Rep. Santana on his Detroit Lighting Authority Vote

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Michigan House of Representatives has passed HB 5688 creating a lighting authority to take over street lights in the City of Detroit. I voted NO on this bill.

Public lighting in Detroit is a disgrace. Lights are out all over the city. Some neighborhoods are completely dark without any street lights of any kind. This creates an environment which endangers the safety and well being of every Detroit resident. This is not a new problem. It has been getting worse every year for a long time now. For various reasons, the city has done a terrible job in this area and a drastic change is needed.

The citizens of Detroit and of the Tenth District must have street lights and they must have them now. No more excuses will be tolerated.

I wanted to vote YES on HB 5688 and support a new lighting authority. I am not opposed to the idea. However, they say the devil is in the details and the details of this bill were not good.

Two months ago, I was given a report from city officials outlining the plan for street lights in the city of Detroit. The City would transfer power to a new authority which would borrow hundreds of millions of dollars and embark upon a five year plan to replace the street lights. The 86,000 lights the city now has would be reduced to just 46,000 lights. Some 40,000 existing lights would vanish leaving some areas completely in the dark. The final responsibility for paying back the money would rest with the city of Detroit and the taxpayers years down the road. If the population of our city continues to decrease, it could mean that by 2020 when these debts become due, we would not have the population base to pay the bill.

We need a new authority but we also need to do it right. I proposed three amendments to the bill with the goal of making it right and to find ways to make this bill acceptable to everyone.

The first would stop any mayoral employee from then going to employment at the lighting authority. This was to prevent cronyism and somebody in the employment of the city from selling out the interests of Detroiters for the promise of a job in the private sector for big dollars.

The second amendment was to provide necessary funding to relocate Detroiters from areas where no lights would be provided. They would be moved to other areas of the city with full services. We just cannot leave people behind on their own while we turn off the lights and say “sorry, good luck.”

The third amendment was to have final authority over the lighting plan stay with the Detroit City Council as the duly elected representatives of the people. The current bill had the appointed new lighting authority as the final word on the plan. Since we are talking about city streets and city services as well as city debt - I felt this was wrong.

All three of my amendments were gaveled down by the Republican Speaker without a record roll call vote and failed to be included in the bill.

Last year, the House spent two months debating pig hunting. This new lighting authority bill was debated for one hour in committee. It first failed to pass on one vote and was then changed in a five minute closed door meeting and rushed to the floor for passage without any debate or discussion allowed.

I feel this is wrong. You sent me here to represent you. When I am silenced, it is your voice in Lansing that is silenced. When I am not allowed to ask questions, you are shut out of the process. When I am told to simply accept what was done without any input, it is you, the people, who are being disrespected.

I will not stand for that and will fight on your behalf for a better way to have our city properly lit.

The citizens of Detroit deserve better than a hastily rushed through plan which cuts off nearly half the street lights. The citizens of Detroit deserve better than to be left on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in debt at the same time their services are decreased.

I will continue to work for you on this very important matter of public safety.