My heart still aches for Flint. I don't think it will ever stop. We've seen emergency managers step down, a few other officials resign, Snyder is heckled in Ann Arbor, national politicians have come, lots of speeches, lots of bottled water.
And in some ways, we've seen Michigan do what it does best. I know Michiganders to be kind, charitable people, compassionate when they hear about suffering. The amount of bottled water sent to Flint is an example of that.
We're also independent, stubborn, gritty, and I think some of the rhetoric coming out of this - about holding people/leaders accountable - comes from that.
Much has come out about the failure of emergency financial management. Articles have explained the deep problems with austerity budgeting. People have countered with the risks of stimulus spending. No one is 100% wrong.
Here's what I haven't heard mentioned (although it's impossible, at this point, to keep up with every thinkpiece on the Flint Water Crisis):
Michigan, in the last 100 years, has lived on the boom and bust cycle, perhaps more than any place except Wall Street. We watched as auto production boomed, and the wealthy built things like the world's largest art object - the marble and fresco-covered Fisher Theater in the New Center - while paying workman's comp and prioritizing employees. And then in 1929, things crashed. And it was terrible.
Then World War II came along, and Detroit became the Arsenal of Democracy. Rosie the Riveter was a Michigander. The state, and especially metro Detroit, kept the military stocked. People bought houses. The suburbs expanded. And then the war ended, some stuff stayed good, some stuff got messy. Racial tensions ran high. Inflation became an issue. Like I've said before, pick up The Origins of the Urban Crisis.
Here's what seems to happen in every Michigan bust:
The state slashes budgets, especially to urban centers. They cut back funding to education and other services. They allow infrastructure to deteriorate and swear they will put money back when they get it, when the economy improves.
And here's what happens in the subsequent boom:
Most of the time, they don't really put the money back in urban centers (possibly with the exception of a new tax-exempt stadium for the suburbanites to visit). They leave the budget cuts in place. Lately, that seems to have resulted in lagging economic recoveries compared to other states. If leaders have extra money, they either squirrel it away or spend on . . . consultants? Tax credits? Retreats? Beats me where the money is going in the good years, since it never seems to fix roads or run down school buildings or municipal budget shortfalls or city water systems.
And so the boom and bust seems always to result in less money for urban areas, which means that most cities end up trying to spread butter over too much bread. Crumbling infrastructure costs more to fix than routine maintenance. Poor students cost more to educate than rich ones.
So I'm calling on Michigan politicians and citizens NOT to give some money back in booms or to austerity budget or overspend and stimulate in busts.
I'm calling on all of us to reject the boom and bust cycle.
I'm calling on all of us to seek sustainable growth, sustainable funding, routine maintenance, adequate services, 100% of the time. We can do that through promoting equality, improving employment, and making sure every child has access to education. We can increase our tax base by welcoming diversity and improving services. Let's not set a quota for a number of students on to college that can be met by gathering every wealthy suburbanite into the fold. Let's set the expectation that every child can and should learn. Let's not accept that much of the state is headed for a lead poisoning issue much like Flint's. Let's not keep joking about how bad the roads in Michigan are without any end in sight. Let's become a state where employers provide training and invest in employees.
Let's be Michiganders. Let's solve problems. Let's show compassion. Let's be gritty and inventive and stubborn.
I can't accept the alternative.