Senate Joint Resolution M: Paying for Michigan's Role in the Flint Water Disaster with Roads Funding?
Four Republican Michigan State Senators introduced Senate Joint Resolution M on December 15th to abrogate the just enacted PA 179 (HB 4370) deal which will eventually apply $ 600 million from State General Fund to roads repairs. SJR M replaces this funding by raising the Michigan sales tax from 6% to 7%. The four Republican Senators are:
Ken Horn, District 32
Rick Jones, District 24
Darwin Booher, District 35
Mike Green, District 31
Horn thinks the current plan relies too heavily on shifting money from other areas of the budget – especially with some big expenses on the horizon.
“That has me a little bit nervous,” he said. “If we tie our hands with $600 million out of the general fund, how do we ever manage new expenses?”
What “big….new expenses” cropped up in Senator Horn’s mind over the last 60 days?
Albert Einstein Called Him "The Greatest Mind in American History."
Josiah Willard Gibbs 1839 – 1903
The second phase of Governor Snyder’s plan to restore Flint’s damaged water infrastructure was announced today. Michigan’s taxpayers will pay the pirates at Detroit Water & Sewerage $ 6 million to reconnect the Flint water system to DW&SD’s Lake Huron water supply. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation will ante up $ 4 million more and the City of Flint will will pay $ 2 million extra as well. Governor Snyder said: “The technical experts helping the city on its water advisory all agree this move back to the Great Lakes Water Authority provides the best public health protection for children and families.” Note that our devious Governor gives you the impression that the funds will be going to the GLWA. No, they will all be going straight to the pirates at DW&SD unless Flint’s new Karegnondi water pipeline is seriously delayed.
As we pointed out last week, the Flint water distribution system has been seriously damaged by 17 months of amateur chemistry and government incompetence after resourcing their water supply to the Flint River. Incompetent control of water chemistry after April 2014 has dissolved protective pipe linings, allowing lead, iron and steel corrosion which has released lead and iron compounds into Flint’s water on its way to customers. A process called leaching. The finished water coming out of the Flint Water Treatment Plant is seemingly fine, but it certainly isn’t by the time it arrives at their customer’s taps.
Because the damage to Flint’s water infrastructure commenced with this resourcing, a hue and cry went up to reconnect Flint to Detroit water. A logical fallacy. Detroit water did not damage Flint’s water infrastructure when it was used prior to April 2014, at least as far as we know. (Do we really know?) However it cannot – by itself – repair the damage done since. Flint pipes may not have been corroding before April 2014, but they certainly are now. Detroit water is controlled just enough to prevent damage to water infrastructure, but not enough to repair damaged infrastructure. Flint is going to require a distinctly different water chemistry than Detroit.
The technical experts are touting corrosion control plans to stop the corrosion in Flint’s water distribution piping. By corrosion control, they intend to load up Flint’s water with orthophosphate forming chemicals to prevent further corrosion and attempt to restore the protective scale linings in Flint’s water piping. This is the EPA’s stock recommended practice, derived from their statistical analysis of water systems across the nation. The problem here is those statistical analyses were made of more or less functional water distribution systems. Not a heavily damaged system like Flint’s. Flint’s water problems are an ex novo case. The only recent case of lead pipe leaching even close occurred in Washington, DC, but is enough different in its particulars that Washington’s corrective actions do not provide an assured plan of action for Flint.
In all fairness to EFM Kurtz, part of his rate increase was intended to replenish $ 15.7 million which had been transferred from the Flint water fund in 2007 to pay a sewerage overflow settlement. However this entire situation was almost certainly an attempt to quickly balance Flint’s books and wrap up emergency financial management. Lansing was certainly sweating EFM Kurtz to conclude Flint’s restoration in order to shut down the social justice warriors before our 2014 election.
So what is happening here, technically? Will Detroit water fix Flint’s problems? (Hint: No)
Meanwhile, Attorney General Schuette completed a binding legal agreement with Enbridge to prevent Enbridge Pipeline 5 from being used to transport ‘heavy crude oil’ under the Straits of Mackinac. This agreement formally implements the first recommendation of the Michigan DEQ Petroleum Pipeline Task Force Report released in July to ban heavy crude oil in Line 5. Sounds good, but Enbridge Pipeline 5 does not now have the pumping horsepower for heavy crude transmission, and the weight of the crude has very little to do with pipeline integrity. Corrosive constituents in the crude, biofouling, and a host of other technical issues are far more important determinants of pipeline integrity. This agreement has great optics, but little consequence.
This deal was constructed as a lease to evade the 1963 Michigan Constitution‘s requirement, under Article VII, Section 25, for a vote of Detroit’s electors to approve the sale of any public utility. However, by constructing the deal as a lease, the City of Detroit is essentially granting a lease franchise covering the DW&SD’s water and sewerage operations to GLWA. The 40 year term of this lease franchise clearly exceeds the 30 year maximum permitted by Article VII, Section 30 of our 1963 Constitution: Merriam-Webster defines a ‘franchise’ as “ the right to sell a company’s goods or services in a particular area; also, a business that is given such a right”. Exactly the nature of the GLWA lease agreement with the City of Detroit. Should you doubt that the City of Detroit constitutes a ‘company’, Merriam-Webster defines a ‘company’ as “ an association of persons for carrying on a commercial or industrial enterprise”. Exactly what DW&SD has been doing for over 100 years.
State Representative Kurt Heise (R-20th) from Plymouth has challenged the establishment of GLWA under the 1963 Michigan Constitution’s Article VII, Section 28:
Taken together with the 1963 Michigan Constitution’s Article III, Section 5:
it establishes our Legislature’s authority over intergovernmental units. But these two sections do not unambiguously grant the Michigan legislature exclusive authority over intergovernmental units, so there is probably legal wiggle room here. Contrary to Representative Heise’s contention, a good lawyer could make a case that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court could establish the GLWA under Article VII, Section 28 and Article III, Section 5.
Last Act of the Detroit Bankruptcy Stumbles Behind a Wall of Secrecy
The final Detroit bankruptcy plan established a 14 June deadline to reach an agreement transferring operating control of the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department’s (DW&SD) assets outside of Detroit to the newly created Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). The State of Michigan, Detroit, Wayne County, Oakland County and Macomb County all signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) creating the GLWA late last year, subject to a 200-day due diligence period. Under the MoU, the City of Detroit would receive a $ 50 million annual lease payment from the GLWA while retaining full control of DW&SD assets and operations within the city. Erstwhile DW&SD customers outside Detroit were promised a 4% cap on annual water and sewerage increases for a 10 year period, which have been running above 10% per annum, in residential bills, in most Southeastern Michigan communities.
In point of fact, what has actually been occurring are secret negotiations over future tax increases across Southeastern Michigan. Water rates have become a surrogate form of incremental taxation. These negotiations will set tax fee increment rates for decades into the future. For taxpayers ratepayers who haven’t even been born yet. How are these negotiations going?