The idyllic American Suburb is moving farther from the city center, leaving the classic first ring suburbs on hard times. Residents of Coatesville, Norristown, Yeadon and Lansdowne are struggling to maintain the quality of life that was envisioned from their planned beginnings. The Southeastern Pennsylvania First Suburbs Project is a coalition of institutions and community organizations working on revitalizing the original suburbs. They share common problems of declining economic investment and infrastructure, affordable housing and keeping their children in public schools. We talk to two people working with the First Suburbs Project: JOHN MCKELLIGOTT, a former school board member of the William Penn School District; and community organizer, PAUL SCULLY, Executive Director of the New Jersey Regional Coalition. Scully has worked with several community groups around the country, training and organizing citizens to change their transportation, housing and tax policies.
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As a native of Philadelphia I am very familiar with all of the cities that are mentioned in this audio report.
These are suburban towns to the southeast of Philadelphia and in South Jersey. As a child they were where my mother occassionally ventured out to on her weekend shopping trips. At this time they were all lily White. At the time this is where the "White Flight" migrants moved to.
Fast forward 20 to 30 years. These idylic places have transformed. The exodus of "Black Flight Progressives" from the city of Philadelphia and then, it appears, new imigrants from other nations have moved into these areas. (Note: middle class "Black Flight Progressives" have also moved away from these first ring city areas as lower class individuals have moved in).
Bottom line - there is little distinction between the migration patterns of "White flight" individuals and "Black Flight Progressives". There is class and race dynamics present in both of their motivations for relocation.
If you read between the lines of the comments made in this audio report the key concepts of
- "Needy" People
- Quality of Schools
are mentioned several times.
First let me mention - As I frequently talk about the consequences of how certain operatives went after political power but have failed to focus upon the economic system that they needed to field to allow the political district that they now control to flourish - a good portion of my sentiment comes from these towns.
To make this only about "RACE" is a mistake. This is moreso about economic theories and how certain theories don't fare well in the real world.
One guy in the audio keeps talking about "Oppressive Taxation". How high property taxes needed to run these small cities have the effect of running wealthier home owners out of town because they are the target of funds to run these cities. What he fails to make note of is how the commerical and retail diversity has collapsed as these cities have changed. When there are vibrant businesses in town the taxes paid by them defray the tax burden of the private home owners.
Logically, those who are in these small cities that don't have a viable economic system are supporters of regional tax and funding schemes that allow them to receive money in excess of what they are able to generate within their four corners.
I know that I have mentioned the history of cities but this bears repeating. Cities were once "unincorporated lands". The residents paid their taxes to the county or the state in exchange for basic government services such as police, fire, utlities. The city is formed when a group of people petition the state for a city charter. They are of the belief that if direct these tax funds toward their own local interests that they can improve their standard of living beyond which is present.
Today there is a basic assault on this concept. While those who are political are focused on obtaining seats of power over the titular offices of mayor, city council and police chief - they preside over city entities that today are not fiscally viable. In effect their dependency on external funding sources casts them as city entities that serve as aggregators of external funds and distributors of services. In effect they are functionally like an "unincorporated" land that has a city charter.
Out of this mismatch is coming what America is trending toward - NATIONALIZATION! The inability of certain cities to field an economic order that allows their residents to live at the desired standard of living will eventally align the state as the key redistribution point for tax dollars. Likewise when states suffer from their own dramatic tax burdens in the face of balanced budget mandates they will increasingly turn to the Federal government for funding. The federal government is able to both run debts and print cash. These two means of creating "magic money" affords all invovled to paper over the key issues. This scheme will last until the investors in US Treasury bonds - wealthy bond traders in the USA and national governments in Japan and China who need to purchase US debt in support of their own export based economies.
A NEED FOR CHANGE
I am a frequent critic of the drive for "voting yourself a pay raise". The phenomeon that I am describing above affords people the ability to ignore the needed educational, cultural and political changes that they need to consider and need to make and instead focus purely on "majority rule" to dismantle the function of the intermediate government between the individual and the federal goverment. Make no mistake about it this is a "by any means necessary" strategy. Living day to day some people don't give a damn about federalism nor the proper order of the city. They have needs. They want these needs funded so that they can live up to a certain STANDARD OF LIVING. They will vote for any politician who shows up with the cash, not asking them where they got the money from.
For those who resist such a scheme because they know that their wallets have a bullseye upon them - the previous way to get around this problem was to MOVE. After having been assessed a new round of property tax and in some cases a "city wage tax" the productive person has a choice to stay and take it - seeing these taxes as their "patriotic duty" as VP Joe Biden has said. Or these people can pick up and move one inch across the political boundary to which the tax man has no reach. Problem solved. Where as once they were the "bad guy" who those who made rhetorical attacks about their motivations for resisting the payment of higher taxes - they were now free and the rhetoritician was stuck, seeking to find new sources of taxation to keep the entity that he has an elected seat of power over.
The confluence of the worst case forces are upon some of these areas. If there is a worse death spiral I don't know of it. On the one hand there is a need to have a highly educated, highly skilled work force to both attrack new "consumers of labor" into the area who value this work force and are willing to pay for their talents. To educate this work force there is a need for more education dollars. These education dollars come from local property taxes. In as much as there is much stress on the local tax digest - it does not serve as an appropriate funding source for these high order schools. Thus they are forced to look toward external funding for their basic survival. The cycle continues.
Again - the increased dependency of these cities which prove themselves non-viable does not come at the consequence of them loosing their charter as cities. In fact there is no consequence beyond them becoming areas of blight. A company that proves to be insolvent goes out of business. A city with the same fate - goes to the state legislature for cash.
SO WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
The issue of infrastructure was mentioned several times. Crumbling cement structures. Leaking pipes. Inadeqate storm drainage systems.
Few people mention that when much of this infrastucture was built in this area of the United States there was a bunch of labor thrown at these projects which activated those who were laborers but who's relatively low salaries spread the resources among many individuals.
Ironically today much of our major infrastructure projects are executed at the hands of a limited set of general contractors who have the scale and the expertise to get the job done. They employ laborers who are well paid. In effect this monopoly indeed insures that a concentration of highly skilled workers do a quality job. This monopoly also has the effect of limiting the girth of these "shovel ready" infrastructure projects to those who are already construction industry insiders.
It seems to me that the best way to address the need for new or upgraded infrastructure while stretching the available government dollars to pay for it, while increasing the number of people employed in the region is to control the wages paid out and enforce a spreading effect for employment.
This theory runs against the spirt of organized labor which prefers a labor monopoly with barganing which seeks to maximize the pay and benefits.
Recently much talk has been heard regarding the enduring impact of "New Deal" infrastructure projects. If indeed history is on their side regarding how this government spending continues to benefit our nation those who are intellectually honest must also make note of how vast quantities of individuals were employed on this projects (and on massive projects prior to the New Deal) without the premium wage rates.
Let me be clear - I am NOT punitively seeking to cap the wage raes of these workers. I am only seeking to allow these communities in need to gain more utility out of their dollars spent. Certainly the benefits from the new infrastructure elements are of value to those who are in this immediate area who are in need of this infrastructure and of jobs. Since there is no CEO of a large corporation pocketing most of the money - this shared sacrifice should appeal to the usual suspects.