Emergency Manager Law, Emergency Managers — February 23, 2015 at 6:58 am

Anti-democratic Emergency Manager? Check! State takeover of schools? Check! New Jersey adopts the Michigan GOP model.


In the spring of 2011 when I first began sounding the alarm bells at Eclectablog about the undemocratic Emergency Manager legislation that was quickly passed by the newly-elected, Republican-controlled state legislature, I warned that this was not a “Michigan only” problem. I have said repeatedly that Michigan is only the beta testing ground for an agenda and a way of governing that will be spread to other states if it is not stopped.

In Michigan, despite plurality of voters rejecting emergency management at the ballot box in 2012, we failed to stop it. And now, as predicted, the show is going on the road. It first got started in Indiana where in 2012, their legislature passed House Bill 1192 – an Emergency Management bill – which was signed into law by their Republican governor.

Then, last month, New Jersey governor Chris Christie appointed an Emergency Manager for Atlantic City saying, “I can’t wait any longer. We need more aggressive action, and that’s the action I’m taking today.” He even brought in former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr as a paid consultant.

Atlantic City has seen its tax base implode with the closing of several large casinos. As in Detroit, the resulting financial catastrophe has been used as an excuse for the state to take over the city, bypassing the locally elected officials.

This past week, Gov. Christie went a step farther down the anti-democratic pathway by assigning a “fiscal monitor” to the cash-strapped Atlantic City school system. Rather than finding new ways to fund education in Atlantic City, like in Michigan the answer is to simply cut spending:

The Christie administration yesterday announced it would send Gary McCartney, a retired superintendent from South Brunswick, to lead a team of financial experts to start scouring the district’s budget for savings in the face of a drastic drop in local tax revenues, largely due to the collapse of casinos in the city.

Commissioner of Education David C. Hespe said in a statement, “It became clear that the best way for Atlantic City and the state to collaboratively address the school’s fiscal woes would be for the state to establish an ongoing presence in the district itself. It’s a commitment that we’re proud to make.”

This is a classic application of what author Naomi Klein calls “The Shock Doctrine” where calamities are exploited for political gain by those in power:

[Klein] argues that libertarian free market policies (as advocated by the economist Milton Friedman) have risen to prominence in some developed countries because of a deliberate strategy by some political leaders. These leaders exploit crises to push through controversial exploitative policies while citizens are too emotionally and physically distracted by disasters or upheavals to mount an effective resistance.

If you live in a Republican-controlled state, I highly recommend that you watch for this legislation coming to your state very soon. Given the inability of Michigan activists and Democratic legislators to stop emergency management in Michigan, you are more than likely to see it in your state legislature very soon.

[CC Chris Christie photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr]