Debates 2020

Democrats Forget the Flint Water Crisis Was Caused by a Bold New Infrastructure Plan

Michigan and Flint authorities thought switching water providers would be a great job stimulus program.


During the CNN presidential debate in Detroit on Tuesday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) was asked about her plan to address infrastructure, "including the water issues so that another Flint does not happen again." The question referred to the 2014–2017 crisis in Flint, Michigan—a city 70 miles north of Detroit where contaminated water was linked to deaths of a dozen people from Legionnaire's disease.

Klobuchar responded by proposing massive infrastructure programs that would create new jobs—and union jobs, at that. The senator was in good company: Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren also talked about the need for more public investment and more government-run programs to create economic prosperity. Both scoffed at John Delaney's contention that there was only so much the government could reasonably accomplish.

The irony, of course, is that the Flint water crisis was a direct result of precisely the kind of job-creation-focused infrastructure plan that so many of the Democratic presidential candidates feel is absolutely necessary to create economic prosperity.

As my colleague Shikha Dalmia wrote in 2016, the decision to cancel Flint's 30-year-old contract with the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) and switch to the Karegnondi Water Authority was made in part because the new plan required the construction of an expensive pipeline. "Genesee County and Flint authorities saw the new water treatment as a public infrastructure project to create jobs in an area that has never recovered after Michigan's auto industry fled to sunnier business climes elsewhere," wrote Dalmia. The plan was pure fiscal stimulus, which is why it enjoyed the bipartisan support of Michigan's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, Democratic State Treasurer Any Dillion, and Flint's Democratic city council.

Many in the media have parroted the absurd claim that the water crisis was caused by austerity, as if the government cared more about saving pennies than saving lives. The truth is exactly the opposite: Keeping DWSD as Flint's water provider was a cheaper option, but one that would have created zero new infrastructure jobs.

Two other notable facts: First, Flint's most pressing problem—prior to the unsafe drinking water, at least—was that its taxpayers could not afford to continue paying the pensions of city government retirees. As I wrote when the Flint water crisis story broke, "As recently as 2011, it would have cost every person in Flint $10,000 each to cover the unfunded legacy costs of the city's public employees."

Second, state employees received access to reliable, clean drinking water—in the form of water coolers—a full year earlier than everybody else in Flint. After the water problem became well-known, Flint's private residents finally began receiving safe water in the form of donations from Walmart, Coca Cola, Pepsi Co. Nestle, and other corporations.

Marianne Williamson also addressed the Flint water crisis, noting that she used to live in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, and "what happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe." To the extent that's true, it's because no government bureaucrats have felt the need to promise massive job-creating infrastructure plans to the people of Grosse Pointe.

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  1. Lol. This is the reason response to a night of tit for tat socialism vs fascism. Actually this is too harsh,I’m sure there is more libertarian articles to come.

    1. Of course I mean libertarian articles against all the bullshit I just saw in this debate tonight, not anti trump comparisons to what I saw tonight. To be sure.

      1. What terrible crime did you commit that caused you to be sentenced to watching the debate?

        1. In a motel for work.

          1. Luckily I’m a white male so my wife was flown here by helicopter for the evening so it wasn’t really a sacrifice I made to be successful at my job by staying alone in a motel.

            1. You flew your wife to your hotel while on a business trip?
              I don’t think you are doing this right.

              1. If you knew where I was, you’d change your mind. My wife would be top 5 in this city.

                1. And you are watching debates?

    2. Any differences between Socialism, Communism, and Fascism are either wholly theoretical or largely cosmetic. In the real world, they are much of a muchness.

  2. Democrats Forget the Flint Water Crisis Was Caused By a Bold New Infrastructure Plan Lie to their Base. Again.


    1. That’s hardly news.

  3. Open borders is becoming such a laughable position that I’m sure reason will jump all over it tomorrow.

    Please defend open borders and free healthcare. Please, I’m begging you.

