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Michigan Senate Takes No Action On Lighting Bills

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DETROIT (AP) – Outside Connie Leftwich’s east side Detroit home a dull streetlight casts a dimmed glow on one corner while the rest of the block sits in darkness.

It’s been that way for so long that she can’t remember the last time her street was completely illuminated.

“Two years, at least,” said the 64-year-old Leftwich, who hopes the city might finally take action to address the persistent lighting problems on her block and across Detroit.

But a plan by Mayor Dave Bing to repair and upgrade thousands of streetlights was slowed Wednesday when the Michigan Senate didn’t take up legislation on three bills the mayor said were critical to the city’s lighting future.

Bing’s push on the lighting issue comes as the first-term mayor faces a chorus of critics as he tries to deal with a budget deficit topping $200 million while gearing up for a possible run for re-election next year. Last month, he used new powers to slash wages and reduce benefits for city workers without going through collective bargaining, angering unions.

Bing had said a vote Wednesday in Lansing on the legislation would have been crucial for financially troubled Detroit’s quest to modernize a system where only 35,000 of the city’s more than 88,000 streetlights actually work.

His administration understood that there might be inaction Wednesday and will wait for the Senate to return in September, mayoral spokeswoman Naomi Patton said.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he’s not sure where the legislation stands. Discussions with Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and lawmakers have focused on “getting participation from Detroiters” and “making sure we were doing things on a bipartisan basis,” Richardville told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

He added that his Republican colleagues don’t think it makes sense “to solve Detroit’s problems one piece at a time.”

“Instead, they want to look at a bigger, more comprehensive plan for Detroit and see that the people in the Legislature that represent Detroit are actually part of a bigger plan,” Richardville said.

Detroit lawmakers and leaders don’t seem to agree with that approach, which is making the situation difficult, he said.

Detroit Democratic state Rep. Maureen Stapleton – sponsor of one of the House bills – said “there still are some pieces people are trying to work out.”

“I don’t think it helped with the mayor running out with a plan,” she said, adding that the legislation calls for a lighting authority to develop a plan for Detroit.

About 40 Michigan cities that own their own poles and lights would qualify for lighting authorities under the legislation she sponsored.

Another measure would allow part of a utility users tax to fund public lighting. The third measure would eliminate the rollback of Detroit income taxes.

Bing announced his plan for street lighting last week and said passage of the bills will allow the city to invest up to $160 million to modernize the system.

Residents and business owners have complained for years about streetlights that don’t work. Entire blocks in some neighborhoods are left in the dark at night because overhead lights are blown or busted, or because the wiring has been ripped out of ground-level transformer boxes by thieves looking to make a buck.

There also is a backlog of calls to repair or replace 3,300 burned-out bulbs.

Leftwich keeps her front porch light and a light on the side of her home on. She refuses to venture down her street at night.

“I don’t do that. Not on my block,” she said. “If you have streetlights, the criminals shoot them out. They stand on the corner and sell drugs.”

Improving public safety is part of the urgency for Bing.

Lights currently working in neighborhoods will remain on while the backlog of reported outages would be fixed within six months of the lighting authority’s creation as part of his strategy’s initial phase. Subsequent phases would see 20,000 unused fixtures in alleys across the city removed, new bulbs and system conversions along streets and neighborhoods, and removal of up to 70 percent of lighting fixtures in some of Detroit’s most distressed neighborhoods.

The City Council has to sign off on the plan, which would have a total cost of about $144.5 million. Another $15.5 million would pay for cost overruns or future projects. The entire project is expected to be completed in April 2016.

Detroit would retain ownership.

Stapleton said Bing’s plan is premature. She especially is concerned about how members of the city’s lighting authority would be selected. Bing would not answer questions last week on the authority’s makeup.

Under the lighting authority legislation, the board would be made up of five people appointed by Bing and the Detroit City Council, and that board would create a lighting plan for the city, Stapleton said.

Bing’s plan “usurps what we actually put in the bill,” she added.

Stapleton also is concerned about how neighborhoods would be serviced.

The mayor’s plan calls for immediate lighting upgrades in better-off and more populated neighborhoods, while less dense areas would get attention later.

“That’s absolutely offensive,” Stapleton said. “Everybody deserves lights. When you start putting neighborhoods in tiers, that defeats the purpose of the legislation.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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