Michigan continues to dismantle valuable community infrastructure, shift tax burden to working class, in order to pay for tax breaks for business owners

As you may have read on Eclectablog a few days ago, Joseph Harris, the Emergency Financial Manager installed by the Governor’s office to oversee the dismantling/privatization of Benton Harbor, recently put the City’s small, in-house radio station up for sale on Ebay. Well, Rachel Maddow just picked up on the story. Here’s her report.

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The low-power station, situated in the basement of City Hall, as Maddow points out, serves as one of the few sources for information in Benton Harbor. Elected officials, who have been effectively been stripped of any real power by the Emergency Financial Manager, have been using the station to share information with the people of Benton Harbor, about the sweeping changes being made by the new, unelected political appointee, Joseph Harris, as he breaks contracts with City employees, eliminates public services, liquidates community assets, etc… Speaking of liquidating assets, the asking price for the Benton Harbor municipal radio station on Ebay is $5,000. For that amount, the successful bidder would get the station license, a transmitter, a sound board and a few mics. According to reports, there have been no bids as of yet.

It’s worth noting, as Benton Harbor works to sell off significant community assets for as little as $5,000, that Rick Snyder’s elimination of the Michigan Business Tax is calculated to have cost the state $1.65 billion… I don’t have a pen and paper handy, but I suspect that you’d have to sell several dozen community radio stations to put a dent in that.

Speaking of Michigan’s changes in tax policy, here’s a clip from Eclectablog’s Chris Savage on how the burden is shifting onto the shoulders of poor and working class men and women.

…(The poor, the retired and the working class in Michigan will begin to know that the tax burden has shifted to them) when the new Republican budget kicks in, what I have called the “Tax Time Bomb” or “Tax Bomb” of 2012™. Our elders are going to see taxes on their pensions that they’ve never seen before. Our working poor families and others at the lower end of the middle class are going to see the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Homestead Property Tax Credit severely curtailed or eliminated. People will lose the tax break for having children and will no longer be able to deduct charitable donations to food banks, food pantries, universities or public radio & television stations. They will, in fact, pay MORE in taxes than they have in quite some time.

All the while, they will see that businesses have gotten a staggering 86% tax cut. That’s when they’ll really notice it, actually: when they hear that evil, maniacal laughter coming from the stretch limo that splashes them with mud puddle water as it is driving by.

The most clever part of the Republicans’ plan, however, is that these things will all hit in April, just about the time the legislature is debating Governor Rick Snyder’s 2013 budget (the one for next year.) Since the new budget has some token give-backs to schools and the arts, etc, these geniuses are going to be redirecting the conversation to their faux benevolence at exactly the same moment people are paying higher taxes. That’s a very nice shiny thing to distract the poor and huddled masses…

update: Word is the auction has been pulled from Ebay.

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27 Comments

  1. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    I am not distracted from what the tax man is doing. It is all about US giving more and getting less in return.

  2. EOS
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Here’s a fair and balanced view of the Michigan budget:

    http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120209/POLITICS02/202090435

    More for education, police, local municipalities, and roads.

    And after 8 years of Granholm’s incompetency, Snyder has a budget surplus.

  3. EOS
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    A transmitter, a sound board and a few mics are a significant community asset?

  4. Edward
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Sounds like a great candidate for Kickstarer campaign, or a grant from the Awesome Foundation.

  5. Posted February 14, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    EOS, this is what fair and balanced really looks like

    http://www.truth-out.org/bill-moyers-where-right-went-wrong/1328974045

  6. Eel
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Fuck Michigan.

    Seriously.

    Fuck it.

    In spite of all of this, word is that Santorum is likely to win the Republican primary here.

    As evidenced by EOS, we live in a state of seriously stupid people.

    Sorry about the rant, but I’ve had about all I can take. The story about the people being told to live in the woods was bad enough. The Maddow video, however, pushed me over the edge.

  7. Posted February 14, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I’m in Sweden right now.

    High taxes, lots of expensive social services….. completely vibrant and active economy.

    The American right is vastly stupid.

  8. Brainless
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    In this day of social media, how in the hell is a “radio station” (who are we kidding – some mics and a desk) which apparently isn’t worth $5,000 something worth fighting for? Mark, I understand what you’re really trying to get at here with our wacky budget paid for by poor people, but this is really a horrible example.

    In fact, this is the VERY kind of thing that folks on both sides of the alleged aisle should get behind. What an absurd waste of money this must have been. Bought for what – $20,000? $50,000? Who knows? Taking up space in a public building? Used for nothing? Valueless upon resale?

    What’s your point? That Benton Harbor was, in fact, incredibly poorly run if they bought stuff that became worthless? Because that’s what I see here. Whoever started a city radio station SHOULD be fired. Does Ypsi have one of these stashed in the basement to promote the dazzling new Water Street – Dubai in Ypsi?

