• Budget to test Bing, city

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    Mayor Dave Bing is set to deliver his much-anticipated budget to the City Council this morning, a step some say could put in motion a framework for reshaping the city.

    The mayor, who has been in office almost a year, has promised a no-nonsense approach to fixing the city’s $300 million deficit. Bing has acknowledged the city must dramatically shrink to grow.

    Political consultant Robert Kolt said the budget, Bing’s first, is “an important, defining moment for his leadership” that will test his consensus-building among the council, unions and community leaders.

    “The honeymoon is probably over for Dave Bing as mayor,” said Kolt, CEO of Kolt Communications in Okemos. “Any realist in that job knows by now what they need to do.

    “But (Bing) will have to be expected to rally all of the troops behind him so that people are ready to take action. You can’t be out alone at the edge of the plank and not have anybody willing to help you.”

    Bing is set to address the council at 10 a.m. in the panel’s 13th floor chambers. It will be his first appearance before members in months, and it comes as relations have begun to fray. Some members recently have gone public with complaints that Bing bypasses them on important decisions and could improve communications.

    “It may be one of the most contentious budget processes in our history,” Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said, predicting a government shutdown if the mayor doesn’t offer an honest budget without gimmicks.

    “For the first time, if the numbers don’t jive, we shouldn’t approve it.”

    Bing’s spokeswoman, Karen Dumas, has vowed an “honest and accurate budget” that doesn’t rely on “shifting numbers, questionable projections and smoke and mirror tactics.”

    Unions already are gearing up for a battle and some 100 employees are planning to picket outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center this afternoon. Bing has fought for months with labor over his calls for 10 percent wage cuts and benefit concessions.

    “We are very concerned (about layoffs),” said John Riehl, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 207 that represents about 900 water workers.

    “He has a very anti-Detroit agenda. He doesn’t give a hoot about the services our workers provide and we know he doesn’t care about employees.”

    Last year, Bing’s predecessor, interim Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr., proposed a $1.6 billion general fund budget that called for 334 layoffs and retirement incentives for 1,000 workers.

    But the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit policy group, criticized him for including several revenue assumptions, such as the sale of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and other departments that never materialized. The sale of the tunnel has been a budget-balancing fixture for years.

    Political consultant Steve Hood said he hopes Bing opts for a radical approach: Declare bankruptcy, allow for a state takeover and appointment of an emergency financial manager who could dissolve contracts and sort out the budget once and for all.

    But Hood acknowledged that’s unrealistic since the council isn’t “forward thinking enough” to sign on.

    “I would really be hoping he would pull the plug on receivership and stop dancing around the issue,” Hood said.

    “If he was smart he would press the reset button. The money is not there.”

    Source:The Detroit News/Darren A. Nichols and Leonard N. Fleming

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