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Posted by on Aug 1, 2009 in Health, Politics, Society | 13 comments

The Prince of Gracie Square and the Paupers of Jefferson County

Jefferson County, Alabama — which includes the city of Birmingham — is facing draconian cuts in county and municipal services that will affect thousands of people:

It is hardly unusual these days for a government building to forgo a fresh paint job or regular lawn care to cut costs. But last week, the director of the Jefferson County public nursing home was told that the county could no longer afford to bury indigent patients.

Across town at the juvenile detention center, the man in charge was trying to figure out how to feed the 28 children in his custody when the entire cafeteria staff is let go. The tax collector warned local school districts to expect a six-month delay to get their share of property taxes. In family court, administrators plan to delay child support, custody and child abuse cases, leaving some children in the hands of the state indefinitely.

In every part of Jefferson County — Alabama’s most populous county and its main economic engine — government managers have been scrambling to prepare for Saturday, when two-thirds of county employees eligible for layoffs — up to 1,400 — will be lost in an effort to stave off financial ruin.
Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham, could be compared to a person who has lost his job, watched his retirement investments evaporate and is stuck with a house that is worth less than what he owes the bank. Some of the county’s woes stem from the financial crisis that has pounded so many communities: its sales and property tax revenues are down by $40 million, and it borrowed billions in a sewer bond boondoggle that is the municipal equivalent of a subprime mortgage, using failed exotic bond deals and swaps concocted by investment bankers.

But the county has additional troubles: the sewer project was riddled with corruption, and in January a court ruled that a tax the county relied on for more than a quarter of its general fund was illegal because the Legislature repealed it in 1999.

State lawmakers could easily fix that problem by re-enacting the tax, but deliberations have dragged on even as the county has halted road maintenance, delayed opening a courthouse, announced plans to close half its customer service locations and asked department heads to submit the names of those who would be laid off on Saturday.

Of course, it’s easy enough to feel sorry for an elderly woman living in a nursing home that’s about to be shut down due to budget cuts, but it takes a real prince chump to stand up for the families in New York City making $250,000 a year who are struggling to survive while the redistributive Evil Ones siphon off all their money to give to the poor.