    And please, for the luvogod, give up this “unelected official” nonsense. You sound like a child. These people have been placed in these positions through an entirely legal process based on very old and rock-solid precedents putting the state 100% in charge of all local municipalities. They are being appointed by a 100% legally elected official who is doing exactly what he said he was going to do. It’s not anything like the relationship between the states and the federal government. There aren’t two sources of power here. There is one. They are exercising it and you don’t like it. “I don’t like it” is very different from “It’s not legal”. I assure you, it IS legal.

    We can debate all day about whether or not emergency managers will work. But you have to quit harping on “unelected official”. It just makes you all sound so propagandist. You have very good points about what makes local government good, but this hides your argument behind a wall of pedantry.

  9. Elf
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    So, you have an issue with Mark saying that the EFM of Benton Harbor is unelected?

    But, he is unelected.

    As others have said, you have a right to your own opinion, but not your own facts. You can disagree with Mark on the merits of the program, but the fact remains that emergency managers are unelected appointees, who are, by and large, being sent into predominantly black communities to sell what can be sold, and discontinue public services. The intention may not have been racist, but the results clearly are. Over half of black Michiganders now pay taxes, but have no voice in their local affairs. That’s not consistent with American values. You can argue that these people don’t deserve a say, because they continue to elect ineffective leaders, etc., but you can’t say that Mark is incorrect when he says that the emergency managers are unelected officials.

    As for your comment about radio being an inefficient means of communication in the computer age, I have a question for you. Do you know how many people in Benton Harbor don’t have access to the internet?

    Just because you get your news online, doesn’t mean that everyone does. Some people don’t have computers.

  10. Robert
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    We MarkMaynard.com readers should all pitch in and buy the radio station and Maynard FM will be born. I’ll volunteer to host the overnight crazy call-in show.

  11. Demetrius
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Radio Free Ypsilanti!

  12. Brainless
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Elf, charges of racism don’t undo the facts of our system. Appointed by an elected official is the same thing as elected – legal is legal. The use of the word “unelected” is just your happy little buzzword and nothing more. It’s marketing, not thought.

    Just because folks didn’t vote on this person doesn’t make them illegal. We don’t vote on 99.99% of the people who work for the state. Do you consider all of the employees of the state to be illegal or just the ones you don’t personally like? I have no say in who is at the desk at the SOS, but I’m forced to deal with them. How is this any different? The people of Benton Harbor voted in the state election the same as everybody else. The state government, by all rights and precedents, has 100% authority over local governments. The “unelected official” argument simply holds no water. If you want to change this, direct your efforts elsewhere.

    Are there good arguments against emergency managers? Of course there are – lots. Are poor people of color being affected more by emergency managers? Yes. Is that illegal? No. Is it racist? Probably not. These communities weren’t chosen because they are black. They were chosen because they are poor. Do you sit around imagining secret meetings where the old white men in Lansing red line the blackest neighborhoods? Does Snyder really strike you as that kind of person – a nerdy Montgomery Burns?

    And before you go off about the great value of their radio station, I’ll bet – oh, I don’t know, $10,000 of Mitt Romney’s ample dollars – that the ratings weren’t exactly stellar.

    “Do you know how many people in Benton Harbor don’t have access to the internet?” Do you?!

    “Some people don’t have computers.” How many?

    Seems like you’re fighting for an ideal here rather than trying to make a practical decision with public money. Throw some facts out here and maybe we can talk. Your ideals simply aren’t all that interesting.

  13. Demetrius
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    @ Brainless

    Not every community that’s facing bankruptcy or an “Emergency Manager,” is plagued with corruption and mismanagement. Many communities (and school districts) which find themselves in these straits are victims of Michigan’s broken system of funding local schools and governments.

    And, just because the residents of Benton Harbor “voted in the same elections as everybody else,” does not mean they automatically gave up their right to local democracy and self-determination in the process. The will of the majority is not absolute … and in the case of the “Emergency Manager” law, it still remains for the courts (or Michigan voters) to determine whether it is actually legal, or not.

  14. Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Brainless, do you even know the meaning of the words that you use? You conflate “unelected” with “legal”. These are two different concepts–you do understand that words actually have meaning and you should use the word that means what you are trying to communicate. ” Appointed” is not a synonym of “elected”

    Concerning the Benton Harbor assets that are being liquidated, ie. the radio station. Brainless just wants to rant without information or facts. How do you suppose the emergency broadcast system works? Where do you think the signal might originate (ie.the actual broadcast) ? Since much of local government infrastructure is paid by Fed. and state grants (which are only awarded for the specific purpose for which they are used), I suspect at some point Benton Harbor got a Federal grant (don’t know how old the radio broadcasting system is) could go all the way back to the 50’s and Civil Defense, or now Homeland Security grants.

