Michigan City Removes Streetlights In Desperate Budget Cut

States and cities around the country have desperately slashed spending in the face of record budget deficits, including unpaving roads, shrinking schools, closing libraries, and even a failed attempt to decriminalize domestic violence.

The latest consequence of extreme austerity is in Highland Park, Michigan, which has not only turned off all of its streetlights, but also ripped out the light poles — a telling sign that its darkening of the streets is permanent. With an unemployment rate at 22 percent and a city debt of $58 million, Highland Park could no longer afford to pay the electric bills:

The city is $58 million in debt and has many more people than jobs, plus dozens of burned-out or vacant houses and buildings. With fewer than 12,000 residents, its population has dwindled to half the level from 20 years ago. Faced with a $4 million electric bill that required $60,000 monthly payments, Mayor Hubert Yopp asked the City Council to consider reducing lighting. Council members reluctantly approved it, even in an election year.

In Highland Park, “the median household income is $18,700, compared with $48,700 statewide. And 42 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty.” The city has seen a precipitous drop in population over the last few decades.

The drastic measure arrives just after Michigan’s 2011-12 state budget went into effect Oct. 1 — a budget that cuts millions of dollars in funding to cities and schools. Michigan had its own budget crisis to close. However, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and the GOP-led legislature felt it could afford a $1.7 billion tax cut to businesses, even as the state cut $400 million in school and city aid. Snyder’s budget shifts the economic burden entirely to low-income residents by cutting 86 percent of business taxes, as it slashed the social safety net.

Rebecca Leber