fight, too.