Planet Earth Begins Eating Bankrupt City of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

While former "mayor for life" Stephen R. Reed was busy driving the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania into bankruptcy so he could pay for the truly essential items of running a municipal government - such as a Seventh Cavalry telescope, a Vampire Kit, and Virgil Earp's watch and badge - he apparently forgot about replacing the city's deteriorating nineteenth-century gas and water pipes.

Now those old leaky pipes are causing the streets to collapse, and Harrisburg can't borrow the money to make the necessary repairs.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

A sinkhole, measuring about 50 feet long and eight feet deep, had swallowed [Harrisburg-resident] Ms. [Sherri] Lewis's street, damaging water and gas pipes and forcing more than a dozen residents to evacuate one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. "I thought the world was ending,'' says Ms. Lewis, 42 years old.

Harrisburg officials have identified at least 40 other sinkholes around the 50,000-person city. The combination of particularly sandy soil and leaky pipes under Harrisburg's streets make it susceptible to sinkholes, city officials say. But Harrisburg has a bigger problem: The Pennsylvania capital can't afford to replace many of the aging pipes, some of which date back to the 19th century.

Harrisburg is in default on its debt and has been effectively shut out of the municipal-debt market, which cities and states use to finance everything from building schools to paving roads.

Last year, I took a look at Harrisburg's woes for Reason TV:

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  • some guy||

    We're talking about Adam West and Quahog, RI, right?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Yeah but anyway Atlas Shrugged was just science fiction.

  • robc||

    We have no debt problem in the US.

  • Enough About Palin||

    Hell, we don't even have a spending problem.

  • Ice Nine||

    I am the Ghost of California Yet to Come.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    +1 set of rattling chains

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Or the Ghost of Illinois Just Around The Corner.

  • some guy||

    Or the Ghost of New York City Past...

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    And future. And pretty much present.

  • johnl||

    Why does Harrisburg get all the luck?

  • sarcasmic||

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  • kinnath||

    Then it is undermined by incompetence.

  • Professional Target||

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    The road to hell is paved with plausible excuses.

  • robc||

    Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft
    underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. -- Screwtape

  • JW||

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    It sure isn't paved by PENNDOT.

  • ||

    I blame fracking.

  • Timrek||

    Yeah the very thing that might save the state's budget is hated by the same idiots who are spending their asses off.

  • ||

    But, burning tap water.

  • Timrek||

    Are you saying we should burn tap water for fuel or that fracking causes burning tap water. Or perhaps drinking tap water causes burning (urinary or rectal...your cal).

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Drinking tap water causes nausea and bad teeth, fracking or not.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    MATT DAMON!

  • Spoonman.||

    The state very enthusiastically allows fracking and is doing just fine.

  • ||

    Except along the Delaware River, where I hold a lease.

  • Spoonman.||

    Didn't know about that. That's stupid.

  • Jerry on the boat||

    This would have been my first thought too.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    While former "mayor for life" Stephen R. Reed...

    Requiescat in pace?

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    If the utilities belonged to private utility companies, and the streets belonged to the people who live along them, then the owners could just maintain those things as they see fit.

  • Timrek||

    But corporations are evil and people needz the govment!!

  • Professional Target||

    You commie!

  • Hugh Akston||

    If streets were private property then nobody would be able to drive on them, just like Wal-Mart is private property and nobody can ever go in there!

  • Timrek||

    Don't I know it! I lived in Indian when Gov. Daniels was in office. Boy his efforts to privatize the interstate really made it hard to drive on them. No wait they helped to produce a budget surplus and pissed off the Dems. Win, and win.

  • BuSab Agent||

    It's awesome how you can tell PRECISELY which bits of the road --bridges and overpasses-- the state is responsible for repairing.

  • Timrek||

    As a PA native, that saddened me a bit even though I haven't lived in that state since 1996. The best place I've lived was Indiana. Low taxes, reasonable government and good pulled pork more than make up for the widespread appearance of truck balls and white trash.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The good news is that when the city crumbles, the PA legislature will have nowhere to meet.