    I am sure you have heard how cities in the great plans states were getting Homeland Security grants for some of what I thought were the most absurd things (drones in N. Dakato to track rustlers ). Brainless knee jerk reaction “That Benton Harbor was, in fact, incredibly poorly run if they bought stuff that became worthless” is only tempered by the word of “if”–since none of us know the circumstances or facts surrounding Benton Harbors purchase of the radio equipment–to then use it as an example of a poorly run city, only demonstrates ignorance. For all I (or Brainless) know all cities above a certain size have “radio broadcast” equipment as part of Homeland Security requirements.

    Using the same set of facts we have, I will make the following assertion.

    The failed e-bay auction was in fact an example of the incompetence of appointed financial managers (we saw this same incompetence in Pontiac). The EFM obviously failed to look up the conditions under which the city was awarded the funds for the purchase of the radio station, (which was clearly a Homeland Security requirement) and when informed that the city would have to refund the grant, he pulled the assets off of e-bay. When the Pontiac EFM (in order to be “economical” ) put all the cities disposable assets up for auction at one time, only to be informed that the sell of some of those assets would violate various funding agreements he also quickly removed items from the auction block.

    Given the facts we know about the sale of these assets, I think my scenario is closer to the truth than Brainless.

  15. Mr. X
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    The following comes form the UCLA World Internet Project findings.

    In the United States, for example, while overall usage is 71.1%, some 89.8% of the richest quarter of the population use the net while only 43.1% of the poorest quarter do so.

    The report was from 2004. I’m looking for more up to date numbers, but I suspect that the poor still lag the rich considerably when it comes to internet usage.

    Here’s the report:
    http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=7488

    The bigger question is whether or not anyone in Benton Harbor actually listened to the station. While it could be true that a huge percentage of the population doesn’t have access to the internet, that doesn’t mean that they’re seeking out the information elsewhere. It might very well be true that they just don’t care. I would argue, however, that $5,000, in the whole scheme of things, is a drop in the bucket compared to problem that we’re facing. Will they start selling their office supplies on Ebay next? How much will they get for the fishbowl full of paperclips?

  16. Mr. X
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Here’s 2011 data from a Pew Research report on the digital divide.

    41% of those over 65 access the internet.
    43% of those without high school diplomas access the internet.
    62% of households bringing in less than $30,000 a year access the internet.

    You can read the release here:
    http://www.pewinternet.org/Static-Pages/Trend-Data/Whos-Online.aspx

  17. Walt
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    The ebay auction wasn’t pulled.

    It ended with zero bids.

    It was neither an example of failed government nor was it an example of the impotence of EFMs. It’s was simply overpriced for what it was.

  18. Arpid
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    By your reasoning, Brainless, Obama, as an elected official, could displace Snyder any time he wanted, and it would be perfectly fine.

    At the risk or derailing our conversation by throwing out the Hitler’s name, I think that the following analogy may be helpful.

    Hitler was democratically elected. That doesn’t mean that Hans Frank, whom he appointed to rule over the occupied territory of Poland in 1939, was a legitimate leader of the Polish people.

  19. Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Walt, I listened to the report, and it was posted twice on ebay. First time just the equipment. No one bid for just the equipment. The second time it was posted with the license. It was pulled the second time before the auction ended. I suspect that it had to do with Federal rules about auctioning FCC licenses. FCC frowns on passing licenses around without their permission. After all the airwaves are a public asset that you must receive permission to use—other wise you are called a pirate, and they fine you and take your equipment. The EMF should have checked first.

  20. Demetrius
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Why not just have ebay auctions of entire towns — residents included?

    According to Brainless, this should be legal, as long as Governor Snyder — who was, after all, elected by majority vote — says it is O.K.

  21. anonymous
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    With all due respect, Walt, I think it demonstrates just how out of whack Harris’s priorities are. Instead of helping the people of Benton Harbor to turn things around, he’s selling old microphones on Ebay. That demonstrates to me that everything that can be cut already has been. That demonstrates to me that Harris has no vision for making things right in Benton Harbor. He was put in place to fire public employees, bust up unions, and sell everything off to the highest bidder. Those were his orders. He doesn’t give a damn about the people of Benton Harbor. This is Republican scorched earth policy. This is fucking the working poor to the point where they either die or move away.

  22. Brainless
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Hey Arpid, read your own words:
    “By your reasoning, Brainless, Obama, as an elected official, could displace Snyder any time he wanted, and it would be perfectly fine.”

    Then read this from my first post:
    “It’s not anything like the relationship between the states and the federal government. There aren’t two sources of power here.”

    By my reasoning, you don’t know how to read and claimed I said the exact opposite of what I did and even had the fucking balls to bring up Hitler. Seriously? Hitler? Good local financial management on par with exterminating millions?

    Kiss my ass you piece of shit.

  23. Citizen w/ Cane
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s a good thing that law firm’s divided up into cubicles.

  24. Posted February 14, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Not to throw gasoline on a fire–well, okay, kinda sorta for that purpose–but I’m curious to know where the “right” to have municipal government made up of officials elected by the local residents comes from, such that the Emergency Manager system would be “illegal”.

    Pretty sure it’s not in the US Constitution. Nor do I know that I’d call it any kind of natural right (though that would be an interesting question–would it mean that anybody who lives in an unincorporated area in states that have such thing is having their natural rights violated?).

    Also pretty sure it’s not in the State of Michigan Constitution. All that document says, to my knowledge, about local cities is The legislature shall provide by general laws for the incorporation of cities and villages. Such laws shall limit their rate of ad valorem property taxation for municipal purposes, and restrict the powers of cities and villages to borrow money and contract debts. Each city and village is granted power to levy other taxes for public purposes, subject to limitations and prohibitions provided by this constitution or by law., in Article VII, Sec. 21 — seems like that leaves it up to the legislature to determine how these incorporated cities and villages are managed.

    Finally, I’d note that a good many cities in Michigan are in fact already in the hands of appointed managers: under the council/manager form of government, the elected officials do not actually have control of the day-to-day operation of the city, or any ability to direct city employees — they appoint, not elect, a professional City Manager who handles all of that. How many people here are mortally morally offended by the presence of a City Manager, an appointed/unelected official, running our city? (Generally, this is considered a “progressive” system, in the classic sense of the term: reducing the opportunity for corruption in local government by insulating city staff from meddling elected councilmembers and placing them instead under the guidance of a professional.)

    I’m not trying to express either support nor disapproval of the Emergency Manager system–just to note that I can’t see any merit in arguments for the “right” to local elected government or that emergency managers are somehow “illegal”.

  25. Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Obviously EFM’s are legal. Does that mean that EFM’s are a legitimate expression of the popular will? I don’t remember a lively debate centered around new powers for EFM’s in the last governor election. If that was a key point of Snyder’s campaign, I missed it. Much like Walker in Wisconsin said nothing about his plans to eliminate collective bargaining in his election campaign.

    Most republican ultimately distrust democracy, that is why their argument is always, “there is nothing illegal in what we are doing” In the USA today, it is now legal to 1) assassinate citizens without due process 2) incarcerate people without any charges or due process, 3) ignore habeas corpus 4) Give artificial economic creations many of the same rights as humans 5) eliminate local city governments 6) allow unlimited corp. money to buy our elections.

    Does anyone believe that we would have voted for these measures? Or is it just our corrupt politicians who are bought and paid for by rich and powerful “people”, enacting these laws, so everything is nice and legal. Though slavery was legal in America, with every expansion of that institution, it lost more and more legitamacy, until the people rose in rebellion against it (see Bloody Kansas-the precursor to the civil war).

  26. Demetrius
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Seems to me the Michigan Constitution is actually pretty vague about the issue of local governance. That said, nobody could argue that we don’t have a strong tradition of local control: Going back nearly to Statehood, every community from Detroit on down to the smallest township has had locally-elected representation. And, if put to a vote — which I hope will happen — it is hard to imagine that voters would want to overturn that.

    Meanwhile, attempting to compare a State-appointed “Emergency Manager” with having a city manager appointed by locally-elected officials is completely specious.

    The biggest difference is this: In a city like Ypsilanti, the City Manager is appointed by elected officials who represent 100% of the eligible voters — providing the potential for a relatively high degree of oversight and accountability. On the other hand, an “Emergency Manager” theoretically would be appointed by a Governor, for whom Ypsilanti residents would represent (at best) .0019% of his total electors.

    Frankly, I’ll take messy, fractious, amateur-led local democracy over having an unelected, unaccountable technocrat in charge of my community, any day.

  27. K2
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Two pieces of breaking news.

    One: The EFM broke the law by trying to sell the station’s license on Ebay. You can’t dispose of broadcasting licenses in that fashion.

    Two: A Colorado-based group called Public Radio Capital has raised $5,000 to buy the assets of the station, and they’re looking for a Benton Harbor-based nonprofit to acquire and run it.

    Here are the details.

    http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/15/10415954-the-silencing-of-benton-harbor-ctd

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] it deserves the U.S.Do Michiganders have a right to local representation?By Mark | February 15, 2012Yesterday, I posted something here about the Emergency Financial Manager of Benton Harbor’s efforts to […]

  2. By What’s up with the Ypsilanti street light fee? on August 1, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    […] don’t generally take requests, but, seeing as how we haven’t talked about the shifting of the tax burden in Michigan onto the backs of the poor and middle class in a while, I thought that I’d take […]

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