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Suburbs Have a Stake in Detroit's Budget Woes
The Detroit News

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

City can no longer subsidize cultural institutions that enrich the entire region

Suburban communities have good reason to pay attention to the Detroit budget process.

As part of the plan to cut $300 million in spending, Detroit will end up to $6 million a year in operating subsidies to cultural institutions like the Detroit Zoo, the Detroit Institute of Arts and various historical institutions. It will continue to send $1.8 million to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, but has put it on notice that it has to become self-supporting soon. Previously, the city made the very unpopular decision to close the aquarium on Belle Isle.

These cuts are painful, but necessary to keep Detroit afloat. And they affect the suburbs as well.

Cultural institutions located in Detroit contribute to the quality of life of the entire region. Facilities like the zoo, which sits beyond the city limits in Royal Oak, are just as important to Oakland, Macomb and western Wayne counties as they are to Detroit.

City taxpayers should not have to bear the sole responsibility for them.

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is proposing that operations of the remaining city-owned cultural institutions be turned over to nonprofit boards, which will have to turn to additional private fundraising to keep them afloat. That's the way the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Michigan Opera Theater have had to operate for years.

It is a challenging undertaking and often uncertain. But it results in more attention to operating efficiently and greater outreach to supporters.

Efforts to pass a regional tax to support the cultural jewels of this community have failed in the past. That's unfortunate. But if suburban taxpayers aren't willing to help pay for the institutions that make Metro Detroit a richer place to live, Detroit taxpayers shouldn't have to, either. It will now be up to private donors, who most likely will come overwhelmingly from the suburbs, to fill the gap.

Similarly, suburban residents have an economic stake in the operation of the Detroit bus system, which carries workers out of Detroit to fill jobs in neighboring communities. Kilpatrick hopes to turn the system over to a regional authority by year's end. He hopes to do the same with Cobo Center, which draws visitors who fill suburban hotels and restaurants.

Detroit's budget problems have an impact on the region. And the region will be expected to be part of the solution.

It is not an unreasonable expectation.