Who’s to blame for money woes?

By Charles Sercombe

Hamtramck would be looking at a nearly $9 million budget surplus today instead of a budget deficit if it hadn’t been for a steady progression of state cuts.

That’s what Anthony Minghine, the Associate Director of the Michigan Municipal League, says in a recent column he wrote for the League’s upcoming magazine.

Minghine minces no words in how Michigan’s past and present officials have handled the state’s financial crisis. The solution to fixing the state’s budget woes, Minghine said, came on the backs of communities by slashing millions of dollars in state revenue sharing.

“This would be like me taking your money to pay my bills, and then telling you that you need to be more responsible with your household budget,” Minghine said in reference to the state’s steady cuts in revenue sharing to communities.

While the state now enjoys a billion dollar surplus, many communities are teetering on the edge of financial collapse. Several months ago, Hamtramck couldn’t hold out any longer and was among a handful of cities that was taken over by a state-appointed emergency manager.

Minghine likens the state’s financial moves to robbery.

“There have been a lot of high profile robberies over the years. The Lufthansa robbery, D.B. Cooper highjacking, the Antwerp Diamond Caper … but these crimes look amateurish compared to the state of Michigan’s Great Revenue Sharing Heist,” he said.

“The state has managed to pinch over $6 billion in revenue sharing from local government over the last several years. Those numbers would even get Bernie Madoff’s attention.”

Minghine concedes that revenue cuts were not the only culprit. Contributing to the statewide finance crisis were the decline in property tax collections via the collapse of the housing market and the ever-increasing costs to carry the load of city pensioners.

Minghine said the remedy is for the state to restore those cuts — or risk having almost every city fail. The statewide financial collapse, he said, would have a ripple effect by turning off anyone wanting to remain living here or thinking about moving here.

“Our goal must be to ensure that our cities are vibrant places that people will choose to live in, and that can only happen if the state fulfills its promise and responsibility to invest where the rubber meets the road, and that is at the local level,” Minghine said.

Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski, a former president of the League, couldn’t agree more. But, she said, the call for restoring funding has fallen on deaf ears by some state legislators.

“It signals the broken relationship between municipalities, legislatures and the governor’s office,” she said.

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