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'It Can't Go On Forever': Michigan Steps In To Help Detroit


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The state of Michigan is stepping in to take over the finances of Detroit. Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder, who is a Republican, said the city's $14 billion debt, impoverished city services and dire economic prospects amount to a financial emergency. Now under the plan, Detroit's city government will likely to be forced to hand over its authority in many areas to a state board and emergency manager chosen by the governor. Detroit is a signature American city, which gave birth to the U.S. auto industry and Motown. When a manager is appointed, it will become the largest American city ever to have state control over its finances. Now coming up, we'll hear more about this latest effort to save Detroit, but first we're joined on the line by Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder. Governor, thanks very much for being with us.

GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER: Happy to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Detroit's been in a tailspin for years. Why did you choose to assume control now?

SNYDER: You can go back to 1950 when there were 1.8 million people in Detroit. Now, there's 700,000. And it really comes down to the fact that this decline just keeps going and it can't go on forever. It needs to be turned around. And a lot of great things are going on within the city of Detroit. So, the real issue is the citizens deserve better services, the finances need to be turned around and we need to grow the city of Detroit. So, we're at a crisis point now that my view it's time to bring all the resources to bear that we can. And it's not about fighting with Detroit; it's about recognizing it's Detroit, Michigan. And so let's bring all the city and state resources together to do the best job possible to simply solve the problem.

SIMON: Why not let the elected officials of Detroit, Mayor Bing and others, do their jobs without your interference?

SNYDER: Well, that's been a challenge for not just the current situation in terms of the mayor and city council, but this has been going on for years where the elected officials have been unsuccessful in turning Detroit around. I did a consent agreement with them back in April where they outlined a number of actions to be taken, and those actions haven't happened. Or a number of them didn't even get started to work on until a September timeframe.

SIMON: And emergency managers, I understand, can have almost absolute power in some areas - ending union contracts, take over pension funds, sell public assets. Do you think any of that's necessary?

SNYDER: Well, you're looking at both a short-term cash crisis and $14 billion of liabilities. And so the goal here isn't to cause hardship on the city; it's to actually stabilize its finances and turn them around. And the goal isn't just to simply tell everyone what to do. It's to really say, we have additional powers and resources that the state can bring. Let's partner with the city. Let's try and get the mayor and city council onboard to say in a collaborative fashion, shouldn't we all want to solve this problem and let's do it together to make Detroit a great place again.

SIMON: Governor, as I don't have to tell someone who's run for office statewide, Detroit is an overwhelmingly Democratic city politically. Would it be perhaps fair and wisest for you to choose a Democrat as an emergency manager?

SNYDER: Well, it's largely a nonpartisan position. 'Cause I've talked to a lot of citizens. The real issue is, is they just want results because they've been suffering through this for, again, as I said, decades. So, I'm looking forward to bringing in whether someone's Republican, Democratic, anyone who wants to help this problem, let's just go.

SIMON: Nevertheless, do you have any discomfort at the prospect of a governor who happens to be white and Republican taking over the management of a city that is predominantly black and Democratic?

SNYDER: Well, you always want to be sensitive to the racial issues in particular. And those are important, because there's a lot of legacy and history that needs to be respected and understood. So, it's to do it in the best fashion possible, but that's about - this is not just about me and it's just not about an emergency manager. It's about bringing people together to say a lot of good people have worked on trying to solve these problems in the past and they haven't been successful. But shouldn't we really redouble our efforts to say it's not about fighting, it's not about blame; it's just about showing results. And so that's the approach I'm taking to this; is I call it (unintelligible) positive action. Let's just solve the problem.

SIMON: Can you raise revenue for Detroit without tapping into state coffers?

SNYDER: Well, I think there are opportunities to do that. In terms of better collection systems, in terms of what's owed to the city in many respects. There can be improvements there. And because ultimately, if you look at the citizens, they're not getting the services they really need. We need better public safety in Detroit, better lighting, better transportation. And as we turn the corner on those things, I think we'll have more people wanting to move in the city. There's a lot of good things going on in Detroit, besides its finances, that should be recognized.

SIMON: The governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, speaking with us from Ann Arbor. Thank you very much for being with us.

SNYDER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.