Home > Uncategorized > Will Poisonous Water in Flint Lead to Demise of State Takeovers?

Will Poisonous Water in Flint Lead to Demise of State Takeovers?

January 23, 2016

Julie Bosman and Monica Davey’s article in today’s NYTimes describes the succession of failed State takeovers of schools and local governments in Michigan and other states and flags the reality that these takeovers occur predominantly in minority communities. But the article does not pose the most crucial question: what lies behind the conditions that lead to the budget woes that create the need for State takeovers?

Michigan’s experience is particularly telling. In a State that is 85% white, virtually every urban area under the control of an emergency manager appointed by the State is predominantly African American. And across the country this segregation is not accidental… it is systemic. It is the result of white flight from residential communities when blacks move in, the practice of red-lining by banks that promotes this flight, and the severe depression of housing values that results when large numbers of homes are placed on the market. Once the housing values depress, many of the unsold homes are purchased by landlords who are indifferent at best to the maintenance of the housing and they become occupied by transient renters or squatters. When this happens on a large scale, the commercial retail businesses abandon the community diminishing the tax base and making it impossible to raise local revenues. But these communities, like the adjacent ones where whites reside, need schools, police protection, firemen, and municipal services and the cost of those services cannot be discounted to reflect the depressed value of the property. And when spending exceeds revenues it is impossible to balance a budget.

The predominantly white state legislature’s solution is to pass bills that require a takeover by the state when the local municipal government is unable to balance the books or the local school district cannot get its students to succeed on standardized tests… and as Bosman and Davey note in their article the record of State takeovers is appallingly poor. The poisoning of Flint’s residents in order to save money is a good metaphor for the overall approach to state imposed austerity measures… and exemplifies the compromises poor minority communities are asked to make in the name of saving State taxes…. taxes that could be thoughtfully used by a State official to shore up the municipal services and schools that suffer because of chronic underfunding in the past. Bowman and Davey conclude their article with this:

Marcus Muhammad, the new mayor of Benton Harbor, Mich., whose population is 89 percent black and which had been under emergency management, said the managers had been a “horrific experiment” that left the city defending itself against lawsuits filed over actions they had taken.

“I have said that a different strategy and a different law should be put in place to help distressed cities,” he added. “Not to poison democracies, poison water, poison communities.”

When you poison democracy, the antidote is, sadly, not more democracy… it is more totalitarianism.


  1. Byron Knutsen
    January 23, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    This is true whenever the take over is by city, state of Federal governments.

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