More Than 30 Blocks of Fiscal Irresponsibility
by: The Burning Platform
"Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know -- and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me -- has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby." - H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy
I've written dozens of articles about the 30 Blocks of Squalor over the years. The 30 blocks are essentially from 69th Street to 39th Street encompassing the wretched potholed route from unsafe Upper Darby through the killing fields of West Philly. The fine union government workers in the Streets Department have consistently maintained Chestnut Street in a constant state of disrepair. Not that drivers notice.
When there is an accident on the Schuylkill Expressway in the morning I'm forced to run the 30 Blocks gauntlet down Chestnut Street. I've had to do it a few times in recent days. The expletives flowed in waves as I hit four unmarked craters in the center lane. These were not the common everyday West Philly potholes that pock the landscape like it's the moon. At least if you see a local resident fishing in the pothole, you can avoid it.
These four separate craters were man made, or to be honest, created by a bunch of government union drones, not refilled with blacktop or marked with an orange cone. The question is whether this is utter incompetence, blatant indifference, spite or a business transaction between government drones and local tire dealers. Luckily, government traffic engineers have been too swamped to properly time the lights on Chestnut Street for the last 20 years, so no one can travel faster than 15 mph anyway.
Government lessens the pain of their ineptitude through their ineptitude in another area. They call that a win win in Philly. As the light at 57th and Chestnut remains on blinking yellow for a week, it makes you wonder what pressing issues are occupying the fine highly compensated union Streets employees.
I've now been navigating the crumbling ghetto of West Philly for the last ten years. I can without equivocation state I have not seen one new private business open its doors on Chestnut Street, in Mantua, or any other area I travel in West Philly during the entirety of those ten years. The existing businesses - nail and hair salons, fast food joints, bars, liquor stores, porn video outlets, smoke shops, car washes, more bars, and hysterically tax return offices (earned income tax credits) - haven't invested a dime in keeping up their appearances. Maybe they used all their spare cash to sure up the bars on their windows and the roll down steel gates necessary to keep the upstanding neighborhood honor student juveniles from having a little fun.
It appears there is an existential shortage of paint, hammers, garbage bags, wedding rings, and employed upstanding men taking responsibility for the children they father in West Philly. There is plenty of yellow crime scene tape, as West Philly accounts for a significant portion of Philadelphia's 280 annual murders (up 13% in 2015). Houses originally well built in the 1950s and with some upkeep would still be fine homes, are in disrepair, with collapsing porches, dilapidated gutters and roofs, crumbling sidewalks, boarded up windows, and satellite dishes on every one. The lucky end units usually have a mural of black people doing great things, with trash, garbage and overgrown weeds underneath and black people not doing great things shuffling along the streets.
As you witness the crumbling infrastructure of West Philly, with water mains bursting on a regular basis, streets sinking, houses falling down during heavy rainstorms, boarded up rat infested hovels housing drug addicts, and schools resembling prisons, it leaves you pondering how it came to this and why the fifty year War on Poverty left the people in these neighborhoods mover impoverished. I don't blame the people stuck living in West Philly. I blame the corrupt politicians who have run the city for the last sixty years.
Liberal solutions based upon welfare handouts, union government workers, idiotic solutions sold by slimy politicians and high taxes have combined to create a morass of uneducated, unmotivated, unmarried people who live in squalor created by the very politicians they have been voting for over the last six decades. The city has been under the complete control of the Democratic Party the entire time.
The only things built in West Philly in the last ten years are government boondoggle projects using taxpayer money. There is a new Social Security Administration building so it's easy to apply for SSDI because you're overweight and depressed. There are other government social services buildings to dole out various forms of welfare to the plantation recipients. The welfare slaves don't even notice their chains.
The government slave owners provide the bare minimum of sustenance to their ghetto slaves in return for their unquestioned voting support in elections. Obama received 98% of West Philly votes in the last election. There is no need for private businesses, new jobs, marriage (less benefits), personal responsibility, sense of community, education, or self respect. Government knows best and has all the solutions, until they run out of producers to tax into oblivion.
