Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Emergency Managers Need Not Apply in Livingston County

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican Legislature seem to have two sets of rules for how to react when a Michigan community struggles financially.

If the community is predominantly Democratic and poor, they obviously can't handle their own finances and need to be taken over by the state via an emergency manager who basically shuts down the democratic process and rips up union contracts. Think Benton Harbor.

If the community is predominantly Republican and better off, they deserve to have a special law passed giving them a bailout from the state. Think Handy Township and Howell Township in Livingston County.

That's the upshot of a package of legislation backed by Livingston County's two Republican representatives -- Cindy Denby and Bill Rogers -- to deal with the millions of dollars of water and sewar debt they helped create in Livingston County when they were Handy Township supervisor and Livingston County Commission chair, respectively.

The legislation, designed specifically for Livingston County, makes communities with water and sewar debt that they can't pay back eligible for loans from the state emergency loan fund. Commmunities can't apply until they are on the verge of default on payments to bond-holders -- something that Howell Township faces in August 2013 and Handy Township sometime in the next two years. But the fact that they can apply for these loans makes it far less likely that Snyder will appoint an emergency manager to take over the two townships.

Neither Denby nor Rogers has explained why the emergency manager process wasn't good enough for their home communities when their party sees it as the ideal solution for other places in the state. Why do Howell and Handy townships deserve to be offered low-interest loans from the state, especially since their financial problems are self-inflicted? These communities chose to back bonds for private developers of subdivisions at the peak of the housing boom and then were left holding the bag when the developers walked away. Other counties in the state never got into the business of backing bonds for private developers, but expected private enterprise to cover those costs.

Howell and Handy townships didn't have to do what they did. This wasn't a case of communities struggling to provide basic services such as police and fire protection in the face of drastic cuts in state revenue sharing. These townships made bad decisions that they didn't have to make.

And for that, they seem to be getting special treatment.

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