Benton Harbor, Michigan, Rick Snyder — April 17, 2011 at 12:33 pm

How Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is quietly & intentionally creating more Benton Harbors


By now you have probably heard about Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s takeover of Benton Harbor, Michigan‘s government via his Emergency Financial Manager. As I said in my previous piece on this, while I understand the utter shambles that Benton Harbor was in, I also understand that there are systemic reasons for that in addition to malfeasance and mismanagement. A population that has a median income of only $17,471 with 42.6% below the poverty line is a recipe for financial disaster. Add any amount of corruption or poor leadership to that mix and there will need to be some involvement by the State to put things right.

Effectively disbanding their duly-elected government is not, however, the answer, in my opinion.

What’s more worrisome to me is the fact that the budget proposal being put forth by Republican Governor Rick Snyder nearly ensures that there will be more Benton Harbors before he is through.

Have a look at the cuts in his budget which is expected to be passed by the all-Republican state Congress in May. These numbers are from the office of the House Fiscal Agency/Director Mitchell Bean. In a presentation Bean has been delivering around the state, he contends that the budget problems that Michigan is dealing with now began ten years ago during the 2000-2001 fiscal year. They are the responsibility of both the Republicans and Democrats that have been in charge during that time. However, looking at his numbers, you can see that Governor Snyder’s budget takes an already perilous situation and makes it much worse because of his budget priorities. Here are some of the numbers:

Major Budget Area Snyder’s proposed cuts to
FY2011-2012 budget
% cut from FY2000-2001
(adj. for US CPI)
Corrections $51.2 million -5.8%
Community Health $212.6 million not available
Human Services $109.5 million -26.0%
Higher Education $222.4 million -45.1%
Statutory Revenue Sharing $143.9 million -53.0%
School aid $538.1 million -23.0%

In addition to these cuts, here are some others:

  • $77.4 million in cuts to Family Independence Program payments to poor families with children and/or pregnant mothers
  • $1.6 million in cuts to Fire Protection Grants to local units with state property
  • $2.3 million in cuts to libraries with another $1.5 million in library cuts from the School Aid budget.

All of these cuts are necessary because Snyder’s plan cuts revenues by giving businesses $1.73 billion in tax cuts — an 86% decrease in taxes paid by businesses.

When you look at the cuts that are being made, consider the impact on local municipalities already reeling from an economic recession that took its toll on Michigan more than nearly any other in the country. Corrections cuts. Community health cuts. Human services cuts. Revenue sharing cuts. All of these put an even greater burden on our cities and other municipalities. They literally have the potential to take them over the edge into full-blown financial catastrophe.

And, waiting on the sidelines like vultures ready to pick over the carcasses of these cities are Snyder and his Emergency Financial Managers (EFMs). They can come in, disband the local government, thereby disenfranchising the local residents, modify or cancel union contracts and use their now-expanded powers to restructure, reconfigure and otherwise refashion the cities in their own vision.

Got some nice public lands on the shores of Lake Michigan or a river, maybe a nice park or nature preserve? Think of the revenue that could be generated by selling or leasing it to your corporate friends for development into a McMansion development or golf course.

Got some development grants coming in to help the community expand services? Think of how those plums can be repurposed to put money in the coffers of your corporate friends.

I’m generally not cynical enough to believe that this is a conservative conspiracy to kill off selected communities and then pick over their bones and divide the spoils among the wealthy victors. But, more and more, as you look at the budget priorities and how they seem aimed at destroying already-vulnerable communities, you really begin to see a pattern developing. And, when you couple that with the enhanced powers of the EFMs, what happened this past week on the shores of Lake Michigan begins to look more and more like Rick Snyder is intentionally working to create more Benton Harbors in the State of Michigan.

I’m just sayin’…