Last year, as Kalamazoo, Mich., struggled with a budget deficit and other economic woes, two local philanthropists stepped forward, pledging $70 million to improve the city’s fortunes. Earlier in 2016, a group of foundations put up even more money to help another troubled Michigan city, Flint, recover from the contamination of its water supply. And a few years before that, foundations helped to rescue Detroit from bankruptcy.
These episodes, coming after years of cuts in state aid to Michigan’s cities, may offer a glimpse of America’s future.
In Washington, D.C., where it’s already difficult to get things done, governing is likely to get exponentially harder in coming decades as the baby boomers retire and fiscal pressures mount sharply. More states and localities will also face budgetary crises as pension bills come due and as fiscal conservatives prioritize tax cuts over public investment.
So where will the leadership and money come from to take on urgent challenges?
In Michigan and beyond, we’re already seeing an answer: Philanthropy will increasingly slide into the driver’s seat of public life, with private funders tackling problems that government can’t or won’t.