If you have $4 billion lying around, you might be able to purchase Jefferson County, Alabama, which includes the city of Birmingham. Wait, I know what you’re going to say–do I have to take Birmingham?
Thankfully it hasn’t come to that yet; I say “yet” because the situation in Jefferson county is severely fucked:
For all the talk in Washington about taxes and deficits, here is a place where government finances, and government itself, have simply broken down. The county, which includes the city of Birmingham, is drowning under $4 billion in debt, the legacy of a big sewer project and corrupt financial dealings that sent 17 people to prison.
The sewer project that the article references is a delightful example of how corrupt the private sector can actually be, and how that corruption can completely fuck a municipality:
Birmingham, which had thrived from Reconstruction to the mid-1960s as an iron and steel town, had been declining for years. Why not embark on a giant public works project, a Taj Mahal of sewage systems, to foster jobs and development?
Jefferson County began to borrow vast sums of money, but that money, it turned out, was a perfect medium for graft and contract-padding. Rather than replacing more than 2,000 miles of decrepit sewer pipes, the county dispensed contracts to build water treatment plants, pumping stations and administrative buildings, some on slag heaps left behind by closed steel mills.
The cost of project was meant to be recouped in fees paid by the users of the service; unfortunately, those users never got the chance because the scam became clear when fees nearly doubled in a short amount of time. Eventually, the scam failed, and it cost millions to fix the bungling of the various contractors. Thankfully, many of the assholes who profited from the scheme went to jail–including a former mayor of Birmingham.
Cut to some further bad investments and the failure of 2008 and you’ve suddenly got a county that’s bankrupt and $4 billion in debt.
Public-private partnerships aren’t always a bad thing, but in a state where the constitution was written to privilege business interests (read: rich white people) over the interests of the residents, such partnerships can be catastrophic. Especially when the public officials are high-caliber anal sores.
But who knows, maybe they’ll get lucky and some new Facebook IPO billionaire will offer to buy the county. Because that kind of seems to be where we’re headed in general.
Hey France, can I sleep on your couch for a while?