When States Take Over Financially Troubled Local Governments

Link: https://www.route-fifty.com/finance/2023/02/state-takeover-city-government-chester-pennsylvania-bankruptcy/382677/


A number of states have programs in which they actively monitor municipal finances and roughly 20 have emergency manager laws allowing for direct intervention. People have long debated how effective these oversight programs are at generating a real recovery and what the right level of intervention even is. Duly elected city officials don’t like being told what to do by state overseers. States on the other hand, typically want troubled cities to just buckle down and take their advice—even if it’s tough medicine.

So while the whole point of these programs is to avoid or mitigate extreme distress, they can also create or exacerbate tension between cities and states along the way. 

By all accounts, Chester’s approach to being placed in Pennsylvania’s municipal distress program in 1995 was to just ignore the state’s advice. Fred Reddig, a retired state official who has coordinated recovery plans for a number of distressed municipalities, worked on Chester’s case from 1995 to the early 2000s. He recalls that during that time, it was difficult to compel local officials to follow any of the state’s recommendations and that relations were tense. 


Rob DiAdamo, a lecturer at Boston University’s law school who teaches a class on state and local governance, noted many communities that end up under some form of state oversight had structural economic problems long before the state intervened.

“It may be more effective for the state to be looking at how to bring opportunities back to these communities than wait for the crisis and have people argue about the best way to address it,” he said. “It’s like waiting for the patient to have a heart attack and discussing treatment options when the crisis could have potentially been avoided by first encouraging healthier eating habits and exercise.”

Author(s): Liz Farmer

Publication Date: 7 Feb 2023

Publication Site: Route Fifty