Michigan is spending money on lawyers, not fixing the Flint water poisoning crisis
Residents of Flint, Michigan, who pay some of the nation’s highest rates for the water that has poisoned thousands of them, will get a temporary reprieve this month. Meanwhile, Michigan taxpayers are on the hook for more than a million dollars in legal fees coming out of the Flint Water poisoning crisis.
The good news for city residents: Flint officials have announced they won’t send out any new water bills until they determine how to distribute a $30 million allocation from the state approved by Gov. Rick Snyder last week:
[Flint Mayor Karen] Weaver said today that city employees are working to “get accounts in order” and obtaining computer programs that will calculate and apply the credits to the water accounts of more than 85,000 utility users on record from the date of the switch to present.
“The credits are coming,” Weaver said in a statement. “Flint residents need and deserve this relief. I’ve said from Day One, Flint residents should not have to pay for water they cannot and are not using.”
The mayor said the next bills won’t go out until the credits are calculated and applied, most likely in April. Utility customers will probably average about $600 each. The process is complicated because charges on some unpaid bills have been rolled onto delinquent property tax bills and must be retrieved.
Thousands of residents are now using bottled water—some of it donated—instead of their taps. That’s because the corrosiveness of water taken from the Flint River after a switch from the Detroit water system in April 2014 has leached lead from Flint’s aged pipes. High levels of lead first showed up in a number of blood tests of children whose families are on Medicaid. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause irreversible brain damage. It is especially devastating to children.
In addition to the lead poisoning, some Flints may have contracted Legionnaires’ disease because of the switch in water sources. Of 87 cases in the area found to have occurred over the past two years, nine have resulted in death. So far, the connection between the poorly treated Flint River water and the disease has not been proved. But that’s because the city’s pipes have not been tested for the presence of the bacteria that causes it.
While the taxpayers pick up a piece of the water tab for Flint residents, they’re also on the hook for $1.2 million in legal fees to deal with civil and possible criminal charges arising out of the water crisis. Governor Snyder approved $800,000 for advice and representation from the firm of Warner Norcross & Judd related to “any criminal investigations and prosecutions and related claims,” reports Paul Egan at the Detroit Free Press.
Originally, two agreements for $249,000 each were signed with Warner Norcross, set intentionally below the quarter-million-dollar level requiring State Administrative Board approval. The boost to $800,000 goes before the SAB on Tuesday. Another contract for civil cases brings the total to $1.2 million. And that’s in addition to costs incurred by the state attorney general’s office in dealing with the Flint situation.
At Eclectablog, which covers Michigan political matters from a progressive point of view, LOLGOP—a moniker known for acidly hilarious tweets about Republicans—puts the situation into perspective:
To pinch pennies — saving $5 million, a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions in corporate tax cuts Rick Snyder and Republicans have handed out while slashing government services — a city had its drinking water switched and poisoned with lead by an autocratic “emergency manager” who was appointed by and only reported to the governor.
Then the people of Flint were lied to. They were lied to about the water they were drinking and they were lied to about why they were poisoned.
It could only happen here because this state has been the testing ground for a takeover of poor cities that Republicans would like to see as a template across the nation. […]
Because it was such an obvious atrocity, such a glaring example of a poor city — a city brutalized by de-industrialization and globalization and unaccountable conservative cost-cutting — the story even captured Cher’s attention. And because there was a Democratic presidential primary pitting two progressives elbowing each other out to show that they best represent undeserved communities, the story became the party’s story — a chilling example of the dangers of a racist disregard for the health and will of a black community and a siren’s call for investing money in rebuilding infrastructure.
Now the primary is over.
As the author notes, Flint is a national story now. And it damn well deserves to be. The nation’s decaying infrastructure, made worst by decades of “deferred maintenance,” is a product of myopic, tax-phobic, government-as-monster propaganda and policy options that means that we have tens of thousands of substandard highway bridges, crumbling schools, ancient and deteriorating natural gas pipelines and a litany of other rot that illustrates the bankruptcy of right-wing ideology in practice. The recklessness of such policies isn’t abstract. It kills people.
And, in Flint, it has negatively altered the future of unknown numbers of children and their families forever. The cost to them is incalculable. No amount of water credits nor civil settlements can fix what’s been done to them, the full consequences of which will unfold over decades.
The leaders whose political philosophy and actions have created this national atrocity—no other description tells the truth so succinctly—ought to be made to campaign on what they have done, not just in Flint, but across the nation: “My fellow citizens, I cut spending for upgrading that bridge which collapsed and killed 20 yesterday, so vote for me” or “I cut taxes on the rich by letting our libraries go to hell” would surely make for stirring ads.
(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)