Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
After weeks of debate and sometimes raucous dissent, leaders in Detroit and Lansing finally signed off on a financial stability agreement for the city yesterday.
You can read the full agreement here. But as important as the agreement is, it doesn’t actually solve any of Detroit’s pressing financial problems. It merely lays out the structure and the powers of the new group that will.
So today is when the real work begins.
The Detroit Free Press reports today that the first step in the process is to hire 11 people. Mayor Dave Bing is in charge of finding the first two:
Mayor Dave Bing now has six days to create the positions of the city’s chief financial officer and program management director and 30 days after that to hire the people for the positions. Those holding the jobs must have experience in municipal finance and balancing the books of a government operation of at least $250 million. The candidate list and ultimate hires will have to be approved by Snyder and Bing.
The mayor, governor, state treasurer and city council will also each have a say about who goes on the nine-member financial advisory board that will oversee the city’s finances for the next few years.
Detroit’s deal Last night, the Detroit City Council voted to approve a consent agreement with the state to avoid takeover by an emergency manager. That means, as long as the governor signs the deal as expected and the courts don’t strike the deal down, Detroit finally has the first step in a plan to avoid bankruptcy. Partner station Michigan Radio reports on what it all means.
Chicago’s debt problem The Chicago Sun-Times went looking for reasons why Chicago would turn to private partnerships to fund its new multi-billion dollar plan to rebuild infrastructure. One major reason: the city’s staggering debt. Chicago can’t take out any more bonds to pay for improvements because the city spends almost 23 percent of its annual budget paying off the $7.3 billion in debt it already has.
No more coal ash The Ludington Daily News reports the city’s historic car ferry has received a grant to convert its fuel source. Without the grant, the coal powered ferry would have been forced to shut down by the EPA. The historic vessel dumps about 500 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan every year.
On Monday, the state appointed financial review team for Detroit held its final meeting, and members got an earful from Detroiters who are worried that their city could face a takeover. Today, governor Rick Snyder is speaking in the city, and he’s expected to take questions. The governor has until April 5th to reach a consent agreement with Detroit leaders. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll likely appoint an emergency manager to run the city.
Amazon’s deal Amazon will build a $150 million distribution center in southern Indiana. The decision to build came after Indiana agreed to let the retailer go two more years before forcing it to collect Indiana sales tax. BussinessWeek reports the distribution center could eventually have 1,000 jobs.
Ask Snyder Partner station Michigan Radio reports that governor Rick Snyder will take questions from Detroiters today. The governor says he wants people to know the facts about the state’s negotiations to fix the cities finances. Many Detroiters worry they’ll lose local control.
The state-appointed financial review team for the city did hold a meeting, as expected. It was a pretty raucous meeting, as our partner station Michigan Radio reported. The reviewteam was required by law to make a recommendation to the governor about how to handle Detroit’s “fiscal crisis.”
There were basically two options: Recommend a consent agreement with the city, or recommend appointing an emergency manager who has the power to toss out union contracts, sell assets and balance the books. At the time of the meeting, no consent agreement had been reached with the city, so the emergency manager option – an option no one really wants – was starting to look more likely. But instead of taking option 1 or 2, the review team took option 3: Restate that there is a fiscal crisis in the city, restate that the team prefers a consent agreement and restate the obvious fact that there is currently no consent agreement. Not exactly a historic decree.
One way or the other, today is likely to go down as a historic – and possibly transformative – day for the city of Detroit. The city is burning through its cash, and fast approaching bankruptcy. By the end of the day, we could know more about what approach the state will take to help avoid that bankrupcty.
But the negotiations over Detroit’s future have taken a lot of confusing turns in the past couple of weeks, so we’ve tried to put together some answers to the city’s most pressing questions.
What’s happening today? Today is the deadline for the city to sign off on a proposed consent agreement with the state. The agreement would lead to the creation of a new panel to restructure Detroit’s finances.
What happens if the consent agreement isn’t signed today? Some say the state’s financial review team will be forced to recommend that Gov. Snyder appoint an emergency manager. Then, the governor will have 10 days to do so. But the Detroit Free Press says some of the details are still up for debate.
Wasteland BusinessWeek reports on how Ohio has become a dumping ground for the chemical-laced wastewater brine that’s a byproduct of new natural gas drilling in the U.S. BusinessWeek says Ohio has 176 storage wells for the “fracking” fluids. In comparison, Pennsylvania has just six such wells.