Over the last several days, my hometown of Scranton has been in the news, including a feature story on NPR, an article on FoxNews.com, an article on the HuffingtonPost.com, and a mention on CNN, Unfortunately, Scranton has not been a news maker for any positive reason. Media outlets are focusing on the old coal mining city because it’s utterly broke, and Mayor Chris Doherty has decided to pay the police officers and firefighters minimum wage, despite a judge stating that it is illegal to do so.
Scranton’s financial woes are nothing new. Since the loss of the coal mining industry, the city has never recovered. Every 10 years, with every new census report, the city’s population shrinks, and now stands at about 78,000. There have been numerous revitalization projects and a lot of money poured into beautifying the city. Some of the efforts have strengthened local arts and culture. Scranton does have a wonderful First Friday art walk, a growing literary community, and a small music scene. However, the city struggles to maintain young people, due to the lack of industry and a stable work force.
Now the city leaders have to determine how to solve this massive debt. A headline in the local paper the other day read that the city is broke, and only has $5,000. Unfortunately, the mayor and the city council president, Janet Evans, have not been able to address the issue because they are political foes and spend most of their time threatening to sue each other. It is like that the city will have to raise taxes and there is talk of a commuter tax, meaning that employees that work in the city but don’t live there will have to pay a tax to Scranton. The city already has a high tax rate, and it’s likely that a massive tax hike will drive even more people away.
What a lot of the stories didn’t touch on is that Scranton isn’t the only place with major financial woes. Other small cities and infrastructures are crumbling, due to a grim economic outlook, tight state budgets, and little help from the federal government because one political party is hellbent on austerity. But cities like Scranton desperately need help, especially when its own leaders fail to solve the crisis.
For more info about the financial mess in Scranton, you can read or listen to the NPR story here.