- Detroit youth played major role; 82 percent of city voted NO on Prop 1
- Snyder, Bing, et. al. connive to keep bank-imposed austerity measures
By Diane Bukowski
November 10, 2012
DETROIT– After a strenuous grass roots battle, Michigan voters struck down Public Act 4, the notorious “local dictator law,” by a solid margin of 52 to 48 percent on Nov. 6. In Detroit, 82 percent of voters, including many youth, opposed the PA 4 referendum, known as Proposal 1, tipping the balance.
Only eight of 83 counties voted to keep the act. Wealthy and populous Oakland and Macomb counties, which border Detroit, the largest Black-majority city in the world outside of Africa, were among the eight counties voting for Public Act 4, according to state election results. President Barack Obama nonetheless carried those counties in the race for the nation’s highest office.
“We did it!” exulted Monica Lewis Patrick during an impromptu celebration Nov. 9 at a downtown restaurant. She said chaos at many election sites in the city, including hours-long waits and a virtual uprising at the Coleman A. Young Recreation Center, did not discourage voters.
At one site, a young man with his wheel-chair bound brother said they were among many voters directed to the wrong polling place by City Clerk Janice Winfrey’s office. At the initial site, they waited for two and a half hours, but persisted, going to the correct polling place afterwards to cast their ballots.
Video below, by Kenny Snodgrass, is a collage of rallies against PA 4 takeover of Detroit and other largely Black cities, with many youth.
“I saw young women with their babies waiting in line,” Patrick said. “When we were campaigning, we talked to many young people at clubs and other places, to educate them about PA 4. We found that many were already familiar with the issues.”
Patrick works with Free Detroit-No Consent, a small group founded April 4, after Detroit’s City Council voted 5-4 for a “Fiscal Stability [consent] Agreement” to stave off the appointment of an emergency manager under terms of PA 4. Under that agreement, a nine-member corporate-dominated Financial Advisory Board, two state-appointed city officials, and the state’s treasurer and governor have veto power over the city’s elected officials.
The Detroit Public Schools district is also suffering the effects of PA 4, under EM Roy Roberts. More than half of the district’s schools are closed, and many others have been turned over to a state-run “Educational Achievement Authority.”
Significantly, Detroit voters also passed local Proposal C, which cements the power of the city’s Corporation Counsel to interpret and enforce the City Charter, by legal action if necessary. Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon earlier challenged the consent agreement in court but was shot down by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette, who said he did not believe that any city official could overrule the Mayor.
Since the passage of the PA 4 consent agreement, Detroit has unilaterally imposed lay-offs and wage and benefit cutbacks on its employees, while planning a pension system takeover. The city has shut down three key federally-funded departments. It plans to cut the workforce of the city’s mammoth Water and Sewerage Department by 81 percent, and lease the city’s world-renowned island park, Belle Isle, to the state for a total of 90 years including renewals.
“We realize that, like in the city of Detroit, you have roughly 35% of the people trying to manage 100% of the city’s costs,” Brandon Jessup, 31, the young Detroiter who birthed the PA 4 referendum petition drive, said in an earlier interview with the Urban Policy Institute.
“We have some corporate entities in the city of Detroit that don’t pay their taxes annually,” Jessup explained. “They use the city of Detroit as a tax write-off. That’s not fair when we look at our city lights being off, our city buses pretty much breaking down, and you leave that to what, 30 percent of the community, that’s facing more pay cuts from whomever they may work for? . . . Our problem is that we have too many hands idle in this state; we lost 867,000 jobs over a ten year period. So no matter what you do, the State can’t intervene, the State has to create jobs, they have to get people back to work.”
Jessup founded Michigan Forward, working with a small crew and eventually with funds from the state’s largest public union, Michigan AFSCME Council 25, to gather over 240,000 petition signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. Attorneys from Council 25 and progressive law firms fought a drawn-out court battle which culminated with the state Supreme Court ruling Aug. 8 that the measure should go on the ballot.
The defeat of Public Act 4 is a Wall Street nightmare and may comprise part of what sent it into a tailspin after the elections Nov. 6. Most Wall Street pundits had said that stocks usually soar after a national election no matter which party wins the presidential race, but that did not happen.
