Hard to know whether to laugh or cry: One day after city officials told members of their Financial Advisory Board that Detroit could run out of cash as early as next month, union officials and a few stalwart citizens used another City Council meeting today to share their financial acumen with whoever happened to be within earshot:
“How many times do we run out of cash before someone asks the real question: What the heck is going on? I am sick and tired of this kind of rhetoric that’s going on,” Ed McNeil, special assistant to the president of AFSCME Local 25, said before council, according to The Detroit News. “There’s games being played. Somebody in Detroit has got to stand up and fight. We need everybody to stand up and say we’re not going to take this no more from anybody else. We’re going to get the people out of Lansing out of Detroit . … If we get them the heck out of here, we won’t be broke.”
Really? I suspect I speak for most sentient Michiganians when I ask: Is this guy serious? Sadly, I’m sure he is. Despite a spiral arcing steadily downward to collapse, the people paid to represent the interests of city employees and retirees repeatedly demonstrate a toxic combination of willful denial and financial illiteracy. They continue nursing the self-deceptive belief that successfully repealing the controversial emergency manager law, Public Act 4, means the threat has passed; that Detroit isn’t dangerously close to insolvency; that the next steps are not pay-less paydays and missed bond payments; that lawsuits and favorable legal opinions from their kindred spirit in the corporation counsel’s office, Krystal Crittendon, will reverse a financial tide that looks more like a tsunami with each passing week.
News flash: Delay, a time-honored tradition in the epicenter of entitlement, is not Detroit’s friend.
Saturday night, a prominent Detroit business leader asked me what I took to be a sincere question: Don’t union leaders understand, he wondered, that they and their members would fare much worse under bankruptcy? I’m not sure they know, I replied. But I am sure that the fierce opposition to change, to state oversight, to council and Mayor Dave Bing pushing a state-sanctioned restructuring of Detroit’s bloated and expensive bureaucracy, is emotion talking — because it’s not common sense.
Yes, there are mechanisms to squeeze a little more time from the calendar. There are agreements that would likely satisfy the state Treasurer, who could then release a portion (and eventually all) of the $80 million in bond proceeds being held in escrow for Detroit — less than half of the $200 million the mayor says the city would need to keep operating for a year. Put another way: Without the pay and benefit cuts, the restructuring of key city departments and services and the outsourcing of others, there’s not enough there there to get the job done. Why is that so hard to understand?