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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dear Scranton Leaders

Dear Scranton Leaders,

The commuter tax you enacted was declared null and void by a visiting judge in Lackawanna County.  He ruled that you didn't follow the applicable law by taxing both residents and commuters, just as every other community that has enabled a similar tax has apparently done.  For whatever reason you chose to ignore that part of the law; I just hope that choice was a conscious one, because the alternative is frightening.

So, what's next?  Well for starters, how about a reality check?  Scranton's bills are higher than the money it takes in from taxes and fees.  There are two ways to solve that:

  1. Income - You can continue to try and raise more money.
  2. Expenses - You can reduce your expenses.

So far you've put almost all of your energy into item #1.  Oh, and you've done it poorly.  Oh, and it's a poor idea in the first place.  Why?  Simply put, trying to just balance a budget on the revenue side is a bit like saying to someone awash in credit card debt to "just earn more money to pay your bills".  Sure, that works over the short term, but it doesn't nothing to address how they got into debt in the first place.  That's Scranton by the way.

Yes, I know, you'll say "there is nothing more to cut", but I think's just code for "there's nothing left that painless and easy to cut".  There is a big difference.

Want to know something else?  Most people with a half functioning brain have already figured out that Scranton's biggest expense has to do with personnel costs.  What is it, 60% or more of the budget?  Again, it's not a secret, and your seeming inability to actually to do anything to reduce those costs isn't exactly a secret either.  No, I don't want to see anyone working for the city earning less money, but when personnel costs are such a major part of a budget that is structurally imbalanced, the reality is that something will have to be done in that area.

In the final analysis, an inability on your part to make difficult decisions now* only guarantees that future decisions will be even more difficult.  As I have said many times in the past, Scranton is already bankrupt; what's lacking is the formal legal declaration.

Steve Albert

(*) For the record, deciding to tax people that can't vote you out of office does NOT count as being a difficult decision.

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