Round-up: As others see Flint water crisis

No Justice in Flint Water Crisis

Stephen L. Carter, Bloomberg View: If a private company distributed thousands of bottles of water with high levels of lead and other contaminants, lawsuits would chase it toward bankruptcy. So why should authorities in Michigan get a pass?

Imagine a class-action suit on behalf of the people of Flint, Michigan. There are plenty of available defendants. The Detroit Water Board, for cutting off the city’s supply of water in a childish snit. Flint’s own water department, for doing a lousy job of testing its only product. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, for ignoring claims that there was something wrong with the water and not overseeing the Flint department. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for appointing as head of the DEQ a person without significant environmental experience. Oh, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for doing nothing.

The reason no lawsuit will be filed is sovereign immunity. The state, having created the courts, cannot be sued in them without its consent.

In short, due to sovereign immunity, there’s no way to sue anybody.

Lessons of the Flint Water Crisis

Kishore Jayabalan, Acton Institute: As a native of Flint, Michigan, I am very saddened by the contaminated water crisis that has broken out in my hometown and has now gathered international attention. What’s even sadder is that I am not terribly shocked that such a crisis could take place there. Flint has long been Exhibit A in the story of the decline and fall of a once-proud industrial city in the age of globalization; it is also a prime example of why monopolies in politics, business and labor are inherently prone to collusion, complacency and even corruption. Flint is what happens when we avoid competition out of a false sense of “solidarity.”

(Gov. Rick) Snyder takes most of the blame for responding slowly to the crisis, but what really angers the left is his appointment of an “Emergency Manager” to run the city from 2011 to 2015. They cry in unison: How undemocratic! Well, none of them ever ask why Flint required such a manager in the first place. Flint’s politicians were notoriously incompetent and corrupt, plunging it into bankruptcy which forced the state of Michigan to take it into receivership. Another unmentioned fact: the city was run almost exclusively by the Democratic Party. This one-party rule has left Flint with massive unfunded liabilities and a shrinking tax base. Seventy-five percent of the households in Flint are single-parent and it has been one of the most violent cities in the country for decades. It is a political, social and economic basket case.

You may think it unfair to blame this all on Democrats and you would be right. They were willingly assisted by General Motors and the United Auto Workers. Taken altogether, Democrats, GM executives and UAW bosses did all they possibly could to lock out competition and control the city.

Gov. Snyder, The Water Failure is Yours

Dana Milbank, The Washinton Post: ... The Flint disaster, three years in the making, is not a failure of government generally. It’s the failure of a specific governing philosophy: Snyder’s belief that government works better if run more like a business.

Snyder’s blaming of local authorities is disingenuous: Because of the emergency management law, municipal officials can’t do anything without the blessing of Snyder’s viceroys.

As for federal officials, the EPA warned Michigan as early as February 2015 that contaminants were leaching into the water system in Flint. The EPA didn’t press publicly or aggressively to fix the problem, a failure that led to the regional administrator’s resignation last week. That foot-dragging postponed action by a few months — an inexcusable delay, to be sure — but the feds had no say in the decisions that caused the problem.

Snyder undertook an arrogant public policy experiment, underpinned by the ideological assumption that the “experience set” of corporate-style managers was superior to the checks and balances of democracy.This is why Flint happened.

Flint’s Problem was Money, Not Water

Thomas G. Donlan, Barron’s: The story of Flint, Michigan, is not only the story of dirty water and derelict environmental officials that has dominated the news. The unsung story is that of imprudence that made some sort of catastrophe almost inevitable.

Flint changed its water supply to save money. In the process, it failed to add chemicals that would prevent the new, more acidic water from eroding lead from pipes supplying as many as 100,000 people.

At bottom, however, it’s not a water crisis; it’s a benefits crisis. Flint’s money shortage came about largely from high municipal pension obligations and a retiree health plan that could not be properly funded after the biggest taxpayer, General Motors, moved out.

The city’s population shrunk, the city budget shrunk and wages shrunk, but benefits for retirees could not shrink because of protections in the state constitution. Currently, pensions and retiree health care consume 33 percent of general fund expense and 20 percent of all city spending. The city has been in receivership since December 2011.

Flint is not the first victim of excessive municipal benefits — and it won’t be the last.