Bankrupt Cities

Scott Shackford Analyzes San Bernardino's Fire Union Woes in the Press-Enterprise

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Needs some "for sale" signs.
Credit: House10902

Years after filing for bankruptcy, the Detroit of the West Coast—San Bernardino, California—is struggling to hammer out an exit plan. Not helping are their public sector unions, who have resisted deeper cuts, even though the city is running out of choices. As a consequence, the city's firefighters could lose their jobs to outside contractors, either from other fire agencies or to privatization. A city charter that puts public safety salary negotiations out of the hands of the City Council doesn't help either. (In the midst of this bankruptcy, the city is giving out an additional $500,000 in overdue raises right now because of this rule.)

I wrote a commentary about the situation and the stark numbers that detail San Bernardino's poverty recently in The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise. As important as a good firefighting team is (area firefighters have recently been fighting a massive blaze out in the San Bernardino Mountains), you can't get blood from a stone:

Most residents would logically see police and firefighters as the reason to have a city government in the first place. But as the Los Angeles Times noted in a recent in-depth look at San Bernardino's woes, these public safety expenses are tellingly out of proportion: "By 2012 the city was spending 72 percent of its general fund on the Police and Fire Departments, mostly on salaries and pensions – compared to Los Angeles, which spends 59 percent of its general fund on those services. More than half the sworn fire personnel earn more than $150,000 a year according to city records."

Yet, the firefighters remain a thorn in the side of fixing the problem. When the effort to change the city's charter rule failed, the local fire union president responded that the vote was a rejection of budget cuts and concluded, "It's time for city leaders to immediately begin working on solutions that will generate new revenues and economic development for the city."

But the city is gutting its other services in order to meet the obligations to its public safety departments. It had to stop sweeping its streets in June because it couldn't afford it. San Bernardino's poverty makes a joke out of any goal to raise more revenue quickly. Only 519 households in this city of 213,000 can boast incomes of greater than $200,000 a year.

Read more here.

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  1. wait… I thought stockton was the detroit of the west?

  2. As a consequence, the city’s firefighters could use their jobs to outside contractors

    They can stand in the unemployment line right behind Reason’s former copy editors.

    1. That was … just a test to see if people were reading.

      1. You sound like Gruber.

    2. It’s our fault. Reason realized they didn’t need to pay copy editors, since we routinely do it for free. We took their jerbz!!!

      1. But I’m a Jew, not a beaner!

  3. “It’s time for city leaders to immediately begin working on solutions that will generate new revenues and economic development for the city.”

    I suggest an 80% tax rate on those with salaries or pensions in excess of $90k/yr.

    1. Yeah, like those triple-dipping pubsecs with spiked pensions are sticking around to be taxed.

      1. Like they even lived in the city to begin with….

        1. What, you think you have to live in the city for them to tax your income? Ho, ho, I say!

  4. They have confused a math problem with a political problem

    So, just like Greece.

  5. By 2012 the city was spending 72 percent of its general fund on the Police and Fire Departments

    The Night Watchman State is unsustainable.

    1. How much of that was on operating expenses, rather than pensions?

      1. Nobody hates the firefighters or the police

        With questions like that, I think we may have found one.

    2. Professional firefighters outside of big cities is just silly (high rise fires are a special beast and require special equipment and training). Most of the country has volunteer fire departments. Fire fighting is not that dangerous and doesn’t really take very much in the way of training. For example every last veteran of the Navy has enough fire fighting training to competently handle a suburban house fire. There’s a lot of people that will do it for no pay because being a fireman is just that cool. Fire departments NEVER have a shortage of applicants, because getting paid big bucks to do what you wanted to do and were going to do anyway is the American Dream or something.

      1. Fire departments NEVER have a shortage of applicants, because getting paid big bucks to do what you wanted to do and were going to do anyway is the American Dream or something.

        At least, getting paid to PT, sleep, and BBQ everyday is the American Dream.

  6. We have voluntary fire fighters in suburban Jersey. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

    1. You know who else enjoyed free milk?…

      1. The old man at the end of Grapes of Wrath?

    2. It was the same for the town I grew up in. Got to go in the fire trucks every year.

  7. It had to stop sweeping its streets in June because it couldn’t afford it.

    Oh the fucking horror.

    I wish my city would stop sweeping the streets. Then I wouldn’t get a $50 ticket every year when I inevitably forget to move the car.

    1. My town sweeps the streets and leaves them worse off afterwards.

      We, understandably, get a lot of windblown sand in the roads and it builds up on the edges – but they insist of sweeping it up using water, leaving a huge mud streak on both sides of the road that finally fade . . . around the time it needs to be done again.

      But at least they don’t make you move your vehicles, they just drive around.

  8. When is someone planning to discuss the INSURANCE industries hands in all this nonsense?

  9. Coincidentally, I read this article this morning. It’s 5 yrs old but still applies.

    “A New York Post article recently pointed out 80 percent of firefighters are retiring on a disability pension (in 2008 it was 90 percent). “Disability” means they get their 100k a year tax-free and if they die, their spouses get the money until they die. As the Post points out, this usually runs the taxpayer about two million dollars per firefighter’s retired lifetime; not bad for getting paid to sleep for twenty years.”

    http://takimag.com/article/the…..z3fAIFyWJa

  10. Most residents would logically see police and firefighters as the reason to have a city government in the first place.

    Sure, but not police and firefighter *retirees*.

    1. In any case, what’s the point of having a city government that can’t unilaterally alter the terms of a deal whenever it feels, like a real government?

      I mean, if you can’t go ‘Pray I don’t alter it further’ every once in a while you may as well dis-incorporate.

  11. Only 519 households in this city of 213,000 can boast incomes of greater than $200,000 a year.

    And they’re all city employees.

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