    1. Open borders is the fundamental, non-negotiable goal of Koch / Reason libertarianism. Every Reason and Cato study proves that immigration is an inherently good thing with no drawbacks whatsoever. Logically, then, it follows that unlimited, unrestricted immigration is the ideal policy.

      Additionally, I will defend Medicare for All if it can be shown that free healthcare would motivate more immigrants to move here. The increase in government spending would be offset by the economic boost more immigration would provide.

    2. Are you new here?

      @nickgillespie declared Open Borders Reason’s official “core value”:
      In the 21st century, libertarians are going to have make common cause with the globalists of all parties, with the people whose core value is the right of individuals to move freely around the planet.

      Watching The Brink made me think that for all the other differences Reason has with the socialist magazine Jacobin, it may matter far more that we share a belief in open borders.”

      1. This is why, even though I agreed with REASON on most subject throughout the Clinton years, I’ve never really thought of myself as a Libertarian. Nor am I a Conservative nor (Gods forbid!) a Progressive. I’m a Crank.


    3. Good comment, Ryan. I originally subscribed to “Reason” as I felt it was a departure from the tired Dems-Repubs nonsense. Sadly, it has become more and more every day a shill for leftism and fascism. What country doesn’t defend its borders from illegal entry? If Reason REALLY wanted to help, e.g., Mexicans, it would set up a Reason-Mexico and try to get the 100% criminal, uncivil, unfree Mexican government changed. Instead, Reason prefers the “easy work” of deriding the U.S. and its government, which, while not perfect, beats the crap out of anything in Mexico.

  4. I heard the Flint water crisis was the Republican Party’s fault. Didn’t the state have a Republican governor at the time?

    1. Flint, Michigan has had Democratic mayors since 1975.

      1. and the decision to use the wrong chemicals in the water system which destroyed the piping causing the bad chemicals to leach into the water was made by the local city council that the govonors office said shouldn’t be used, but its still his fault because REPUBLICAN

    2. Ah, but according to the Media and the Progressive Left (but I repeat myself) it’s ALWAYS the Republican Party’s fault. Regardless of who stumped for it, who voted for it, who was supposed to oversee it, and who signed off on it. Event if no Republican had anything to do with whatever it is, if it was a screwup, it’s the fault of the Republicans.

      I expect to hear any day now about how the Mongolian Cluster F*ck that is the California High Speed Rail project is the fault pf the Republican Party.

    3. RTFA Rico linked written by Dalmia a few years ago that spells it out in detail, moron. It was before her TDS and the best piece on the Flint fiasco anywhere.

    4. The decision to change the water authority and all subsequent decisions pursuant to that, including when and how, were made entirely by the Flint city government, run by Democrats for decades. To this day, the mayoralty and the city council is a swamp of corruption, now trying to explain what happened to $112 million federal dollars provided to the city to address the crisis.

      Snyder’s only real involvement was to accept the city’s “due diligence” as legitimate. It was a state-appointed emergency manager, appointed because of Flint’s basket case fiscal condition, who signed off on the city’s proposed plans. Of course, since Snyder was the only Republican in sight, it just had to be his fault.

      Additionally, both the EPA and the Michigan state environmental agency dropped the oversight ball, with an EPA official stating in an email that Flint was not the kind of municipality that the EPA wanted to stick its neck out for.

      The city could have spent about $50,000 on an additive to the caustic Flint River water to prevent the leaching of lead and other toxins from the aging infrastructure and the city opted not to do so.

      The Republicans were not at the wheel for this wreck.

  5. They didn’t forget. Not a one of them examined the issue enough to know the causes.
    In SF, we have a ‘legacy business subsidy’. This provides subsidies to older businesses, failing possibly as a result of mis-management, but also minimum wage and benefit regs. So the gov’t is a major cause of the failures and then simply slaps the taxpayers with the bill.
    This is not cleverness on the part of the idiots; stupidity will suffice. See JFree, Tony, turd, OG and others; this is not a mystery.