  • ||

    Finally, something WON'T get done.

  • JW||

    It'll just the be the setting for the next Fallout. It's actually believable.

  • Enough About Palin||

    Clearly, some rich person in Harrisburg isn't paying their fair share.

  • Ted S.||

    I'd presume the only rich people in Harrisburg are the government employees.

  • ChrisO||

    I've long noticed that cities that are state capitals without having some other industry/purpose tend to range from "a bit seedy" to "total shitholes."

    I've seen this apply to

    Harrisburg
    Olympia
    Salem
    Sacramento
    Richmond
    Raleigh

    Of the capitals I've seen in person, Annapolis is the only one I can think of that is a nice place--and even there, you wonder how much of that is because of the Naval Academy and the city's promixity to the bay, which attracts lots of retirees who want a boat launch.

    Other capitals, like Austin, Indianapolis, Madison, etc., are also either large commercial cities or are also university towns.

  • robc||

    Frankfort, KY falls square into the "total shithole" category.

    It is, in fact, in a big hole in the ground. And it exports shit.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Don't forget the shittiest capitol of all: Washington, DC

  • ChrisO||

    As bad it is, Washington is a nicer city than Richmond.

  • John Galt||

    Yeah, well Richmond lacks the capability to crap all over everyone in the USA all at once. Takes a hell of lot of feces to pull that off. And that pretty much makes D.C. the shittiest capitol of all.

  • Zeb||

    I don't know. They seem to turn their shit around pretty quickly. They probably don't need to keep that large of an inventory.

  • Timrek||

    Good catch. Universities help a lot. Compare State College, PA (a thriving town built around Penn State with a lot of high tech and service jobs - ignore for now that many of these jobs still feed off the government tit.) to Harrisburg. Now we just need to scale back the amount of fed/state dollars going to universities so as to normalize the market.

  • BBB||

    I live in State College. It's a nice place to live. The crime rate is low (with the exception of alcohol offenses, and the lowlife that is Jerry Sandusky). The local schools are pretty good, even if the teachers union likes to bitch and moan about their contract. There's lots of stuff to do outdoors.

    BUT: I wouldn't call it a "thriving town ... with a lot of high tech and service jobs." In fact: WTH? It's a COMPANY town. State College is Penn State and all the cash it throws off.

    95% of the high tech jobs here are affiliated with the university (aka "the state" or, in the case of the Advanced Research Lab here, the U.S. DOD). Oracle just declined to locate a big office here, even after the local state representatives rigged it so that any-company-that-manages-to-look-like-Oracle can keep (read this carefully) *95% of the state income taxes paid by their employees*.

    Raytheon and Josten's have both closed their local offices over the past 12-15 months. Seriously, I'm considering getting myself to a larger city with greater diversity in its employment base.

    Oh yeah, service jobs mostly pay crap, as they do near any university.

  • BBB||

    And did I mention the increasingly nutso local housing costs? 2000 square feet of house will easily cost $225k in the borough of State College or in the immediately surrounding townships. (A similar house outside the State College school district boundaries will be $75k-$100k less.)

    Then there's the little statist utopia that is the Borough of State College. This is the borough, along with the adjacent townships of Ferguson and College, that until **2005** had an Occupational Privilege Tax. Yes, that's right. If you were of certain "privileged" occupations, your tax rates were HIGHER. The Borough continues to maintain some of the nuttiest laws ever. There will be no drive-through windows at restaurants in the Borough of State College. Oh yes. Don't you dare try to get rid of any nuisance trees that fall within the borough's zone of authority, either.

  • WTF||

    Trenton, NJ, is another shithole.

  • ||

    Trenton, NJ, is another shithole.

    FIFY

  • WTF||

    What you see from the Turnpike is a shithole. Much of the rest of the state is quite nice.

  • ||

    Add to your list Hartford, Augusta, Albany, Trenton. Providence and Boston follow your university rule.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Basically anywhere Episiarch has lived is a Robocop-esque dump.