I've previously written about the $24 million 683 parking spot garage built on top of a perfectly fine ground level parking lot at the Philadelphia zoo, totally paid for by taxpayer funds and government debt. At least it was built at a 30% union construction premium. I drive by this testament to government pork every work day. It is closed in the morning. It is closed at night.
It is empty the entire winter. It is unoccupied at least 75% of the time during a given year. It will never be paid off by the minimal parking fees collected.
The privately owned parking garages in Center City are gold mines. Central Parking is highly profitable. This government created white elephant was unnecessary. The zoo gets busy on a few nice weather weekends all year. They had sufficient parking and overflow parking. It was built because the broke Federal government and the even more broke PA government forked over $16 million of taxpayer funds to create some temporary union construction jobs. It's a complete waste of taxpayer money.
And then there is the ongoing saga of the Section 8 gated estate called Mantua Square, a $28 million, 101 townhouse, 8 store front testimonial to Keynesian idiocy that sits in the middle of an Obama Keystone Zone. As you cross the bridge on 34th Street to enter the Mantua section of West Philly, there are beautiful murals on the bridge. There are murals of colorful flowers along the entire bridge.
I guarantee you they are the only flowers you'll ever see in Mantua. Weeds, diseased barren trees, garbage and crumbling sidewalks is what you get in West Philly, along with an occasional dead body. Mantua Square was one of Obama's shovel ready projects funded by his $800 billion porkulus package in 2009. Every dime came from taxpayers. It was touted as a game changer for Mantua. We were told businesses would open in the 8 pre-built retail spaces and other businesses would follow. A glorious revitalization would materialize due to brilliant government apparatchiks spending your money.
It is now 5 years later and not one storefront is occupied by a single business. Not one black entrepreneur has used their Philadelphia public school education to create a viable business and the jobs that would follow. Of course, no one living at Mantua Square would apply for a job anyway.
They would lose their welfare benefits and free housing. Plus it's only a short walk to the local church handing out free food every Thursday morning. The best part is that union construction workers spent the last six months replacing the facing of all 101 townhouse units due to shoddy union construction in the first place. No biggie. Just another couple million for the taxpayers to fund. The motto of government selected union construction firms in Philly is: "We're slow, we're incompetent, but at least we're the most expensive".
Did I mention this is gated Section 8 housing, with each unit costing over $250,000, when the median value of the hovels surrounding it is $36,000? The cars parked around this government white elephant include BMWs, Cadillacs, Lexus, and Ford F150s. I also see garbage strewn on the sidewalks, but as I pass by at 7:30 am on the way to my job I don't see anyone rushing out of their luxury townhouses because they are late for work.
The neighborhood is still a dangerous, drug infested, decaying shithole because one off government created projects do not change the culture or the people. More welfare promotes more dependency. Young black men get murdered in that neighborhood. A young child was raped on the way to school in that neighborhood. The school across from Mantua Square has been muraled, but the kids inside are unruly and uneducated.
Every public school in the city has metal detectors to cut down on the in school murders. They can do that out on the streets, where it belongs. And despite six decades of failed policies, the politicians, teacher's union, and liberals who run the city insist more taxpayer money will fix everything. One problem. They've run out of other people's money. Maybe the money spent on useless parking garages and Section 8 estates should have been spent replacing water pipes, streets, and encouraging businesses to open in the city through lower taxes and regulations.
I stumbled across an article in the Financial Times the other day revealing why Philadelphia's infrastructure is crumbling, with absolutely zero possibility of reversing the downward spiral. I find it fascinating a foreign publication had to uncover the ugly truth, while the liberal rag Phila. Inquirer is completely silent on the issue. They just spout the mantra of how the Feds and PA need to give Philadelphia more money. It's always for the children. The hundreds of billions poured into the public education system in this country over the last decade has been a complete waste of time, mainly because a huge portion of the money doesn't go towards education, but bloated pensions and administration costs.
More mediocre teachers, more government control, more social engineering, more free breakfasts and lunches, more catchy slogans and more promises have achieved steady declines in SAT scores across the board. The next solution is to phase out SAT scores. Measuring failure isn't allowed in our politically correct, trophy generation, safe spaces world. Reporting declines in scores on a test that has been an accurate predictor of college success for generations is a micro aggression against the intellectually stunted morons being matriculated through the government run public education system. The $14,000 to $20,000 per student per year spent by the taxpayers across this country just isn't enough according to those of a liberal ilk. The children would be smart if we just upped the ante by another $2,000 per kid. They'd hire more below average education majors into the teacher's union. That's a can't miss solution.
If you think the national scores are atrocious, and they are, wait until you see the scores from the Philadelphia School District. The students who took the SAT from Philadelphia public schools "achieved" these averages:
Reading - 398 (PA average was 480)
Math - 405 (PA average was 483)
It gets even better. Only the cream of the crop even took the exam. There were 25,768 students in the Phila. public school 11th and 12th grades. Only 5,172 students even took the exam, or 20%. Based on their scores, they probably wouldn't know how I arrived at 20%. To paraphrase George Carlin, when you see how stupid the 20% SAT takers are, just imagine how stupid the 80% who didn't take the exam must be. The SAT score predicts your possibility of achieving a passing grade in college.
Based on the scores of the Phila. students, less than 10% of high school seniors are capable of succeeding in college. To prove how warped our higher educational system has become, there were 8,439 graduates and 54% of them enrolled in college. If you were wondering where the hundreds of billions in taxpayer funded student loans are going - here's your answer. It's getting doled out to functional illiterates with zero chance of succeeding in college. There's a 100% chance you will end up paying for the billions in student loan defaults.
Despite a $2.8 billion annual budget, with over $1 billion coming from the State and Feds, the Phila. public school system is a complete and utter disaster. It is so bad the State had to seize control a few years ago by forming a commission to manage it. The buildings are dilapidated, rat infested, filled with mold, and need to be patrolled by police. Teachers are assaulted, principles fake test scores, students brawl, the learning materials are pitiful and little or no learning occurs. It begs to question, where did all the money go? Considering there are only 8,400 teachers and 300 principles, one wonders what the other 9,000 district employees actually do.
There are 199,000 public school students, but only 134,000 are in the Phila. district schools. The other 65,000 are in charter schools. The 16 to 1 student to teacher ratio equals the national average. There were 212,000 students in 2003 with less teachers. More government employees were hired even though student enrollment declined 6%. The teacher's union doesn't care about the children. They care about getting their teachers as much as possible, and they've done a phenomenal job getting below average teachers gold plated benefits and pensions. The government unions use their voting power over the Democrat politicians to shakedown the taxpayers.
It's a perfect storm of governmental incompetence, union greed, political corruption, parental disinterest, societal disintegration, and poor life choices, creating the downfall of Philadelphia and other urban enclaves around the country. The Phila. public school system consists of 80% minorities (60% black, 20% hispanic). Over 75% of the population in West Philly is black.
Over 71% of the black kids in West Philly are born out of wedlock. Only 17% of all households are occupied by married couples, while 40% are single mother households. The black men of West Philly are the primary culprits for this ongoing cesspool of ignorance, dependence, crime, and hopelessness. The disregard and scorn for the institution of marriage is a major reason for the median household income wallowing at $26,000, over 50% below the national average.
You get more of what you incentivize and the warped welfare policies in this country incentivize the people of West Philly to not get married and not work. So they don't. The best method to succeed in life is through higher education. It leads to higher lifetime income. Children from married households do better in school. Married couples also have a much better chance of producing higher household income. Marriage increases the odds of success tremendously for the married couple and their children. The residents of West Philly are caught in an inescapable cycle of poverty, exacerbated by the government welfare policies supposed to help them.
The Financial Times article details why spending on essential infrastructure needs has been ignored and why the future is even bleaker. Government worker pension funds across the nation are in deep trouble, with no chance of honoring their promises. Public pension plans have promised to pay out $4.7 trillion more than they have on hand. Every U.S. citizen would have to pitch in $15,000 to pay every government worker's promised pension. It's not gonna happen.
Black Rock, the world's largest money manager, expects 85% of U.S. public pensions to fail over the next three decades. Certain state pensions are ridiculously underfunded, with Illinois only able to cover 22% of its promised payments, Connecticut only 23%, and Kentucky only 24%. The Central States Pension Fund, which manages almost $18 billion for 400,000 workers in 37 states recently was forced to cut benefit payments by as much as 61%. Retirees currently getting monthly checks for $3,000 will only get $1,180 now.
This will happen to every government pension fund in the country because math is hard. Politicians promised government union workers more than they could ever deliver in order to secure their votes. Any government worker counting on these promises from corrupt politicians should acquire a taste for cat food and get used to setting their heat at 55 degrees in the winter. The City of Philadelphia has one of the worst pension schemes in the country. It is mathematically unsustainable, but no politician or union boss would ever utter those words to the citizens of their city. They'll just lie until its too late.
And it's even worse than the published numbers. According to its actuaries, the City pension owes government workers $10.5 billion, with only $4.8 billion of assets. The annual return assumption of 7.5% is ridiculously overstated. With bonds and stocks priced to deliver 0% returns over the next ten years, the pension is really underfunded by at least $8 billion and not the reported $5.7 billion. The retirement payouts to the 64,000 current and former government employees will eventually be slashed dramatically. It's just a matter of time.
According to FT:
The fund lost almost 20% in 2009 in the midst of the financial crisis. Overall, however, it has performed well, returning 7.4% a year on average since 1995, making its huge deficit all the more surprising. The pension contributions are eating up more and more of the city's budget, leaving less money to spend on services such as the fire brigade, police and recycling. The cost of pension contributions has increased from 6% of the city's budget to 15% over the past decade.The contractually required pension contributions are on automatic pilot to consume 20% of the city budget over the next five years, and the plan will still be underfunded by 60% to 70%. The average pension plan in the U.S. is "only" underfunded by 25%. Rather than deal with reality, city politicians have funded the pension deficits with higher sales taxes and cigarette taxes, further punishing their poorest citizens. As pensions account for an ever larger share of the city budget, the infrastructure of the city and schools will continue to crumble. Businesses and the producer class will continue to flee the city as taxes are relentlessly raised to honor union worker contracts. The downward spiral will accelerate.
FT was flabbergasted by the ridiculous nature of a plan created by corrupt politicians and greedy unions:
Despite the strain the pension fund puts on the city's services, the scheme paid out a bonus to its members last year. Under the city's rules, when the fund performs better than its target, some retirees get a bonus. In 2014, the scheme returned 15.7%, double its target. The bonus payout is one of the few topics Mr Dubow seems reluctant to discuss -- notably whether it is controversial to pay bonuses to retired members when the scheme has less than half the money it needs for those actively paying into it. He cautiously responds that this is a requirement of the fund and will not discuss the matter further.
Heads the union workers win, tails the taxpayer loses. When the market does well select high level retirees get bonus payments, but when the market performs below expectations there is no penalty for those same retirees. The fiscal debacle destroying Philadelphia was willfully constructed over decades by corrupt politicians, incompetent bureaucrats, greedy government unions, and a foolish citizenry who believed the lies and were too ignorant to do the math. A city run by welfare redistributionists eventually runs out of other people's money. The wisest citizen in Philadelphia history understood the danger of creating a welfare culture 250 years ago. He was a big supporter of education (founded the University of Pennsylvania) and lifting yourself up by your bootstraps to succeed in life. Too bad his wisdom was not heeded.
"I am for doing good to the poor, but...I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed...that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer."
- Benjamin Franklin