Editorial: State of State depends on fixing Flint, DPS

The Detroit News

Michigan cannot declare its state sound and strong until the crisis in Flint is under control and a long-term plan is in place to mitigate the damage done by contaminated water. Gov. Rick Snyder at last seemed to recognize that Tuesday night, making Flint the overwhelming subject of his sixth State of the State address.

The heart of the governor’s immediate response is a six-point, $20 million plan to get fast relief to the residents of Flint.

It’s a solid initiative, and includes medical treatment for children contaminated by the lead in the water, help for the city to cover unpaid water bills, replacement of faucets and other fixtures in schools and day care centers and a study of the city’s water infrastructure.

Snyder also committed to much more money in the 2017 budget and a long-term plan for mitigating the damage to the city and its residents.

Had this been Snyder’s response in October, when he first learned of the dangerous levels of lead in Flint’s water, he might have spared himself from the intense and national criticism for his lack of urgency and empathy.

The governor struck an urgent tone Tuesday night, and a determined one. He needed to. And he addressed head-on calls for his resignation: The governor is staying, and he recognizes his responsibility.

Snyder did not make excuses for himself or his administration in the speech, and none are deserved. And he promised than on Wednesday his office will release emails related to the Flint crisis.

Snyder sold himself to state voters as a competent manager, and this was a management failure. The governor's Departments of Environmental Quality and Health failed him miserably, as did other agencies and experts, including the EPA and local municipal units in Flint. But the city was under control of a Snyder-appointed emergency manager when the crisis unfolded, and the responsibility belongs to the state and its elected leader.

But the governor’s focus must now turn fully to fixing Flint. The tone he struck in his address must endure. Flint and its children will need a lot of help for decades to come. The state must commit to providing that assistance.

Snyder’s overall plan for Flint can’t be judged until the 2017 budget plan comes out in a few weeks. He promised it would include much more money and broader programs. The budget will be the primary indicator of how seriously Snyder takes this crisis. Other items on his priority list must take a back seat.

Except, of course, for Detroit schools. Snyder spent a relatively modest amount of time talking about his education restructuring plan for Detroit. It can’t go on a back burner; the Detroit Public Schools will be insolvent in a few months without action. The governor will need $500 million from lawmakers to address the DPS debt. The need to improve school conditions is abundantly clear and cannot start too soon.

The amount he needs for Flint is still undetermined, but is likely to stretch into the hundreds of millions. The same goes for DPS.

The two emergencies — Flint and Detroit schools — have become inextricably linked, because both affect the welfare of children and reflect poorly on the competency of state management.

The state of the state depends on Snyder greatly improving his performance so far in meeting those two challenges.