Yesterday, the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania announced that due to ongoing budget problems and the threat of bankruptcy, all of Scranton’s 398 city workers — including cops and firefighters — will be paid minimum wage effective immediately.
Ask 10 Scrantonians who and/or what is to blame for their city’s seemingly inexorable slide into insolvency and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. OK, maybe seven. Or even five. Whatever the number, they’ll all be right to one degree or another. Scranton’s cash crunch has been years in the making and — in my opinion, at least — is the product of four forces: An eroded and aging tax base; Pennsylvania’s system of tiny, autonomous municipalities; expensive public-safety union contracts, and a fractious and parochial political culture.
The first three ingredients in that recipe would be manageable if the fourth weren’t so completely dysfunctional. The current mess is largely due to a power struggle between Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and a veto-proof “super-majority” on the city council that’s led by Council President Janet Evans. Doherty has been trying without success for years to rein in union labor costs through a state-backed recovery plan; the unions in turn have fought back furiously with the help of local pols like Evans. The result has been a back-and-forth stalemate of sorts, with the courts occasionally stepping in to make matters worse.
Here are seven cartoons drawn by Cole dating back to November 2010, tracing the arc of Scranton’s decline: