What doomed Detroit was wild spending

Jul. 27, 2013 @ 10:54 AM

Detroit ran out of money and seeks to restructure its debt, namely its huge pension obligations, under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code.

Many are the excuses for this massive failure, with white flight being the most romantic and least accurate of the explanations.

The problem is political, not racial.

But blaming white flight is better than blaming Democrats for promising overly generous pensions to the city unions who elect Democrats to office.

Nonetheless, Marilyn Salenger trotted out white flight in the Washington Post.

"In the late 1960s, racial tensions engulfed parts of our country, at the cost of lost lives and abject destruction," she wrote.

"Such was the case in Detroit during the summer of 1967, when one of the worst race riots our country had seen took place.

"Mayor Coleman Young, Detroit's first black mayor, wrote, 'The heaviest casualty, however, was the city'."

However, the facts say otherwise.

Detroit's population peaked in 1950 at 1,849,568 residents, and in 10 years the Census would show a net loss of 179,424 people.

Tired of air pollution, cramped yards and high taxes, urban Americans in the postwar years headed for the country.

The suburbs offered better houses, bigger yards and better schools.

Construction of interstate highways made this possible, which helped the car industry centered in Detroit explode as demand for automobiles rose.

The 1967 riots were a reaction to the early exodus of white Detroiters as newly arrived black Detroiters grew tired of Northern discrimination.

Young owes his election in 1970 to that riot, and Detroit has not had a white mayor since his election.

The problem with the white flight scapegoat is that it implies that black people cannot manage the affairs of a major city.

They can.

The trouble is the black mayors to date have all been Democrats, who are beholden to city unions.

Democrats cannot run Detroit, which has not elected a Republican mayor in more than 50 years,  since 1957.

Under Democrats, government grew while free enterprise left.

The largest employers in the city are the school system with 13,750 people on the payroll and the city government with 13,187 employees.

On the other hand, the largest employer that actually pays taxes is General Motors at No. 9 with 4,652 workers.

The problem is not white flight but rather capital flight.

Despite a dwindling tax base, Democrats spent like there was no tomorrow. Considering a mayor serves only a term or two, why worry about tomorrow?

The debt piled up for city pensions until it now tops $9 billion -- for 713,777 residents as of the 2010 Census.

That's nearly $13,000 per resident.

Judgment Day arrived.

Mayor Dave Bing did the right thing and decided to forgo another term and get the city into bankruptcy court and out of debt.

West Virginians know the feeling. Their pension obligations are high -- roughly $5,000 per resident -- but the state is in Year 18 of its 40-year plan to wipe away this debt.

Our public employee pensions are safe. Detroit city workers, not so much.

Don Surber's email is donsurber@dailymail.com.