Wed, 26 May 2010
Central Falls is broke, we read. Last week, the city council voted 4-1 to take the city into receivership. And now the commentary sweepstakes begin, with every editorialist and analyst rushing to offer their opinion. I guess I'm among them, but let me start by offering a little ridicule of my peers.
I read one "analysis" that said that Central Falls was too small to be independent, and it should join with Lincoln, Cumberland, or Pawtucket. This is your typical 30-second analysis: superficially plausible, but fundamentally ridiculous. With analysis like this, we'll all be broke soon. Central Falls is in a bind because their property tax revenue can't pay their expenses. Why should any other town want to accept that burden? None of its neighboring towns are exactly pillars of financial strength. Were Pawtucket to annex Central Falls, what would be the result except to bring Pawtucket a step closer to its own fiscal armageddon?
Perhaps it's interesting to ask how they got in this bind? Why, after all, is Central Falls so small? Who was it who thought such a small city was viable? Well, maybe it was all the rich people who used to live there.
Central Falls was a wealthy community of manufacturers and their employees when the larger town of Smithfield broke up in the 19th century, leaving it as the smallest piece. There was no question of its viability then; there was plenty of money to go around. Even as late as 1950, measured by amount of taxable property per student in its schools, Central Falls was one of the richest towns in the state, behind only Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket, and there was a considerable gap between them and fifth-place Newport. (Narragansett was actually first, but that's only because they had so few students, so I ignore them here.)
So what happened? The biggest demographic shift in our state and our nation's history, that's what. In the second half of the 20th century, our nation perfected suburbs, and the highways and cars that made them possible. In 1950, it was thought stupid to expect to live in East Greenwich and work in Providence; the country was for hicks. By 1970, that was no longer true. By 1990, the reverse was true for many. This is the very definition of an epochal shift. During those years, hundreds of thousands of people moved from our urban centers to what had been the countryside. Rich neighborhoods like Central Falls or Elmwood in Providence became desperately poor ones, while poor places like East Greenwich became quite rich. Central Falls became the poorest municipality in the state, followed by Woonsocket, Providence, Burrillville, and Pawtucket.
I have no idea, really, if there was mismanagement and corruption in Central Falls. (And let's be honest, the same is true of virtually everyone who claims certainty on the subject.) The evidence I do know about suggests there was some of each -- and I dearly hope that each is rewarded justly -- but at worst this only hastened the crisis rather than causing it. Central Falls is far poorer in taxable property per citizen than even Woonsocket, the next poorest municipality in the state. Even so, they have to satisfy the same code requirements on their buildings, the same water standards for their citizens, the same readiness requirements for their emergency services and all the rest of what we demand of our cities and towns.
What caused this crisis? There are three primary factors. First, property values declined as wealthy people sold in order to move out of town. Second, less wealthy people moving in to take advantage of those new housing bargains tended to require more services. Third, state legislators and governors refused to support Central Falls or any of the other municipalities in this bind, preferring to blame them for it, while imagining that the same rules that apply to a fast-growing East Greenwich can be used to judge a shrinking Providence.
Adding insult to injury, over the past half-century the state has actually subsidized the growth of the suburbs and the flight from the cities. Highway funds are but one example. Route 2, the backbone of commercial sprawl in Cranston and Warwick, was built and is maintained with state highway dollars, but only up to the Providence line. In town, Route 2 is the city's responsibility. In addition, school construction funds and dozens of hidden subsidies help keep the cost of suburban living down, at the expense of our cities.
Here's the important part: the state overall didn't lose taxpayers during the decades after 1950. On the contrary, our taxpaying population and the taxes we collect went way up. What state government lost was the will to ask its citizens to support the cities even while it encouraged the flight to the suburbs.
The crisis in Central Falls is nothing more than the logical and predictable outcome of a set of policies that devastated our cities while creating the suburban sprawl most of us now live in. Mayor Charles Moreau and his receiver stand ready to use the receivership process to gut their labor contracts and punt on their bonds, but it will be in vain. The forces that created their crisis are still at work. If they can lower the cost of government in Central Falls, they will only put off the day of reckoning by another few years.
We will not see a solution to the crisis affecting Central Falls -- but also all the other cities and towns in the state -- until we admit that we are in the middle of a municipal funding crisis decades in the making. We have set up incentives and a tax structure that make sensible management of our cities virtually impossible. That's the real crisis in Central Falls.
15:39 - 26 May 2010 [/y10/cols]
Fri, 21 May 2010
Is the New York Times?
From the Daily Howler:
...the Hartford Courants Colin McEnroe contacted a wide range of Connecticut political reporters about the Blumenthal matter (click here). McEnroe says he asked reporters, anchors and columnists to tell him whether they could remember Blumenthal ever claiming to have served in Vietnam and whether they had been under the impression...that Blumenthal had served in Vietnam. Again and again, these experienced reporters told McEnroe that they had never seen Blumenthal misstate his record, and that they never believed that he had served in Nam. This tracks the earlier statement by Christopher Keating, the Courants Hartford bureau chief. On Tuesday evenings NewsHour, Keating told Judy Woodruff that he had attended many veterans events at which Blumenthal spoke, but he never heard him misstate his record (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/20/10).
The original story about Blumenthal increasingly seems to me to be nothing more than an opposition hatchet job, parroted by a credulous Times reporter, who doesn't seem to have realized that working for that paper demands a high level of responsibility and care. Stories there set the agenda for millions of people and thousands of other reporters and professional chatterers, all of whom will use the Times's reputation as a shield for the most insulting and unjustified speculation. I hope Raymond Hernandez is ok with what he's done to Richard Blumenthal and the state of Connecticut (and the US Senate).
The Daily Howler goes on:
This is precisely how it was done to Gore. The bogus claims get their start at the Times, then get repeated, embellished. (At Morning Joe, eight turns into hundreds.)
Over here, we call this a journalistic disgrace.
19:11 - 21 May 2010 [/y10/my]
Wed, 12 May 2010
James Galbraith opines:
The idea that funding difficulties are driven by deficits is an argument backed by a very powerful metaphor, but not much in the way of fact, theory or current experience.
Read the rest.
21:00 - 12 May 2010 [/y10/my]
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