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With an emergency manager in office, do city council budget proposals matter?

Stephen Boyle

Earlier this morning, Detroit’s city council voted unanimously to override Mayor Dave Bing’s veto of budget cuts proposed by the council.

Last week, the mayor rejected changes the city council wanted implemented in the city’s $1-billion budget for fiscal year 2013-14, including cuts to his own office. The Detroit News reported:

“The council wanted deeper cuts to Bing's staff and quicker implementation of a new health care cost-sharing formula. Bing however did not turn down deeper cuts the council recommended for its own department and the consolidation of its divisions.”

The council's override of Bing's veto was unanimous (8-0). Charles Pugh, the president of the council, said this was proof that the council was “standing united.”

But with Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr at the helm of the city’s finances, how much does a united city council matter when it comes to Detroit’s budget?

Not so much, according to Jeff Wattrick, a columnist at DeadlineDetroit and contributor to MLive.

“At the end of the day, the city’s budget decisions will come from Kevyn Orr,” Wattrick said.

Wattrick says the budgetary back and forth between the council and Bing is nothing more than “pantomime theater.”

“If the budget approved by the council and the president is acceptable to the emergency manager, it will be implemented,” Wattrick added. “If not, another budgetary process will be implemented.”

The presence of Orr in Detroit is still controversial.

Just last week, he motioned that some of the artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts might be counted as city assets, raising fears that the museum's Monets, among others, could be sold to appease creditors.

Backlash ensued over Orr’s consideration. Among the outraged were Pugh, museum experts and Sen. Randy Richardsville, the Michigan Republican who is currently drafting a bill that would embed the museum code of ethics set by the American Alliance of Museums into state law. If passed, the bill would make it illegal to sell the art for any reason other than improving the museum’s collection.

Despite the storm surrounding a potential sale of DIA assets, Wattrick said ultimately the budget is in Orr’s hands.

“I think Orr is trying to be inclusive of the city council and the mayor,” Wattrick said. “But at the end of the day, the council and the mayor have no power over the budget.”

- Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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