California's Cities Aren't Alone – Unions Trample Finances in Scranton, Pennsylvania

The city of Scranton hiked property taxes 57% and garbage collection fees 69% to shore up a police and fire pension funds that will run out of money anyway, in 5 years and 2.5 years respectively.

Amusingly (to outsiders) but certainly not to Scranton taxpayers, Scranton Pensions Increased as Much as 80 Percent as a result of inane mayoral promises.

 The 2011 court ruling that awarded huge raises and millions of dollars in back pay to Scranton firefighters and police officers was a windfall for retirees too, with some seeing a more than 80 percent hike in their pensions between 2008 and 2012, a Times-Tribune investigation found.

The increase, most of which was paid in 2011, made the retirees among the highest paid in Pennsylvania, the newspaper’s review of the Public Employee Retirement Commission records revealed.

The increased pensions come at a time when Scranton, in distressed status since 1992, is struggling to survive. Faced with a $20 million deficit, council enacted a 2014 budget with massive tax increases — hikes of nearly 57 percent in property taxes and 69 percent in garbage fees. The recently passed 2015 budget hiked property taxes 19 percent.

The plans’ actuary, Randee Sekol, recently cited the raises as one of the key factors that have pushed the funds closer to insolvency. With a deficit of $78.8 million as of 2012, the fire fund is projected to run out of money within about 2½ years, while the police fund, with a deficit of $62 million, has less than five years left.

The city had no choice but to approve the pension hikes, issued under former Mayor Chris Doherty’s administration, because they are contractually obligated under the union contracts, said city solicitor Jason Shrive.

No Choice?!

Of course the city had a choice. Actually, the city had two reasonable actions and curiously, Shrive even mentioned one of them.

 Last week, the city asked the fire and police pension boards to forgo that increase. Both boards rejected the request.

Mr. Shrive made the request based on a section of the Class 2A city code that states no increases can be granted to retirees if an actuary determines the fire and police funds are not actuarially sound. Scranton is the only Class 2A city in the state.

Mr. Shrive acknowledged that the union contracts obligate the city to pay the retirees’ raises, but he said he believes state law, which mandates the city follow the Class 2A code, takes precedent.

Tell, Don’t Ask

Given Class 2A law, you don’t ask police and fire for cuts, you tell them. Then if they fight, you make the final step:

Declare Bankruptcy on the Spot 

The police and fire departments would have to plead their case in federal bankruptcy court, most likely getting haircuts of 50% or more.

Ultimately, bankruptcy is where all these cases are headed. Taxpayers certainly don’t deserve preposterous tax hikes while inept politicians look for ways out, because there are no ways out.

In the meantime, collective bargaining of public unions needs to go the way of the dinosaur. Public unions and the hack politicians who support unions have wrecked more city and state budgets than the next 10 things combined.

About the Author:  Mike Shedlock is the editor of the top-rated global economics blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis, offering insightful commentary every day of the week. He is also a contributing “professor” on Minyanville, a community site focused on economic and financial education.

1 reply
  1. Tough Love says:

    Mike,

    These 2 paragraphs said it PERFECTLY:

    “Ultimately, bankruptcy is where all these cases are headed. Taxpayers certainly don’t deserve preposterous tax hikes while inept politicians look for ways out, because there are no ways out.

    In the meantime, collective bargaining of public unions needs to go the way of the dinosaur. Public unions and the hack politicians who support unions have wrecked more city and state budgets than the next 10 things combined.”

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