Michigan and the Meaning of Flint (Mar. 8)

Mike & Co.  —

Tomorrow’s Michigan primary election may end up being “yugge” if it seriously opens up the possibility that Trump can put the state in play in November — “A normal Republican cannot think of bringing in Michigan,” said Trump — nothing any other GOP presidential candidate could do, now, or for the past 25 years.

Flint crystallizes so many of the issues that give rise to this new tectonic possibility.  There had to be a debate in Flint because there had to be a debate about it… and the Secretary deserves far more credit than she’s getting for making sure it happened.

In Washington, the Senate is readying to vote on a bipartisan package for drinking water aid.  It’s not a slam dunk, however, as Mike Lee has maintained a hold on the bill, saying political grandstanding is taking the place of policy.  More on all this below.




Flint — Bills and Broad Strokes

The Michigan legislature approved in January a $28 million appropriation to provide immediate aid to Flint.  Some critics maintain that the need to do so demonstrates the sorry condition of the state’s tax policy.

The tax base in Flint was eroded significantly during the 1980’s and 90’s as industry jobs left and the population fell.  To deal with the resulting fiscal imbalance the Flint city manager was instructed to cut costs – he did so partly by switching the source of Flint’s drinking water. The broad and deep cuts to state and local budgets affected basic public services most profoundly.  Now, as a direct cause of these cuts, the residents of Flint are grappling with an issue no American ever considered possible – they do not have access to fresh drinking water.

For all the talk of federal aid in infrastructure financing there must be a place made for regular tax payers.  These people bear a significant portion of direct funding for infrastructure projects both in their states and municipalities.  When those tax revenues are redirected, or when state spending is cut to the point that basic services can’t be provided then taxpayers are right to question what, in fact, their taxes are paying for.

Congressional update:

At the insistence of Democrats, the Flint agreement has been attached to a Senate energy bill introduced by Sen. Murkowski, S. 2012, which is next in line in the Senate following the opioid addiction bill.  The energy bill will be voted on soon, providing that things moves quickly (not a sure bet, since Dems may want to vote on certain amendments to the opioid bill).  Despite these potential hang ups, Senateleadership hopes to wrap up the energy bill by the end of the week – giving them some breathing room before the Senate adjourns for Easter recess by March 21.

While Sen. Cruz lifted his hold on the bill last week, Mike Lee has continued to block movement on the legislation.  Sen. Lee is claiming that federal aid is not necessary to deal with Flint: “The state of Michigan has an enormous budget surplus this year and a large rainy-day fund, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars,” the Senator said in a statement.

Flint agreement:

The bill provides $250 million to assist the residents of Flint, Michigan and other American cities experiencing critical problems with their water supplies by increasing funding for Drinking Water Act State Revolving Funds and provide start-up funding for the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.  It includes:

·       $100 million for Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) accessible by any state with a drinking water emergency.  It requires states to submit plans explaining how the money will be spent to address the emergency before funding is provided.   Funds that remain after 18 months will be distributed to all states under the existing SRF formula.

·       $70 million in funding to back secured loans made under the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).  A federal investment of $70 million could support secured loans of up to $4.2 billion to address water and wastewater infrastructure needs across the country, according to Sen. Inhofe’s office.  All states and all communities with clean water and drinking water infrastructure needs are eligible for this assistance.

·       $50 million for various in authorized health programs for national use to address and prevent impacts from exposure to lead.

“Flint” is more than Flint

Flint is a crisis of governance – there is a disconnect in the relationship between citizens and government, and it bridges every demographic.  Just as the poor drink water so do the wealthy, and when a service as basic and fundamental is undermined to the point that an entire town of nearly a hundred thousands is poisoned by its own government, voters will express themselves, given the chance.

Residents, customers, consumers, taxpayers –- citizens at the end of the day  –- are seeing their government in a significantly different light and thus far are voting differently this year accordingly. Donald Trump would not likely be able to put Michigan in play without this new perspective animation politics in Michigan as much as anywhere.



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