Detroit — May 23, 2014 at 7:09 am

State lawmakers snub Koch brothers & screw the Detroit Institute of Arts, vote for state aid in Detroit bankruptcy deal


Efforts by the Koch brothers front group Americans for Prosperity to scuttle the Detroit bankruptcy settlement were shot down in flames as the state legislature overwhelmingly voted yesterday to contribute $194.8 million toward the deal. This was the amount needed to ensure that the deal did not collapse and which saves the Detroit Institute of Arts’ priceless art collection while ensuring that retired Detroit pension holders don’t see their monthly retirement checks slashed.

The vote on the 11-bill package was bipartisan and, for the most part, lopsided. The main bill passed by a 103-7 margin. It was a harsh rebuke of the meddling of the corporatist Koch brothers and other wealthy funders of AFP. That was a bridge too far even for Republican legislators who were not cowed into submission by threats of AFP spending against them in the upcoming primary election.

Vote on one bill, however, was not so lopsided. House Bill 5571, according to the House Fiscal Agency’s analysis, would “amend the Art Institute Authorities Act to prohibit the renewal of the existing voter-approved 10-year millage or the levy of a new millage unless the art institute was owned by a municipality on the date the tax levy or renewal was authorized.”

In other words, this particular bill prevents the DIA from raising funds from the communities that currently support it once the current millage runs out. The DIA draws no money whatsoever from the city of Detroit. The millage along with donor contributions and other funding sources allows it to be a net positive for the city, financially speaking.

Annmarie Erickson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the DIA, explained it this way last November:

The biggest irony of all is that our incredible art museum doesn’t cost the city of Detroit a dime. The museum is managed by a nonprofit, responsible for all operations. Unlike Detroit, the DIA changed its retiree health care plan years ago. We reduced our work force, eliminated an expensive pension plan, and did all this in cooperation with our unionized staff. All this work keeps $31 million off Detroit’s books every year and brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to Midtown.

By passing this bill, the Republicans have essentially hamstrung the DIA and made it far more vulnerable to financial problems in the future.

Much like their position on the minimum wage ballot initiative, Republicans showed with this vote that they are all for democracy right up until people vote for things they don’t agree with. Then the will of the people to decide things for themselves is worthy of being taken away by the patriarchal lawmakers in Lansing.

Democratic Representative Sarah Roberts from St. Clair Shores attempted to speak out about the impact of this bill and how it effectively takes away the rights of voters in Macomb, Wayne and Oakland Counties to make this decision for themselves.

Republicans responded by cutting her microphone.

She wrote this on her Facebook page:

Taking away Michigan citizen’s right to vote on issues that matter to them and stopping free speech is alive and well today in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Before us is the Detroit Bankruptcy legislation, which consists of 11 bills. One of the bills stops the DIA from asking the voters of Macomb, Wayne and Oakland Counties to renew the DIA millage. This is wrong. In 2012 the majority of voters in these 3 counties voted to pay the millage.

Today while speaking on the House Floor against this bill, House Republicans shut my microphone off and stopped me from speaking on the bill. They didn’t like what I was saying so they simply cut me off. Taking away the right to vote and silencing dissent is NOT democracy.

I reached out to Rep. Roberts to ask her what the Republicans’ rationale was for this bill. Why, I asked, would they do something that seems to accomplish nothing other than to make the DIA financially vulnerable in the future? She told me that there were simply some Republicans who would not vote for the full package without this restriction. She said that some felt that, with this bankruptcy settlement, the DIA becomes a foundation and that foundations shouldn’t be allowed to collect taxes in order to fund their operations. Why they make the distinction is unclear since this is a world-class art museum, not a for-profit enterprise.

Overall, state lawmakers did the right thing. They recognized that Detroit is a crucial part of Michigan and, whether you live on Jefferson Avenue in downtown Detroit or Grandview Parkway in Traverse City, the future of Detroit impacts all Michiganders.

The bills now go to the Senate and there’s no guarantee that the bill to hamstring the DIA will survive. Republican Senate Leader Randy Richardville is not happy about it:

Personally, I don’t think we as a state should be telling municipalities what kind of millages they can ask voters for support for,” Richardville told The Detroit News.

“I feel the arts should be protected. It makes us better as a city and as a state. I don’t think it’s something I could support, but I realize it’s part of a package.”

He’s right. And so is Rep. Roberts who told me, “Once again House Republicans think they know better than the voters. They feel they should make decisions instead of letting the voters decide.”

It’s GOPocrisy at its finest.

[Photo by Chris Savage | Eclectablog]