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Tue Nov 20, 2012, 10:38 AM

Cities in the Red: Austerity Hits America

from Dissent magazine:

Cities in the Red: Austerity Hits America
By Ann Larson - November 16, 2012

The European debt crisis, and the ensuing austerity-fueled chaos, can seem to Americans like a distant battle that portends a dark future. Yet a closer look reveals that the future is already here. American austerity has largely taken the form of municipal budget crises precipitated by predatory Wall Street lending practices. The debt financing of U.S. cities and towns, a neoliberal economic model that long precedes the current recession, has inflicted deep and growing suffering on communities across the country.

In July 2012, Mayor Christopher Doherty of Scranton, Pennsylvania, reduced all city employees’ salaries to the minimum wage. With a stroke of his pen, wages for teachers, firefighters, police, and other municipal workers, many of whom had been on the job for decades, dropped to $7.25 per hour. The city, the mayor explained, simply could not pay them more. Ron Allen, who reported the story for NBC Nightly News, repeated this assessment. Cities like Scranton, he said, “just don’t have the money” to pay city employees more than the minimum wage. Officials blamed the crisis on a declining tax base, on reduced revenue from the state, and on public sector labor contracts that the city could no longer afford.

What does it mean to say that a former steel town in decline “just doesn’t have the money” to pay its bills? It means that it no longer has access to credit markets controlled by the big banks. For years, Scranton officials, like officials across the United States, have been selling municipal bonds to finance everything from basic services to development projects. Scranton’s problems careened out of control when they city’s parking authority threatened to default on its bonds. Wall Street responded aggressively by cutting off its credit line, and city workers paid a steep price. American-style austerity arrived in Scranton under the guise of budget cuts blamed on public employees, whose salaries and pensions had nothing to do with the economic crisis.

Scranton’s problems are hardly unique. Municipalities across the country are grappling with declining local tax revenue and reduced federal funding in an era when growth and development are equated with prosperity. This toxic mix has produced a $3.7 trillion municipal debt market, a revenue juggernaut for Wall Street. Municipal bonds are issued by virtually every city, county, and development agency in the United States. The number of taxpayer-backed bonds in circulation is five times higher than only ten years ago. This means that the world’s largest financial firms now hold the purse strings for everything from essential services like sewage treatment plants to large-scale developments such as sports arenas. Municipal bonds are extremely profitable for investors because they are tax-exempt and, like mortgages, can be packaged into securities. .......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/cities-in-the-red-austerity-hits-america

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Reply Cities in the Red: Austerity Hits America (Original post)
marmar Nov 2012 OP
PETRUS Nov 2012 #1
Javaman Nov 2012 #2
Igel Nov 2012 #4
Javaman Nov 2012 #5
onethatcares Nov 2012 #3

Response to marmar (Original post)

Tue Nov 20, 2012, 11:53 AM

2. Let me guess, the mayor's salary didn't get cut to minimum wage, right? nt

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Response to Javaman (Reply #2)

Tue Nov 20, 2012, 12:47 PM

4. Not right.

He also cut his own salary.

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Response to Igel (Reply #4)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 02:39 PM

5. Good on him, but was it to minimum wage? nt

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Tue Nov 20, 2012, 12:29 PM

3. meanwhile here in sunny St. Petersburg FL

the baseball team backers have discovered that they need a new $500,000,000.00 stadium because the state of art stadium first built is now blase'.

They are even speaking about the owners of the rays shelling out about 21% of the cost over a million year period as soon as they figure out how to bilk the taxpayer out of the rest. Austerity?? What Austerity???

but have no fear, we have the ultimate out of cover prostitute looking for police van in the world.

All the while the lines of homeless in Williams Park are reaching critical mass.

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