‘Budget Cruncher’ details Trenton, Philadelphia financial crisis

The reality of the global finance crisis was brought home on March 7 when Scott Pinkelman, a member of the Philadelphia Budget Crunchers, explained how Trenton and Philadelphia mirror greater economic problems.

Philadelphia Budget Crunchers is an organization dedicated to educating people on the financial crisis with multimedia workshops, according to its Web site.

The event included a brief history of the current financial crisis and how it affects people on the local level.

Pinkelman also included information regarding grassroots movements that have started in Philadelphia in response to the municipal budget crisis.

“We do these presentations because we want to educate people and give people the tools to start up (organizations like) the Coalition for Essential Services,” Pinkelman said.

Pinkelman used the Coalition for Essential Services and the Coalition to Save the Libraries as examples of “people power” in Philadelphia.

Due to the budget crisis in the city, services like libraries and public pools were slated to be closed in an effort to cover losses. The citizens of Philadelphia, however, protested and organized these movements to save them.

“It’s been really inspiring to be a part of, even if just in a marginal way,” Pinkelman said.

Pinkelman explained that the crisis in Philadelphia has several causes, similar to the global financial crisis. Shortfalls in pension funds for civil servants played an integral role, especially since the money for these funds came from the stock market.

He also noted that there have been temporary increases in sales and property taxes and “they affect people with less wages relatively more. The more you make, the less taxes you have to pay.”

There has been a history of inadequate budget decisions in the city, Pinkelman said. “Philadelphia has, since the early 1990s, consistently been underfunding pension funds,” he said. “It was also interesting to note how the mayor never mentioned that there has been this sort of history in the city. He just wanted to start cutting things that people needed like libraries.”

Pinkelman correlated Philadelphia’s crisis with the current financial state in Trenton. Due to the fact that the city will have an estimated $100 million shortfall in the fiscal year 2010, Gov. Jon S. Corzine has implemented deferrals for the municipal government’s pension contribution, which in other words, can be paid at a later date.

“This is what Philadelphia did for years since the early 1990s,” Pinkelman said. He also discussed the sale of Trenton Water Works pipelines to New Jersey American Water Co. at an estimated $20 million in an effort to help the city.

He noted that the state will only allow Trenton to count it as $7 million. These pipelines were previously public and “now there’s going to be a company making profit” off of a necessity, he said.

Due to the fact that many public services are being privatized, “the needs of people aren’t met . Taxes are going up, services are going down,” Pinkelman said. “I’m a lot more interested in how everyday people are affected.”

Pinkelman also included in his presentation a brief explanation of what potentially caused the global financial crisis, inviting members of the audience to offer their own opinions.

He was also asked if the United States is headed toward another Great Depression and whether President Barack Obama be able to fix the economy. Pinkelman acknowledged that there are no simple answers.

“I don’t entirely understand it,” he said when discussing the reasons behind the financial downfall, “and the people running it didn’t entirely understand it because obviously, everything has gone to hell.”

He concluded by discussing the global repercussions of the financial crisis. He explained the current state of capitalism, global neoliberalism and their ability to sell public services.

“By its more harsh critics, it’s been called ‘modern imperialism,'” he said. “It benefits not necessarily you and me but the wealthiest investors.”

The presentation was set up by the Bonner Center at the College, specifically Todd Stoner, a staff member of the Center.

“Obviously it’s a very prevalent issue and it’s very complex,” Stoner said regarding the workshop’s subject. “It’s certainly of value to have this event because even I study this and I don’t understand a lot of it.”

Stoner met Pinkelman when he was studying abroad in Chile and they remained in contact, especially when Pinkelman moved to Philadelphia.

“He asked if he could bring (his workshop) to the College,” Stoner explained. “I brought (his proposal) to the Bonner Center and they supported it.”

Pinkelman said, “I’m really excited to be doing this at universities, but we want to do this for people who didn’t necessarily have access to university education. We want to be sharing with people what’s been happening in Philadelphia.”