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Cal Thomas: Detroit's precipitous decline

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Since the Motown sound went silent -- except on oldies stations -- and General Motors and Chrysler (but not Ford) required life support from Washington, there has been little to recommend Detroit to visitors, much less its residents.

The recent conviction of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on multiple charges including racketeering, fraud and extortion adds another insult to the city's injury, increasing its misery.

During the mid-20th century, Detroit was a vibrant city with a population of almost 2 million. Today, it stands near ruin. The number of residents is estimated at just over 700,000. According to the Chicago Tribune, "The city has a crushing debt of $14 billion, and a budget deficit of as much as $327 million. The pay and benefit structure of public employees can't be sustained. ... The city could run out of cash in a matter of weeks." And yet the city's main courthouse reports having $280 million worth of uncollected fines and fees.

The state plans to send in an emergency manager to try to repair Detroit's finances. It might take an exorcist or faith healer.

The initial response to all of this sad news was denial. Some tried to change the subject by playing the race card. The majority of those who live in Detroit are African-American. Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, is white, as are a majority of the state's residents. But crime, corruption, malfeasance and misfeasance are not exclusive to a single race. Ask New Jersey. The problem for Detroit is something no one wants to address: one-party rule. And that would be the Democratic Party.

The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but the road to corruption and municipal failure seems to have been paved by Detroit's Democratic monopoly. Political monopolies invite bribes, kickbacks, misuse of funds, cronyism and a sense of entitlement.

Many businesses have fled Detroit for the usual reasons, including crime. In 2009, Time magazine reported the city's functional literacy rate was near 50 percent and its unsolved murder rate was nearly 70 percent.

The Detroit News reported last month that nearly half of the city's 305,000 properties failed to pay their 2012 tax bills. "Some $246.5 million in taxes and fees went uncollected, about half of which was due Detroit," reports the News. (The other half went to the county, schools and other public entities.)

Michigan law provides for an emergency manager with the authority to prevent local elected officials from making financial decisions. That person also would be granted the power to alter labor contracts, shut or privatize departments and, the New York Times reports, "even recommend that Detroit enter bankruptcy proceedings, a possibility that experts say raises the prospect of the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation's history, at $14 billion worth of long-term obligations."

Shrinking government and encouraging personal responsibility can be a win-win, and not only for Detroit. "We can't go on like this," is starting, however slowly, to become clear to more and more people.

In contrast to the city government, the private sector in Detroit is doing well. "Booming" is the word used in a March 5 New York Times front-page story. That, too, has accentuated in some minds the city's racial divisions, because the young entrepreneurs and artists moving back into the city are mostly white. They have revived parts of downtown, but that revival has not spilled over into blighted African-American neighborhoods.

Some years back, Detroit leaders announced a "renaissance" for the city. There's a hotel there by that name, but that's about it. Detroit needs more than a renaissance. It needs a revival, but that is not likely to happen as long as Democrats maintain their political stranglehold.

Examiner Columnist Cal Thomas is nationally syndicated by Tribune Media.

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Cal Thomas

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The Washington Examiner