MIRS has reported that all 12 Democrats in the state senate — only four of whom are from Detroit — will vote “yes” on a controversial Detroit-Windsor bridge, but only if the deal includes a wish list of “community benefits” being written by Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit.
What are these “community benefits”? The fancy labels like “employment training and related facilities;” “housing;” “economic development;” “green development initiatives;” and more sound nice, but the benefits of these programs are, at the very best, uncertain. Here’s what is certain: For the political system’s foot soldiers, these programs translate into jobs with the government or organizations funded by government. For the moneyed interests that bankroll the political system, it means “economic development” — business subsidies, sweetheart real estate deals, selective tax breaks, government contracts and so on. These benefits to the politically connected boil down to political patronage.
Is patronage the only way? The rationale for these programs is concern that bridge construction and operation will have a disparate impact on the surrounding area, for which there should be compensation. To the extent this is valid, here’s a better alternative: Give the compensation directly to the people affected, and skip the middleman politicians, bureaucrats and community organizers.
If property owners and residents themselves believe that yet another “employment training” program or “green development initiative” is the best way to rebuild their community, they can use this money to create those programs voluntarily.