Telling congregations that his and their hands were in the "lion's mouth," Mayor Coleman Young campaigned in black churches here today for tax increases and wage cuts that he believes are necessary to save Detroit from bankruptcy.
On Tuesday, Detroit voters will go to the polls to decide whether to raise income taxes on residents and commuters and whether city workers should be forced to accept pay cuts. Those are harsh choices for a city reeling from the slump in the auto industry and facing its highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression.
Young, the city's first black mayor, has turned the vote into a referendum on his seven years in office and has attempted to garner support in black precincts for the tax increases by appealing to racial pride.
From pulpit to pulpit today, he warned that if a single referendum item fails, there will be layoffs, payless paydays and ultimately the loss by residents of the ability to make decisions about city affairs.
The tax planks have strong support among black voters but are opposed by most whites, according to a Detroit Free Press poll published today.
The tax increase would raise rates from 2 to 3 percent for residents and from one-half to 1 1/2 percent for commuters, adding an estimated $94 million to the city treasury during the next fiscal year.
Against the bitter opposition of white suburban lawmakers, angry over the proposed increase in the commuter tax, the city only narrowly won permission from the legislature early this month for the referendum. The ugly racial undertone at the statehouse caused Gov. William Miliken to say, "There's a mood I have not seen in a long time in this capitol."
Today, Young said that if the referendum fails and Detroit ends its fiscal year on June 30 with a deficit of about $119 million, "Some of the same folks who fought against allowing us to help ourselves will be having a say as to what services we get, how much we get paid."
The auto companies, banks and the United Auto Workers have contributed more than $400,000 to a crash, two-week "vote yes for Detroit" campaign.
Young's aides believe that the mostly silent opposition comes from whites who have long resented the mayor. But in the last week, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes, which represents 9,000 of 22,000 city workers, has begun a "vote no" effort. AFL-CIO unions here have also joined the opposition.
The unions have avoided racial appeals. But their criticisms of Young's limousine and dapper style and their suggestions that city finances may have been mismanaged coincide with the feelings of opposing white voters as shown in the newspaper poll.
Felix Rohatyn, the financier who guided New York City through its fiscal crisis and is now advising Young, has noted pointedly that Detroit's financial troubles are not the result of playing budget games but of the downturn in the auto industry and the national economy.
Young told congregations today, "My grandmother used to say to me that when you had your hand in the lion's mouth, you ease it out . . . now I might say our hands are in the lion's mouth right now, and the way we're going to have to ease it out is to vote yes on Tuesday."