Speaker Paul Ryan is a bit smarter than his predecessor John Boehner. As a famous country song goes, you need to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. Withholding money for Flint was a losing hand for Republicans. The amount of funding was insignificant compared to the overall budget, and the political ads that the Democrats could run against Republicans would be pure election gold. Sure, you can hold to principle and say that this is a local issue, however the argument can also be made from a conservative perspective that the water issues in Flint are on par with hurricanes, forest fires, and earthquakes in terms of effect, and emergency disaster based on an urgent health need justifies the aid. That said, actions need to be taken to make sure that states and localities start addressing their infrastructure needs at the appropriate state and local levels. Federal infrastructure spending needs to increase to address the urgent needs caused by neglect of the Federal infrastructure system, but states need to step up and address those issues under state control before they become national health crises. States and localities should not plan on allowing a public health crisis to leverage money out of the Federal Government to fix the infrastructure that is under their control. Speaker Ryan had to fold the hand on this one; now he needs to make sure that states and localities don’t continue to deal from the bottom of the deck to supplement their own infrastructure and financial responsibilities.
Jenni Contrisciani is a management/political consultant, born and raised in Flint Michigan and graduated from the local Kearsley High School.
I was born in Flint, Michigan. When people ask me where I was born, I admit it, but I also add “Don’t hold that against me.” I say it somewhat in jest, somewhat as political commentary, and partly of embarrassment. I grew up in Flint at a time when much of GM and the auto industry had left and Flint was on a downward decline. I went to Kearsley High School (Go Hornets!) and my classmates all struggled with poverty, parents out of work, and hardship. I remember my parents struggling to make ends meet, and we had things like pancakes or bean soup for dinner on many occasions. Perhaps that is why I ended up as short as I am. Poor diet will do that to you. We shopped at Kmart on good months, Salvation Army on the bad ones. But my parents were together and our family was full of love. My childhood was happy, despite getting our food from “The Day Old Store.” I look back and laugh now, back then I thought it was really fresh, not past the marked expiration date as it actually was. My friends and I played outside and our games were all make believe and didn’t cost money. All around us, Flint declined. Money left. Jobs left. People left. Yet, it hadn’t reached the levels that Flint is at today. We were careful venturing downtown, but vast areas of the city hadn’t turned into Flintlujjah (a takeoff on Spike Lee’s version of Chicago, I combine Flint with Fallujah, Iraq.) The water was also safe to drink. Flint’s current crisis is caused by a multitude of issues… the economy, poor local government, callous administration by the emergency manager- put in place because Flint couldn’t balance its own books, like Detroit MI, and Pontiac, MI. There was a failure at the local government, the State DEQ and the US Environmental Protection agency. Just like it took researchers from a University in West Virginia to find Volkswagen cheating on EPA emissions tests, it took a West Virginia University to confirm that Flint’s drinking water was unsafe, correcting a safe finding from the EPA. Meanwhile thousands of Flint residents were lead poisoned. It is apropos in a way; the bad luck and continued state of decline and insults that my hometown has suffered, that it also suffer this one. Michigan is surrounded by the biggest bodies of fresh water yet Flint residents are drinking bottled water donated by people like some third world town in Chad or Mali, Africa. Flint may be the canary in the coal mine. There are lots of economically depressed cities across America, all with aging infrastructure, lack of money and poor government. We’ve all gotten used to watching shows like “The Walking Dead” on TV; perhaps we are being conditioned to deal with an apocalyptic landscape of decline and ruthless survival. I don’t know. I hope we still have a choice. It will be a long way to fix Flint, and lead poisoning is permanent so there will be no fixing those kids, but hopefully, just hopefully, Flint can be a warning to the rest of the country. Perhaps then, its people may not have suffered in vain, or died in vain.