Among the usual cliches in the annual State of the Union speech is a phrase to the effect: “Our union is strong.” Presidents Bush, Clinton and Reagan all used the phrase and President Obama didn’t disappoint Wednesday night.
But the same phrase usually works its way into the local version of the annual speech, whether State of the State or State of the City. According to aides, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to use some form of the sentiment when he delivers his State of the City address Thursday.
But when Detroit Mayor Dave Bing takes the stage Wednesday night to deliver his State of the City speech, strong will probably be the last thought on his mind. In his fourth, and possibly his last, such speech, the former NBA star turned mayor is expected to lay out a reform plan on how to prevent the state from taking over the city’s finances and in the process eroding municipal power.
Detroit’s crumbling position has been a poorly kept secret for years, even before Bing took office. Population has been falling, crime rates rising and even the physical dimensions of the city have been shrinking as property has been abandoned and city services have been withdrawn. Indeed, books have been written on Detroit’s sad plight and its valiant, but unsuccessful, efforts to reassert itself.
A report due out soon by a review team appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder is seeking solutions. But it could recommend an emergency financial manager for Michigan's biggest city. If appointed, that manager could in turn recommend that the city file for bankruptcy, which would become the largest Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy in the United States. Snyder has publicly said he has a short list for possible financial manager candidates.
Bing has yet to say if he is planning on running for another term this year, though he might give some indication when he speaks Wednesday night. Still, the immediate problems are huge.
Detroit's finances are deep in the red with a budget deficit that ended up about $326 million in the red when the fiscal year ended in June. The city has an outstanding debt of about $8.2 billion.
Perhaps of more concern is a rapidly disappearing city population as people move on to hoped-for greener pastures. According to census figures, it has fallen to the 18th largest city from fifth largest.
About the only thing going up was the number of homicides: 411 last year, the highest in decades.
Bing will face tough expectations when he takes the podium, but then, the stakes are high.