  6. If you want bad water, live in a ex-socialist country.

    1. If you want no toilet paper, live in a country Bernie thinks is just fine.
      Well, not *no* toilet paper; the currency is better used as that rather than to buy anything.

      1. Couldn’t you just get a bidet?

        1. Or a Biden. . .

    2. Oh, the water was bad when the country was Socialist; you just weren’t allowed to say so.

  7. What’s the libertarian solution to polluted water?

    Whoever makes the most money wins, right?

    1. Whoever sells the cleanest water wins.

      1. And how clean is that?

    2. Tony
      July.31.2019 at 12:39 am
      “What’s the libertarian solution to polluted water?”

      Shitbag here thinks the solution for polluted water is to ask the government to provide it.
      Shitbag has the brains of one of those things which live in polluted water.

    3. It wasn’t polluted it was full of lead because the Flint government didn’t want to pay for the chemicals to prevent it. Imagine, they were trying to SAVE money!

      1. Governments trying to save money rarely leads anywhere good.

        1. Government doing things rarely leads anywhere good.

          1. Hence the point of this article. Essentially a substanceless zinger.

            Libertarians, of course, feel no obligation to have any plan of their own to deliver nonpoisonous water to poor people.

            1. Your appeals to your own ignorance are very compelling, and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

      2. They wouldn’t have had to save money on treatment if they hadn’t spent so much on infrastructure to make the switch in the first place

      3. No, it was because they resurrected a 50 year old water plant to tide them over waiting for the new pipeline to be done and they didn’t know they needed buffers to keep lead from leaching into the water supply. Read the linked article by Dalmia and behold the widespread and epic incompetence of government. It should be required reading for every voter in the country.

        1. The old water plant was retired in the late 1960’s to hook up to the Detroit water system. Partly this was because Detroit built pipes to get relatively clean water from Lake Huron, and it would greatly improve the water quality. They needed an emergency plan if the long pipeline bringing Detroit water broke, and that was always to resurrect the old plant and use Flint River Water. Once a year, they tested that plan, and it was good – or so the paperwork they filed annually claimed.

          The the Flint city council stopped enforcing collection of the water bills – that is, they found a way to buy votes with _Detroit’s_ money. (Some council members also owned businesses that weren’t paying their bills.) And that was just a small part of the corruption and waste. After several years of unpaid bills, and it becoming clear that Flint would never be able to catch up with the arrears, Detroit announced a drastic increase in the rates was coming. Instead, Flint entered a compact with several small neighboring communities to build a new water system, drawing water from Lake Huron like the Detroit system.

          But Flint went bankrupt before this was finished. AND the water contract with Detroit was expiring, with Detroit (which had also gone through bankruptcy) demanding much higher rates to renew the contract. So the EM and the city council agreed to use their emergency plan and resurrect the old water plant, with water from the Flint River. (This was still heavily polluted, although it should be better than it was in the 1960’s before the EPA and most state pollution regulations.) After all, according to a file cabinet full of documents, this plant was in operating condition and had been tested once a year…

          But actually, they didn’t even have proper chlorination equipment anymore, let alone the capacity to add phosphates so the polluted water wouldn’t dissolve lead from their ancient pipes. They were chlorinating by dropping tablets into a tank _by hand_. This apparently lead to both excessive levels of chlorine compounds at some points in the system and to under-chlorination and Legionnaires Disease cropping up at a hospital.

          And there was no money to buy the equipment required.

    4. Funny thing is that Obama authorized $55 million for Flint to fix what was supposed to be a $20 million problem. One of the first things did when Trump took office was release the $55 million.

      What the fuck did Flint do with all that money?

      1. same thing Baltimore did with the 2.3 billion in Federal Taxpayer money. I am sure they got a few bike lanes for it.

