As part of the growing push back against attempts by the hard right to corporatize public services, a group of Michigan citizens have filed suit asking that the state’s Emergency Manager Law be declared unconstitutional.
The law, known as the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act was rammed through the Republican-controlled legislature earlier this year as a response to burgeoning municipal bankruptcies. The law allows the governor to appoint Emergency Managers to take over local units of government. Those managers have full authority to fire elected officials, sell off or privatize community assets and dissolve entire municipalities, all while reporting to not a single voter.
To call the law extreme is generous. It is undemocratic and unprecedented and killing off communities. Of course, some would argue that is exactly its point.
At least one group is fighting back. The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice has filed suit on behalf of 25 citizens arguing that the law “violates the rights of local voters by attempting to delegate law-making power and the power to adopt local acts to unelected emergency managers, by suspending the rights of local electors to establish charters and to elect local officials, and by imposing substantive new costs and expenses upon local municipalities without providing new revenue.”
The law mandates that local communities pay the salary, benefits and expenses of the appointed Emergency Manager and all costs of any employees or contractors hired by the Emergency Manager, including legal costs and insurance.
That’s right. The governor can unilaterally declare a fiscal emergency and appoint a crony, all at taxpayer’s expense. What could possibly go wrong?
As the Michigan Independent reports, plenty. The Benton Harbor Emergency Manager is paid $11,000 per month while the former Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager (and proponent of closing the amazingly successful Catherine Ferguson Academy) made $425,000 during his last year on the job.
State and local municipalities are in crisis thanks in no small part from a continuing refusal to fund basic services in lieu of raising taxes on those Americans that can, and should, pay more. But dissolving those entities and replacing them with unelected officials, or, as some in Wisconsin would like to see, private corporations is not the answer. In fact, there’s a distinctly different word for what that is: fascist.
photo courtesy of krossbow via Flickr