Yesterday power returned to the ranch and I was at last able to rest from my labors. Thousands are still in the dark, after more than a week.
The failure of the Lansing Board of Water and Light to quickly restore basic service is yet another example of how what Walter Russell Mead calls the "Blue Model" of government is collapsing of its own weight.
BWL is a municipally-owned utility. Its service area includes the capital city and portions of surrounding communities. In years past, it flourished as it was able to provide steady power to the manufacturing centers of the Lansing area and the people who worked there.
However, Michigan's "lost decade" has not been kind to Lansing or the utility that serves it. Three major General Motors plants were shut down and demolished after the 90s boom years. Not only did the jobs vanish, so did the need for the (very considerable) power they consumed.
At the same time, escalating pension costs put the city under intense financial pressure. Being solidaly Democrat-controlled, the city did what one would expect: it raised taxes, fees and offered "hail Mary" tax incentives in an attempt to lure big-ticket developers and employers into setting up shop. As with everywhere else this approach has been tried, it hasn't worked. Rising taxes force businesses to close down or relocate and cause young families to choose cheaper places to live. At the same time, public services such as police and fire protection suffer, creating a further sense of disorder.
Like Detroit, Lansing is running out of revenue. It's latest gambit is to bring in a tribal casino - as if a few dozen low-wage jobs will somehow bring back young families and stablize neighborhoods. Yet this is still years away from fruition - and this assumes that the project survives court challanges.
Having raised taxes to the maximum legal limit under the state Constitution, this summer the city decided to milk its other asset: the Board of Water and Light. As owners of the utility, the city is in a position to demand more "profits" to shore up its faltering finances. Essentially, the service originally created to provide water and electrical service will now be used as a thinly-disguised tax collector. It will hike assessments and rates and then pass on its "profits" to the city.
Of course this higher rate of return - analagous to shareholder dividends - means that critical upgrades will not take place, nor will the utility have the staff or equipment to cope with a major disaster.
Which is exactly what happened this week.
One need not be a hard-core libertarian to see the flaw in the current system: Government has already shown itself to be short-sighted regarding pensions, why should it be any different regarding utilities?
Indeed, we see here the Blue Model in its purest form: Transfer payments to the political connected take precedence over basic infrastructure. Retirees vote; power lines don't. And because power is determined by region in Michigan, the only sure way to get better utility service is to move away.
Surrounding communities who rely on BWL will likely pursue other options, such as petitioning to have their service area adjusted to a privately-run service. Alternatively, they may demand seats on the board of directors. One thing is certain: After spending a week in sub-freezing temperature with no heat or electricity, even the more hard-core Blue partisan is ready for a change.
If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, a huge portion of Mid-Michigan just got robbed. And they are very angry about it.