    5. The real problem was the corporate bottled water!

  8. Changing providers wasn’t the problem they cheaped out and didn’t put in the necassary chemicals to prevent the lead leaching.

  9. Flint, Michigan has had Democratic mayors since 1975.

  10. “what happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe.” To the extent that’s true, it’s because no government bureaucrats have felt the need to promise massive job-creating infrastructure plans to the people of Grosse Pointe.

    Do you just make this shit up to fit a narrative? It’s very easy to google grosse point and find out they have their own water system. Which means that sometime in the past, both cities made some govtl decision to build/upgrade a LOCAL water system. Main difference is prob that Grosse Point wasn’t in receivership when they did that and Flint was (as was Detroit which obviously affected water supply from Detroit).

    I can’t imagine that receivership is the right time to make an infrastructure decision. But I’ll damn well bet that the real source of the problem is how municipal receivership/bankruptcy works or drags out in Michigan. Likely, the same shit that Germany is pulling re Greece. Jump puppet jump.

    1. So what happened to the $55 million that was given to them?

    2. yes they made their own water system but it wasn’t done just to create jobs like in flint since flint already had a water system in place

      1. Yeah they had a water system that had been running on a year-to-year basis for 20 years after a 30-year contract had expired. With a muni-owned supplier who was facing their own muni bankruptcy and using those rates to subsidize their own local customers – and pressuring the state to prevent them from switching to a local county-based system that was starting up anyway.

        It’s a cluster$%^# all round – and as I said, receivership is the wrong time to make that sort of decision. but that’s exactly why bankruptcies should happen more quickly with all its consequences instead of being dragged out. It’s why I think this really wasn’t about ‘jobs’. It was about the bond issue/writeoffs – with this ‘new project’ being exactly the sort of shit that extends-and-pretends debt rather than writing old debt off.

        1. They were getting water from the Detroit pipeline, nitwit. Detroit was charging them an arm and a leg for it so they threw in with the new (Karengondi) water authority even after the R governor had engineers show it would cost Flint something like 800 million more over 30 years when the Detroit pipe from the Lake had plenty of capacity. As Rico points out it was sold as a jobs program. Read Dalmias’ article if you want to learn something instead of your usual diarrhea of the mouth, it’s linked in the text of Rico’s piece and is very comprehensive.

          1. The first ‘fact’ in that story is wrong. They weren’t on a ’30 year contract’. That 30 year contract was signed in 1964 and ended in 1994. And that Karengndnso water project (which is the only possible ‘jobs program’ here) was already gonna provide water to every town in that county around Flint including Flint’s suburbs even if Flint didn’t participate at all. So it is a red herring.

            The only useful bit of info in that article is that what Flint actually did was bring that old water plant (mothballed since 1964) back into operation expecting it to cover the interim period until the K project was complete – and they didn’t know what they were doing and tried to do it cheap.

            Still doesn’t change my point at all. Which is that this is really about the context of receivership. Either the receiver should be making all financial decisions and ‘local govt’ should cease to exist while that is happening – or local govt should be making the financial decisions and receivership should be over. Can’t have both and sure as hell can’t have both in a process that drags out over a decade.

            1. More relevant is that the K project was not just a ‘jobs program’. It was a huge bond issue. And THAT is where you can bet there’s a bunch of games going on since both entities (flint and K) are subordinate to the state of Michigan and Flint’s receivership is about some liability/debt issue.

  11. what other drama this year was played by the democratic party ??


  12. Jobs and infrastructure might have been how the Flint water system was sold to the public, but the real reason for it was the usual crony corruption. Jeff Wright, the Flint Drain Commissioner who pushed for an independent water authority to supply Flint’s water also happened to be – surprise, surprise – CEO of the independent water authority in question. No different than electing the local Ford dealer to the city council and when the issue of buying new vehicles for the city comes up, finding the city council is strongly in favor of buying locally-sourced Fords.

    1. Business as usual in D machine controlled cities.

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