PA 4 guaranteed payment of the massive debt to the banks owed by many municipalities and school districts in Michigan. It allowed state-appointed “emergency managers” or “consent agreement” administrators to unilaterally impose grueling austerity measures on the people to compensate.
These included seizing and selling public assets, dissolving or merging cities, townships and school districts, eliminating collective bargaining, closing vital public services without a hearing, and privatizing them without legislative oversight by bodies like Detroit’s City Council.
“It has always been a tenet of municipal credit that at some point paying debt service may come in conflict with, and be superseded by, a government’s obligation to provide essential services such as education, public health, and safety,” Wall Street bond rating agency Fitch Ratings said in an Aug. 20 report.
The report goes on to stress the necessity for state intervention in such cases, and says Public Act 4 was “perhaps the strongest program in the nation, as it allows a state-appointed emergency manager to ‘reject, modify, or terminate terms and conditions of an existing contract.’” By “contract,” Fitch referred to labor agreements. (Click on Fitch Ratings Local Govt Downgrades to Persist for full report.)
“Flint, Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Pontiac, and Detroit Public Schools have all had emergency managers appointed to administer their financial affairs,” Fitch said in a report issued Aug. 3 while the Michigan Supreme Court was deliberating the placement of PA 4 on the ballot. “Some were appointed under PA 4 while others were appointed under PA 72. As Detroit’s fiscal stability agreement has several features that rely on the existence of PA 4, most notably the ability to suspend collective bargaining, the repeal of PA4 could weaken or nullify the agreement. This may have an adverse effect on the city’s ability to continue the reforms already begun under the agreement and therefore stabilize and improve its credit quality.”
State Attorney General Bill Schuette issued an earlier, non-binding opinion that the repeal of Public Act 4 would result in the restoration of the earlier, less stringent “Emergency Financial Manager” Public Act 72.
Until recently the daily media has repeated Schuette’s opinion like a mantra. The Bond Buyer reported Oct. 12 that Snyder, State Treasurer Andy Dillon and Budget Director met with all three Wall Street ratings agencies in New York to argue for a restoration of Michigan’s AAA bond rating in anticipation of a $100 million state general obligation bond sale Nov. 8, two days after the election.
They stressed that even if PA 4 is repealed, PA 72 would be restored.
“That law lacks what is considered Public Act 4’s most powerful feature, the ability to unilaterally amend or terminate a labor contract. But it’s still workable, Dillon said,” the Bond Buyerreported. “The state lived with PA 72 from the late 80s until 2011, so it works. What is better about PA 4 is the ability to come in sooner and get out faster. It would just take us longer under PA 72. If you can’t negotiate the contracts, then you just have to wait them out. It’s slower and more painful, but it will happen.”
However, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young shot that argument out of the water during oral arguments on the PA 4 ballot question July 25.
Attorney John Pirich, who represented the AG’s office during the proceedings, argued that if PA 4 were repealed, its repeal of Public Act 72 would also be negated.
Young read into the record MCL 8.4, which says, “Whenever a statute, or any part thereof shall be repealed by a subsequent statute, such statute, or any part thereof, so repealed, shall not be revived by the repeal of such subsequent repealing statute.”
Young declared, “It’s still repealed, albeit by a law that might be suspended.”
Snyder, Dillon and Bing are now frantically scrambling to find a fix, including the introduction into the state legislature of a new version of Public Act 4. Meanwhile, lawsuits filed by the Flint City Council, the Sugar Law Center, and others are pending in various courts calling for a re-iteration of what the state’s Chief Supreme Court Justice has already declared:
THERE IS NO EMERGENCY MANAGER LAW, FINANCIAL OR OTHERWISE, ON THE BOOKS IN MICHIGAN.
Michigan’s people must be ready for a head-on assault by Wall Street on their right to control their own destinies, not face continued control by the banks and corporations which have devastated their lives.
“If it takes going to jail, that’s what we’re going to have to do,” one PA 4 opponent said Nov. 9 at the restaurant celebration.
Brandon Jessup interview: http://www.michiganpolicy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1161:an-interview-with-brandon-jessup-michigan-forward&catid=62:urban-affairs-interviews&Itemid=251
Michigan Supreme Court oral arguments on PA 4: