The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC) is ready to work with the Legislature and the governor to ensure that the issues of the state’s urban communities, distressed communities and communities of color are addressed. Michigan’s turnaround won’t be complete unless urban communities share in the jobs, infrastructure and education improvements that the governor talked about in his State of the State address.
The governor talked about working together to get things done, and my colleagues and I are willing to listen. But we need to know that he is committed to the needs of our communities, and that rebuilding infrastructure includes a priority of creating jobs in distressed communities as well as elsewhere in Michigan.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Snyder presented a rosy picture for Michigan in reviewing his dashboard and economic progress. His overview, however, masks the fact that much of Michigan is being left behind. For example, African-American unemployment is double the state rate, more than 35% of Michigan families are living in poverty and that urban students are more than twice as likely to attend high-poverty failing schools. Effectively addressing these issues to ensure equal rights and access to a desirable quality of life for all of Michigan will require transformational leadership committed to addressing the issues of race and poverty with candor, transparency and courage.
Additionally, in laying out the state of the state, the governor was strangely silent on the need for Detroit to make a full and sustainable recovery. With the state’s largest city quickly moving toward an emergency manager, along with numerous other urban centers facing similar challenges, a strategic urban plan is required if Michigan is truly going to reinvent itself. The MLBC is pleased to hear that an emphasis will be placed on some neighborhood initiatives, but a comprehensive plan is required, including capturing opportunities for local revenue generation, business development and cost savings, rather than cost cutting that erodes critical services. The state must assume accountability for contributing to local financial issues through policies such as cuts to revenue sharing and education and failing to pass numerous “population” bills critical to Detroit’s turnaround. We have, in effect, reduced the state’s deficit and increased the Rainy Day Fund on the backs of local communities and our citizens are suffering as a result.
Clearly, repairing Michigan’s roads should be a priority, and the governor did a good job of presenting his business case. However, I am concerned about the call for ‘user fees’ to fund infrastructure improvements because any gas tax or auto registration fee increase is going to be doubly hard on the people my MLBC colleagues and I represent. Our first discussion, when he comes to us with his proposal, should be a business case for closing social and economic racial disparities in ways that make supporting such fees palatable, treat our communities fairly, and deliver a maximum return on their quality of life. If we can justify raising $1 billion a year for roads, we should be able to justify investing in the future of communities of color.
In the coming weeks, MLBC members would address these and other community issues while detailing its policy and budget priorities.
Thomas Stallworth is a state senator from Detroit.