  • ||

    I'd buy that for a dollar!

  • ChrisO||

    Yeah, I forgot to add Trenton to the list of bad capitals I've seen in person.

    I'm woefully under-traveled otherwise. Can't say that visiting Albany or Augusta is high on my list of priorities, though.

  • ChrisO||

    Another possible exception that I should have remembered is Cheyenne. Despite not having a university or a large amount of commercial activity, Cheyenne seems like a very nice small city.

    Of course, Wyoming is an exception to many things.

  • H. Reardon||

    I was only there briefly, but Boise seemed nice.

  • ||

    Boise is a great place...for a city.

  • John Galt||

    Excellent VA hospital.

  • John Galt||

    Sorry, a little confused here. I thought you were commenting on Boise, ID. Don't think I've ever heard of, or been to, Boise, Wyoming.

    Boise, ID has a great VA hospital.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    You can't fool us! Everyone knows that Wyoming doesn't actually exist!

  • John Galt||

    Saw it on the Internet..so.. It Must Be True!

  • jb4479||

    Excellent, that means that our disinformation campaign is working as planned.

  • sarcasmic||

    They don't call Augusta "Disgusta" for nothing!

    Seriously though, I don't think it is any shittier than any other city in Maine.

  • ||

    Portland is nice. I kind of like Bangor too.

  • Rasilio||

    What do you know about it?

    Pretty good odds I'll be moving there in the next month or so?

  • ||

    Which one?

  • Rasilio||

    Maine.

    My gig here in Boston is up at the end of the Month and it looks like I'll be getting hired to work at Unum up in Portland Me.

    Other than having driven up there to go to the interview and through it a couple of other times I've never been there and know nothing about the city.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Springfield, its a hell of a town.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Crime is up and morale is down!

  • BlockadeRunnerX||

    A few decades ago, Annapolis was much more working class and "jes plain folks" than it is today.

    It's got a booming private sector that really has nothing to do with the legislature being there. People just love the area -- sailboat capital of the world and all.

    I'd put Annapolis in a category with Santa Fe, NM as pleasant, appealing historic cities that would survive just fine if the legislature vanished overnight.

    But you're right, cities that were plopped down in the middle of the state for the sole purpose of housing the state government are typically crapholes.

    Carson City, Frankfort, Augusta, Harrisburg, are relentlessly awful.

    As far as the state capitals that are also the commercial and media centers of their respective states, Denver is my clear favorite.

  • R C Dean||

    I dunno, its been awhile since I was in Richmond, but it had a lot of very nice neighborhoods, some good nightlife, etc.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Richmond is okay. It doesn't exist for the sake of the leeches.

  • Timrek||

    Next up - Retroactive Moving Tax! If you moved out of a failing city it must be because you're a member of the 1% and didn't pay your fair share.

  • Paul.||

    Let me guess, Harrisburg doesn't have a spending problem. And, "Mayor for life", so clearly the residents are completely unhappy with this guy. Sounds like there's something the residents are getting that they deserve.

  • robc||

    Good and hard.

  • Timrek||

    Very much. My public employee uncle lives there. He crows loud and hard about how great his bennies are at the DER or whatever PA calls it's state EPA now a days. He won't enjoy the fallout as it all crumbles about him.

  • John Galt||

    All I ask is to live long enough to watch those who thought they were so set forever for putting a few years in the public sector end up holding empty bags of nothingness in the end.

    Yay!

    Of course it wouldn't be entertaining at all if not for the fact that it was their greed and impossible demands at the expense of the taxpayer that made avoiding the sinking of their life-long luxury ship an impossibility.

    Double Yippe-yay!

  • Cytotoxic||

    Savour the tears.

  • ||

    Progressive degenerates fuck up city; weather at 10:00.

  • JW||

    Progressive Tea Party degenerates fuck up city; weather at 10:00.

    Get yer narrative right, pal.

