Michigan Governor Rick Snyder presents his third state budget before the state Legislature in Lansing, Michigan, Thursday, February 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Does anyone seriously doubt that, if Detroit were a “too big to fail” bank, it would have been bailed out long ago? Or that its pensioners, rather than facing the threat of cruel cuts as part of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s scheme to steer the city into brutal bankruptcy proceedings, would instead have pocketed hefty bonuses?
To ask the question is to answer it.
America’s great cities? Not so much.
The political dynamic in Washington has been tough on America’s cities for a long time. And it is worse now, as austerity advocates seek to shred a safety net that is vital for urban America. But there are some in DC who recognize that the federal government has both a responsibility and an opportunity—as Pennsylvania Congressman Chaka Fattah, a leader of the Congressional Urban Caucus, suggested Friday— “to analyze Detroit’s fiscal situation and intervene on the city’s behalf.”
This does not mean that a bailout on par with what the bankers got is in the offering for struggling cities and counties across the country. Not on John Boehner’s watch.
Yet, Washington cannot avoid this issue and expect the United States to return to robust economic health. The link between the economic viability of American cities and the economic viability of America is too great for that.
To this end, President Obama and serious members of Congress must speak up about the vital importance of federal interventions not merely on behalf of cities but also on behalf of the people who live in major municipalities that cannot be allowed to fail. Cities and counties provide front-line services to tens of millions of America’s most-vulnerable citizens, and municipal employees and retirees use the checks they have earned providing those services to keep local economies functioning. Austerity cuts, whether they are imposed by appointed officials with no other options or bankruptcy courts, do real damage far beyond the cities where they are imposed.