Recently, I had the good fortune to visit Philadelphia, a city that is facing many of the same problems and promises as Detroit. A ride up Broad Street in Philly is not very different from a ride up Woodward in Detroit. Visitors are equally amazed and dismayed by the sheer contrast of boarded-up, rubble-strewn neighborhoods standing in the shadow of proud, sparkling government or business skyscrapers.
Yet important differences are beginning to emerge between cities like Detroit and Philadelphia. True, simple differences already existed: Philadelphia has 54% more population than Detroit, and Detroit has a minority population that is proportionately 90% greater than Philadelphia's. But the more profound differences deal with economic hope, incentives for self-help, and household health and prosperity.
What does it take to heal a city's ailing finances and improve the quality of municipal services? This is the subject pursued by Professors Kleiman and Hutchison. They seek to evaluate nearly 12 months of Mayor Archer's administration in light of what seems to be working for cities elsewhere. A truly informative evaluation of performance renders judgment on the merits of stated objectives and the amount of progress in achieving the stated goals.
Much of the Archer Administration's initial energy has been expended in mending fences with the suburbs, the region, and the state's business and political leaders. Although ten budget initiatives were targeted to reduce a very sizeable deficit, there is general agreement that recent budget deficit reductions reflect Michigan's better than-expected, auto-based economic recovery¾an external event¾rather than any significant improvement in Detroit's basic cost structure or its effectiveness in providing for essential differences.
Few citizens or civic leaders would debate the wisdom of making the "reach beyond 8-Mile" a priority objective, especially for an incoming mayor of Detroit. However, beyond the new spirit of cooperation and unity lies the reality of southeast Michigan's business cycles and the tough nut of Detroit's declining tax base. To this end, the authors treat us to the real accomplishments of competing cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, New York, and Philadelphia. They describe and quantify average cost savings associated with competitively bid city services and the benefits to entrepreneurship and tax bases in other cities when various assets are sold.
These gains are no longer theoretical. The size and geographic diversity of cities reaping benefits from privatization is matched by the range of services eligible for reform. Cities like Baltimore, Charlotte, Norfolk, Pittsburgh, and Palm Springs each adds a fascinating local twist to the possibilities of improving city services. Each city stamps its unique imprimatur on reforms that promise taxpayers a better shake.
Up to this point, Detroit really has not weighed in with respect to privatization and market-based responses to municipal reform. Fortunately, when the time comes, Detroit can catapult ahead of rival cities because many of her elected officials already have copies of "Revitalizing the American City: A Market Perspective for Detroit." This 1992 Heartland Institute study is the most definitive reference of its kind ever provided to Detroit, detailing nearly $337 million in economic benefits that would accrue to the city's citizens annually from asset sales, service shedding, and competitive contracting.
Used together, this Kleiman-Hutchison evaluation and the Heartland Institute's guidebook will lead to greater and more enduring economic progress for Detroiters than any externally provided grants or funds have ever done or could ever hope to do.