Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Down The Drain

The situation with the water supply in Flint, Michigan seems to be another instance of a government being "too broke to care about right and wrong." It's not so much that the emergency managers and city council (or even Detroit water officials) were more interested in the bottom line than the health and welfare of the residents of Flint - it's that the emergency managers' main job was to make sure that Flint's finances were kept in order, and that's what they were being judged on. And the money that would have been needed to fix the situation - to reverse the decision to draw water from the Flint River rather than purchase it (at inflated prices, admittedly) from Detroit. Note that Flint's water supply was so bad that General Motors decided that the water was unusable for use on automotive parts, and switched their water back to Detroit.

Most of the coverage of this issue has been directed at the evasions, and outright falsehoods, given by officials in Flint, the State of Michigan and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Which makes sense - that coverage paints a damning picture of government failure to look after their citizens, or even warn them of the dangers.

"It's like what's going on in Greece," says state Sen. Jim Ananich, who represents Flint and has a newborn he takes to his in-laws' house in nearby Grand Blanc for baths. "How did we get to a place where we've cut everything? There's nothing left but the books balancing. What the city looks like after that doesn't matter. As long as there's less red and more black, we're in good shape."
Who Poisoned Flint, Michigan?
In the end, this issue came down to money. Part of the whole reason why emergency managers are appointed, and given so much power over the operations of the municipalities, is specifically that they aren't accountable to voters, and thus can't be pressured into promising, and delivering, expensive services to residents that there isn't the money to pay for. The story that I woud like to hear is how the finances penciled out, and what the financial pressures were - and the consequences of doing things differently would have been. Because that's the root of the problem. And until that peice of it is understood, this won't go away. The next municipality that has to grapple with issues of funding basic services will face the same sorts of decisions. And if they're deeply in dept and watching every dollar, they too might be too broke to care about right and wrong.

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