Thursday, January 05, 2012

Mayor Bing Stops Trying to Fix Detroit

Mayor Bing Stopped Trying
Mayor Dave Bing and key members of his administration appeared before the Detroit City Council earlier this afternoon with the stated purpose of presenting an update on the Mayor's plan to address Detroit's current round of budget problems. I didn't think this was possibly, but I actually have even less confidence in Mayor Bing's ability and willing to address Detroit's problems right now than I did before.

To Mayor Bing's credit, he did report that the City of Detroit had received $15 million in payments that were owed to it by the Detroit Public Schools. The rest of his presentation, however, consisted of nothing more than a) repeating the claim that previous administrations didn't do anything about Detroit's long-term problems and b) repeating his promise that he would soon get concessions from the labor unions that would solve all of our problems.

I have been following Detroit's budget problems since the days of Mayor Coleman A. Young when I worked for the City while going to college. The fact of the matter is that every Mayor of Detroit in the past half century has blamed his predecessors for not doing much about the City's financial problems. Every Mayor of Detroit in the past half century has promised that they would be the one would finally set things right. Every Mayor of Detroit in the past half century has also gone to the same well of demanding concessions from the unions as their way of accomplishing this.

All of them have done this. None of them have ever accomplished anything - even when the labor unions have gone along with the concessions.

The fundamental problem is that labor concessions will not take Detroit very far. Even before our current round of budget problems began, the City of Detroit had a civilian workforce where their total cost of employment (i.e., wages + benefits) was lower than their private sector counterparts. If those costs are driven down further then the best employees we have don't have a reason to stay with the City.

The end result is that we may well end up with a workforce that consists of people that no one else wants to hire. That hurts the quality of services that we can deliver, which - in turn - hurts our ability to attract and retain residents and businesses. All of that contributes to the next round of budget problems that we will again encounter.

This, of course, is why the City of Detroit has been in an almost never ending spiral of budget problems and short-term fixes. I have proposed options for addressing some of the financial challenges that we have without cutting services that our residents rely on. Others have offered similar suggestions. Mayor Bing, unfortunately, has chosen to ignore almost every one of them.

Instead, we simply have a repeat of the budget addresses that Mayors Young, Archer, Kilpatrick, and Cockrel have all offered. I'm seriously starting to think that the Mayor's Office is trapped in a Groundhog Day time warp.

All of which leads me to have even less confidence in Mayor Bing's ability and willingness to make a difference now more than ever before.

Update @ 7:48 p.m.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the City Council isn't buying Mayor Bing's assurances that he's on top of this either. Their take on this is available here.

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