Mayor Chris Doherty of Scranton, Pa., took as much as he could out of the paychecks of city employees, cutting their rate to $7.25 an hour, the state's minimum wage. Last week, the employees' unions sued the city as the mayor blamed the city council -- and the political gamesmanship was under way.
Financial woes are old hat to Scranton. The story of the city in the decades after World War II is one echoed across the Rust Belt of the U.S.: A city blooms because of something specific that makes it stand out, it loses that advantage, and the industries that once thrived there get shipped overseas. A little string of bad luck turns into a big avalanche that seems like it will swallow anything that gets in the way, especially population numbers.
Unfortunately for this generation of Scrantonites, the decades of tough luck combined on June 27 with the mayor's plan to slash salaries. When Americans think of the most important people in maintaining a city, firefighters and police are usually atop the list. However, politicians are closer to the bottom of that same list, and Doherty is no exception to that rule.
Doherty has been in a standoff with the city council over what to do with Scranton's budget, according to NPR. Doherty wants to raise taxes by 29 percent immediately and by as much as 78 percent over the next three years, while the council wants the city to borrow money. The Scranton Times-Tribune reported there's no way for the city to take out a loan because it is unable to show it is capable of paying it back.
I'm trying to do the best I can with the limited amount of funds that I have, Doherty told NPR. I want the employees to get paid. Our people work hard -- our police and fire -- I just don't have enough money, and I can't print it in the basement.
It's worth noting the mayor cut his own salary to minimum wage, as well, as noted by Newser.
When the unions took the mayor to court on July 2, they claimed he was breaking the law. It was a point Doherty had to concede, but not without saying he didn't have any other choice. The city council blames Doherty for a decade of frivolous, unchecked spending that has put the whole region in a quandary.
On July 6, a judge ruled that, despite not having the funds, the city was responsible for paying employees their full wages. As the bickering continues, there doesn't appear to be any plan in place that will allocate the employees their full pay.
NPR pointed out that John Judge, the president of International Association of Firefighters Local 60 and a local firefighter himself, usually receives a paycheck of about $1,500 every two weeks. That sum has been whittled down to a pretax total of less than $600. Most city employees make between $18 and $36 an hour, detailed the Huffington Post.
We're trapped in the middle of a political game between the mayor and the city council, Judge said. We're not the cause of his problem, and we're not the solution to his problem.
Since the political firestorm erupted, Scranton Police Chief Dan Duffy has stepped down from his position, although he claimed his decision has nothing to do with the financial mess the city finds itself in, according to the Times Leader.
The unions see the mayor's pay slash as a bullying technique designed to force the city council to adopt his tax increases.
Meanwhile, Scranton claimed to have only $5,000 in its bank account after paying its employees at the minimum-wage rate, which leaves 400 people still in the middle of a political spitting contest.