Shock Doctrine: 'Emergency Finance Managers' and the Right-Wing's Power Grab
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Innovative public education programs like the Ferguson Academy aren't profitable, but they are an example of the good that public education can do. And the local food program, which promoted community self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship, was far less costly than tax breaks for big business. That these programs help people do exactly what conservatives want them to do—pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make a better life for themselves and their families—is further evidence that the ideals of "success” and “efficiency” touted by the new radical right are actually just cover for their real agenda: consolidating their own power.
A lawsuit filed Wednesday, June 22 challenges the emergency manager law. Again, from the Michi gan Messenger:
“This is an infringement on basic democracy,” said plaintiffs attorney John Philo of the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice. “It really is an experiment in a new form of government — one person rule.”
The complaint alleges that the law, “violates the rights of local voters by attempting to delegate law-making power and the power to adopt local acts to unelected emergency mangers, by suspending the rights of local electors to establish charters and to elect local officials, and by imposing substantial new costs and expenses upon local municipalities without providing new revenue.”
The law is so extreme, the plaintiffs say, that it “establishes a new form of local government, previously unknown within the United States or the State of Michigan, where the people within local municipalities may be governed by an unelected official who establishes local law by decree.”
Even if the people did vote on an official, it should be noted, there's a difference between voting for a mayor, say, and an official with near-unlimited powers. Even Snyder's office realized that it would be unseemly to make Detroit Mayor Steve Bing the emergency manager of his city or even its school system. That might be too much power for one individual.
“I see in Michigan’s future: EFMs declaring war on other EFMs. And the citizenry of one city being told to fight the citizenry of other cities. to protect the turf and honor of our noble EFMs.”
Pennsylvania has been a quieter front in the war on working people, overshadowed by Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and even its neighbor New Jersey. But it has its own bill working its way through the legislature that would update existing legislation and consolidate state control over a city, in this case the capital city of Harrisburg.
Act 47, the Financially Distressed Municipalities Act, has been on the books for a while in the state, and was developed to help Pennsylvania's cities recover from financial stress. But the plan put forth under the act for Harrisburg is quite different from earlier plans for other cities in the state (including Pittsburgh, Scranton, Reading and Johnstown).
Michael Wood, of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, explained that the plan for Harrisburg would dictate the sale of particular city assets and eliminate much of the separation of powers between elected leadership, requiring staff to be shared between city council, mayor, controller and treasurer. This is a change from the usual recommendations, which Wood said include taxing commuters as well as making changes to union contracts and city services.
But on top of the existing powers under Act 47, a group of state senators have put forward bill 1151, which would allow the state to appoint a three-person board to run Harrisburg if the plan isn't enacted, stripping power from the elected city council. The bill also gives the state the power to renegotiate union contracts for the city's public employees, including police and firefighters. Wood wrote in an email: