Bankrupt cities? Don’t blame unions
Stockton and San Bernardino, California were brought down by the most severe housing busts in the nation, and by banks peddling subprime mortgages to poorly paid workers.
By Harold Meyerson. July 25, 2012
The reporting and commentary on the bankruptcies of California cities over the last month haven’t been journalism’s finest hour. From reading the voluminous accounts of the fiscal woes of Stockton and San Bernardino, you’d think that municipal unions and feckless city officials are primarily what led these cities down the path to fiscal ruin.
But you’d be wrong. What bankrupted Stockton and San Bernardino were the most severe housing busts in the nation. What bankrupted those two cities were banks peddling subprime mortgages to poorly paid workers.
That story has been missing from most accounts of the debacle, which instead focus on the preferred narrative of the right and center-right: that of fiscal irresponsibility and overpaid public employees. “Another city sinks in pension morass,” the Orange County Register editorialized. The problem common to the cities, wrote Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, is that “elected leaders and appointed managers succumbed to hubris and political pressure, particularly from their employee unions.”