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Retooling the Motor City: Can Detroit save itself?

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Bing wants the city's 48 unions to concede to job and benefit cuts, threatening that if the city does not gain control of its finances it may lose the right to determine them. Michigan's governor has the power to dispatch an emergency financial manager who is enabled to hire and fire employees, void union contracts, and make changes without the approval of the mayor or city council. There are vivid precedents: former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) appointed a manager to take over the towns of Pontiac, Ecorse, and Benton Harbor. The current Republican governor, Rick Snyder, did the same for Detroit's public school system this year. [Editor's note: This paragraph was corrected to credit Governor Granholm with the town manager appointments.]

"It's more than a threat," Bing says of the state takeover. Last year the city paid $191 million in health care to union employees and retirees and $200 million in pension payouts, both of which Bing says are "unsustainable."

Unions balk when Bing brings up the possibility of a state takeover, saying they've made concessions in the past and that the city's budget shortfall is not their responsibility. "My attitude is, I'd rather have a fight with an outsider imposed on us from outside Detroit rather than being nickel-and-dimed" by the city, says Michael Mulholland, the secretary-treasurer of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 207.

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