Democrats target EM law for extinction

Leonard N. Fleming and Jonathan Oosting The Detroit News

Flint — Echoing a growing number of Democrats, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said during Sunday’s debate here that the federal government should rid Michigan of its controversial emergency manager law because it has failed.

Clinton jumped on the opportunity during Sunday’s debate to take a swipe at the law which she said hasn’t worked and has put the school system in further debt.

“I would use every legal means at my disposal to try to force the governor and the state to return the schools to the people of Detroit ... to end the emergency management” in Michigan, said Clinton during a debate question about Detroit Public Schools and its troubled under the EM law.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes a point.

Clinton recalled stories about children “that are living in poverty, are going to schools like the ones in Detroit that have mold and rodents in them.”

The Detroit school district has run up more debt with state-appointed emergency managers, forcing Gov. Rick Snyder to propose a financial bailout of the district as well as a gradual return to local control to prevent an even worse bankruptcy.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said he has had “a number of discussions” with colleagues about emergency manager laws and whether the federal government could intervene.

“One question is whether it would pass the constitutional test, whether there is clear constitutional authority to suspend democracy indefinitely,” he said. “And that’s a question we’re going to be looking at.”

The state of Michigan has taken the control of overseeing the finances in cities that have run several years of budget deficits and piled up debt that affects the state’s credit rating.

Under the emergency manager law, cities found to be in financial stress can choose whether to go to arbitration, negotiate a consent agreement on how to fix the finances, declare bankruptcy or let the state appointed an emergency manager with the power to void labor contracts.

While federal intervention on emergency manager laws could be a question for courts, Kildee noted that Congress is charged with enforcing the U.S. Constitution.

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm also appointed emergency managers to struggling cities, but did so under a weaker law that didn’t allow the overriding of labor contracts. Kildee said Snyder has been more aggressive in his focus on finances.

The Snyder administration has argued that cities can’t be allowed to run up mountains of debt with no consideration of the taxpayers.

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel shot back Sunday at the Democratic criticism.

“The reality is it takes a lot to bring in an emergency manager, and it means a community is on the brink of bankruptcy, and so shouldn’t there be oversight as to how tax dollars from the rest of the state is being used in the community that was getting into a financial crisis?” McDaniel said.

“I think in Detroit we’ve seen the model of how an emergency manager worked to bring Detroit out of bankruptcy with Kevyn Orr, and the governor, and the mayor. And I think that’s exactly how the law was supposed to work.”