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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Scranton ALREADY IS Bankrupt

If you define bankruptcy as being a state where a debtor has liabilities that greatly exceed assets and is no longer able to service their debt, then Scranton is...and has been...bankrupt for quite a while.  This isn't a question if determination, it's a question of reaction to determination.

The "whys" of Scranton's current fiscal condition are long and varied, but suffice to say that Scranton's costs have greatly exceeded revenues for a long time.  Some of these costs could have been avoided...

...such as borrowing money to fix parks.

Others have been an inevitability for decades...

...such as the generous pay and benefits earned by a city workforce that has not reduced in size proportionate with the reduction in city population (and tax base).

Regardless, the time for finger pointing is over with.

Personally I think it's time for Scranton to declare Chapter 9 Bankruptcy.  Some of my opinions on this subject have been formed by following a TERRIFIC blog written by Mr Gary Lewis entitled "Scranton is Broke" (click on the name to link to the blog).  Hopefully Mr Lewis will not mind, but I'm going to paste an excerpt from his July 19th posting (link to the full posting HERE):

To ensure that the city leaders have a full understanding of why Chapter 9 is the right choice, I have undertaken several actions:
  1. Identify the causes of the city's deficit (excessive CBAs, absurd debt, unfunded pensions)
  2. Identify major issues with the existing budget (PILOT payments, revised budget numbers for various line items)
  3. Identify "fat" (professional services, salaries, benefits)
  4. Recommend a solution (unfortunately, City Council President Janet Evans seems intent on promising to hold a public caucus on Chapter 9, only to reschedule at the last minute)
  5. Attempt to discuss my analysis with city officials (unfortunately, I was met with silence and blank stares)
  6. Shine a national light on the city's woes (NYT, The Bond Buyer, WSJ, CNNMoney, etc)

Item #1 is spot on.  Chris Doherty gets rightfully slammed for fiscal mismanagement, but I give him credit for one thing:  is has been the only Scranton mayor in my lifetime who actually had the guts to stand up to unionized city employees.  In Scranton, being the political town that it is, most mayors rewarded unions for political support by basically giving the farm away when it comes to collective bargaining agreements (the 'CBAs' noted by Mr Lewis).  Want a great example?  Here's my favorite:  Under prior administrations, the Chief of Police was a member of the police union.  Yes, you read that one right.  As a result, under a prior mayor we actually had a situation whereby the Chief violated the union contract, the union won a judgement, and the Chief received part of the settlement resulting from the judgement (which was really resulting from his violating the contract in the first place).  All of this because the police wanted the Chief to be a union member.

In the final analysis, it's my educated opinion that Scranton is incapable of solving its financial problems without external intervention.  More borrowing will only kick the can down the road.  The city's liabilities need to be restructured and the operations of the city will need to be streamlined.  City employees will have to accept changes in benefits, compensation and work rules.  City leaders need to be impeded in the future from amassing enormous debt.

Kudos to Mr Lewis for his blog; if you are a Scranton resident (or just have an interest in the city) I strongly suggest you check the blog out for yourself.  

Perhaps my friends at NEPA Blogs can make "Scranton is Broke" the blog of the week or month or whatever they do in that space.


Michelle HD said...

We have the BOTWs selected through October, but I just sent Harold an email to see what he thinks about bumping something out to squeeze them in.

Stephen Albert said...

Thanks Michelle...I think this is a VERY important issue, and anything that can be done to raise the visibility of this blog would be helpful.

Michelle HD said...

You got your wish, we will be covering Scranton is Broke on 08/07. We had to do a bit of re-working of the schedule. Harold is going in to pre-record the segment this week.

Stephen Albert said...

Thanks Michelle...this is the right thing to do.

Michelle HD said...

The weirdest thing happened to us...for the first time ever...when Harold went to record this segment on PA Live, we found the blog to be closed. Check it out for yourself. We had to run with the other blogs on the schedule. We are going to check out his other blog, and perhaps feature that on an upcoming week.

Stephen Albert said...

Michelle, sorry I took a "blog free" weekend & didn't read your comment until this morning. Apologies if this screwed up the process for you. He did move the blog, and the updated URL is on my blog roll.

I still think this is an important topic to hi-lite.

- Steve