When I moved to Scranton over six year ago, I remember going to a “First Friday,” event and thinking to myself, “This is amazing.” I moved here from the suburbs of Reading, Pennsylvania. That year Reading was the New York Times Most Impoverished City in the US. A First Friday style event would never happen in Reading, it couldn’t. There’s little to no commerce, business, etc. within the city limits. I was used to the news of murders, gang related crime, drug busts, and the like. That was the vision I had concerning the modern day fate of mid-sized formerly industrious cities in PA. My amazement wasn’t limited to First Friday, it was also inspired by the Coffee Shops, Niche Stores, Restaurants, and the daily bustle of Courthouse Square. I wondered, how is this possible? The city had effectively lost the industry that sustained it after coals favor gave way to oil and natural gas. What held this city up? I soon realized that Scranton’s residents had a love for and pride in their city, and wanted to stay, wanted to open businesses, to raise their families in the same neighborhoods in which they were raised, wanted to stay close to the family and friends they knew and loved. In my opinion this is what has sustained Scranton. In a nutshell its resident’s willingness to invest in the city has kept it afloat.
It wasn’t long until I was acquainted with the infamous dysfunction and corruption that the city has become infamous for. None of us are strangers to what seems to be an attitude epidemic of, “Well that’s just how things are here.” As if it’s an acceptable status quo. The fact of the matter is that every individual in the city… let me rephrase that, OUR city, Has a say in this. For decades, city politicians have banked on the ignorance of the public in order to successfully further their agendas. This is beginning to come to a head with the recent fire sale of city assets. (A Band-Aid on a bullet wound) Officials will litter the local media outlets with optimistic rhetoric, claiming great progress all while the numbers say otherwise. Progress is not selling off your revenue sources in order to make a quick buck. To be frank, that wreaks of desperation. The Mayor lauded himself on keeping the property tax increase under 6% for the 2016 budget, while (in much finer print) giving himself a 5,000 dollar raise, and increasing spending. The city has yet to be transparent as to how much it really owes, and who its creditors are. We do know that it hiked property taxes up 57% and garbage fees 69% in 2015 in order to sure up the police and fire pensions. (These pensions will both be dried up entirely within 5 years) They also increased the PD and FD pay an undisclosed amount in 2016, in addition to adding to their pensions and healthcare. An increase in taxes, and increase in spending generally does not bode well for whatever debt you do have.
The city is a runaway train, this is apparent in its never ending tax hikes, spending sprees, pensions, and pay raises. It’s no secret that it’s fiscally in dire straits as well. (Declared to be in a state of economic distress since 1992) What does all of this actually mean though? Remember that city I told you I grew up outside of, Reading? Scranton is on the exact same trajectory. The city has placed itself in a position where it has two choices, Tax itself to death, effectively turning into a black hole uninhabitable by families, businesses and the like, Or declare Chapter 9 Bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is a word that certainly brings with it a negative connotation. No, no one should be proud of it’s necessary declaration, but lets look at its implications. Chapter 9 would place the city in a situation where their creditors would be put on hold while they re-structure their collective bargaining agreements (Pensions, Police and Fire wages, etc.) I spoke about the dysfunction apparent in this agreements in the paragraph above. It would essentially force the city to become fiscally responsible. All of this would occur under the eyes of the Bankruptcy Court. In my opinion the choice of the two paths ahead is simple. I encourage anyone who has questions concerning the issue to look past the empty words of our City’s Officials, for so long they have banked on the public’s ignorance. Instead do the math, look at the city’s debt, underfunded pensions, fire sale of assets, exorbitant tax hikes and the like. The case for Chapter 9 is infallible.
God Bless Scranton,