  • ||

    If only the God-Emperor had intervened psrsonally.

  • Jordan||

    Only Snoop Dawg can intervene psrsonally.

  • Paul.||

    So watching the video, but for Reed's vision of an Old West museum, Harrisburg would be a world-class destination.

  • John Galt||

    Maybe they could put the Old West museum, the Love Canal museum, the San Francisco Chop-Suey museum, and the 1889 Worlds Fair museum all in the same building to make the whole stupid idea of having museums that have nothing to do with Harrisburg, PA more economically feasible.

  • andarm16||

    Why the hell would anyone even consider having a "wild west" museum in Harrisburg? I mean, Harrisburg hasn't been the wild west since at least the 1820s. This being Pennsylvania it's hardly the worst example of government funded tourism scheme in the state. (IE: Steam Town)
    The Love Canal museum has to go somewhere, (I mean the corporations win if it doesn't right http://reason.com/archives/1981/02/01/love-canal) and Niagara Falls can't afford it. (fun fact: If you sold the entire city of Niagara Falls for scrap you'd probably just barely be able to build a modern edutainment environmentalist wonderland.)

  • ||

    Why the fuck don't private companies own the utilities?

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Fairness!

  • ||

    The story of how power companies had their autonomy stripped away via regulation is covered pretty well in The Forgotten Man by Amity Schlaes.

  • John Galt||

    ...seventh Cavalry telescope..."

    *shrugs*

  • Timrek||

    Some poor shlep saw a lot of pissed off indians through that thing.

  • John Galt||

    From where, the Moon?

  • Aresen||

    That telescope sounds like the optical equivalent of the Hope Diamond.

  • Tim||

    American Pickers, Harrisburg episode:

    -"How much do you have to have for this telescope?"

    - "$210 million"

    -"I was thinking more like $300"

    -"Would you do $180 million?"

    -" What else ya got?"

  • John Galt||

    Time for the "bundler."

    -"How about the badge, the hand gun, and the telescoping monocular for $7,000."

    -"I can go up to $7,003 is that'd help you out."

  • John Galt||

    *if

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    That show is so gay.

  • Aresen||

    That show doesn't rate a .01 second pause on the remote.

  • Tim||

    Shit, what manly shows are you guys watching? Cake Boss?

  • Aresen||

    Mostly NOVA* and Mythbusters, but only if they're blowing stuff up.

    *As I've said before, NOVA has gone downhill. It used to be intellectually challenging, but now they've dumbed it down.

    The current season of NOVA has less meat than a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    I usually can't find shit that I want to watch, other than movies and sometimes narrated documentary series and South Park. Shows about this and that job generally suck. Most scripted shows suck. Most old and new movies ever created suck.

  • ||

    I lived in Olympia very briefly a decade ago and it seemed okay at the time. I suppose it could've rapidly spiraled into a shithole since then though.

  • Cytotoxic||

    The car's on fire and there's no driver at the wheel.
    and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides.
    and a dark wind blows.
    the government is corrupt.

  • R C Dean||

    Isn't "Harrisburg" and "sinkhole" kind of, you know, redundant?

  • Stormy Dragon||

    How to tell you're getting to reflexively partisan:

    Obama calls the Nazis "senseless" in a speech and you respond with an editorial defending how sensible they were.

  • ||

    Yeah, that's a really sad piece of willful ignorance. It takes a lot of partisan asshattery to take the claim that Nazi violence was senseless, and act like it's a claim that all violence is senseless. The kneejerkery is strong in that one.

  • ||

    I've lived in Raleigh and Harrisburg.

    Harrisburg is so unbelievably awful that the two don't even merit comparison.

  • Stephdumas||

    Detroit joinned Harrisburg's parade, journalist Charlie LeDuff posted an article on Jalopnik. http://jalopnik.com/5980916/ho.....or-america
    The Detroit municipal "clowncil"(or "clownsil")decided to not lease Belle-Isle Island to the state of Michigan and they decide to close 50 parks.

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