As the state of Michigan starves its metropolitan areas of revenue sharing while lavishing corporations with $1.7 billion in tax cuts that are not tethered to any job creation requirements, the lights in Michigan are literally going out.
In 2011, just outside of Detroit, the city of Highland Park had their street lights removed by DTE under a program named “Highland Park Lighting Improvement Project” — a debt forgiveness program reached by the city with the utility. An arrangement the city made with DTE forgave $4 million owed, leaving the already crime-riddled community even more vulnerable. Arthur Blackwell, the city’s former Emergency Financial Manager said of the plan: “It’s a great deal” — a predictable response from an individual who sees nothing but the bottomline.
As more and more of Michigan’s urban areas lose their public lighting, crime rates continue to creep up, with Flint and Detroit taking the top two spots nationwide on the FBI violent city rap sheet. Unsafe streets perpetuate the cycle of poverty and crime, leading to increased law enforcement and incarceration costs for the state, all while tax revenues in those communities implode as residents flee for safer neighborhoods. When Detroit area resident Emily Doerr was recently mugged at gun point on a darkened street she explained to the city council that:
“It definitely makes me more fearful about living here where there is a higher number of people who are unemployed, have a gun and desperate (and thus willing to do anything to get money),”.
Detroit can’t afford to drive away people like Emily, a 28 year old who runs Hostel Detroit, a facility which provides tourists an economical place to stay.
In the meantime, one Detroit business association isn’t waiting around for officials to make the critical infrastructure investments needed to help break the poverty-crime cycle. The Detroit News reports that the Southwest Detroit Business Association has raised $6.4 million — 94 percent of what’s needed to bring lights back to their community. Local business owner Jamahl Makled put it this way:
“Without a doubt safety is our number one priority and when there’s darkness, there’s crime. We’ve seen it from our own personal experience.”
Most of Detroit’s neighborhoods lack the private resources needed to cobble together the basics of a safe community, leaving them in the dark and without democracy under the pending Emergency Manager power-grab. Michigan is looking less like a proud United State, and more like North Korea under its retrograde path of self-destruction.
It is utterly baffling why the Snyder administration and Michigan lawmakers don’t understand that their first responsibility is to keep the lights on in Michigan.
Amy Kerr Hardin This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project