We stand at a unique juncture in history. Across the globe, every country is in the midst of a global pandemic. While we attempted to grapple with the fallout from this health crisis, collective passions have been inspired to action by the injustices we have witnessed. Across America and beyond, citizens have to come together against racism calling for criminal justice reform.
The enormity of these events, combined with the ‘normal’ issues and challenges that our communities face on a regular basis, might lead one to conclude that this is the time to be firm, stay the course, and not waver from the tried and true. But perhaps, the opposite is true. Perhaps, now more than ever is the time to be bold and thoughtful about how we collectively chart a better course—one that leads to sustainable community prosperity for all our citizens.
With that in mind, the League’s focus is shifting to community wealth building. This change may raise questions. Does this shift impact other policy areas the League focuses on, and does it diminish our emphasis on reforming our municipal finance system? In short, no.
When SaveMICity began, the effort was anchored in the idea that it is impossible to build and sustain a great place without having a sound fiscal foundation. We have often said that you can’t cut your way to prosperity. We’ve said this in reaction to Michigan’s ‘cut-only’ approach to balancing budgets, and the same can be said for economic policies that do not benefit the community as a whole.
So, what do we mean when we talk about community wealth? Is this an abandonment of everything we have focused on through our placemaking efforts? Quite the contrary. It is a combination, evolution, and deepening of the principles that make for great, resilient places. The emphasis on community wealth bolsters our ongoing efforts. A resilient and sustainable community is a necessary cornerstone of community wealth building.
Community wealth is an inclusive block-by-block approach to building resilient, adaptable communities that purposefully create opportunities to improve the human experience. It is the idea that for economic prosperity to be real, it must be infused in, across, and through the community. New value is created in community wealth building. This approach is additive, not extractive. The same can be said for our view of municipal fiscal policy reform.
Additional municipal investment creates value across the entire community. That value creates widespread, positive impact and contributes to a stronger community. That same idea is central to community wealth building. Through solid investing practices and good policy that encourages widespread prosperity, it is possible to build an economic strategy that recognizes and leverages community strengths and assets. Real gains come from policies that stay local and help Main Street, not Wall Street. This is the opposite of offering tax abatements for big real estate investments that don’t employ anyone in the community. We advocate for policies that keep dollars local when it really matters. We support local employment as opposed to only creating taxable value for entities that lack a commitment to people and place.
For years we’ve been saying Michigan’s system for funding its communities is broken and must be fixed before the next recession hits. Unfortunately, that window may be closing as it appears we may be entering the next recession. The negative, financial impact on our communities from the current coronavirus pandemic is undeniable and our municipal finance system remains broken. The financial struggles our communities are already experiencing are now being exacerbated by current events. This makes our community wealth focus critical and the SaveMICity program more important now, than ever, and you can expect the League to continue to fight for new innovative ideas right alongside these important policy reforms in the coming months. We look forward to working with you to make change for everyone in our communities.