Fire Politics: Train Wreck in Harrisburg

Like competing Kamikaze pilots fighting for the controls, Harrisburg, PA, politicians are dueling in court for who has the right to place the city in either formal bankruptcy or the State’s legislative equivalent.

Harrisburg, the capital of the state, is on the financial ropes after borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars for a failed trash  incinerator project.  (It would have been cheaper to Fed-Ex the garbage to Hoboken or where ever.)

In this latest round of brawling, the city council mutinied against the Mayor and the governor, filing a petition in court to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy status.  But Pennsylvania has a law that allows for places such as Harrisburg to instead be declared “financially distressed.”  Such a designation would allow the governor to appoint a coordinator who would enjoy great power in most areas of the City’s operations–including labor contracts.

Act 47, as the state law is known, has been used in some 25 Pennsylvania municipalities (including Pittsburgh) since being enacted.  It is both loved and hated by politicians as it relieves them of  some of the more odious decisions associated with attempting to solve fiscal calamities.  The coordinator appointed by the governor creates a plan to theoretically solve the financial problems through a combination of spending cuts and financial incentives.

A federal judge dismissed the council member’s bankruptcy petition and it appears for now that the State is once again positioned to essentially takeover the business operations in Harrisburg.  This will potentially mean that firefighters in the City will have a new and powerful boss as the coordinator wades into the thicket of their terms and conditions of work with pruning shears in hand.


Sources:  NYT, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wiki, PA 47


1 Comment

  • Bill Hand says:

    My observation is that every time you go up in a level of government, the management gets worse and much more complicated and expensive.

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