US And Greek Cities Refuse To Service Debt As Next Stage Of Solvency Crisis Shifts From Sovereign To Local Governments

Now that the Greek striking truckers have been placated and the obliterated critical tourist season can attempt to salvage itself with just one month left as gas is finally once again (partially) available, some were hoping for at least a brief return to normal in the ECB/IMF-subsidized country. Alas, no such luck, as Greece has now become an accelerated version of the US' own slow progress to all out insolvency. As the country's foreign debt hole has been plugged for the time being with limitless cash infusions, and the financial system lives day to day as Greek banks are allowed to pledge whatever trash they find in the dumpster to the ECB, the next flash point are defaulting local governments, the equivalent of our own state and municipal crisis. Late last week, Kathimerini disclosed that the Athens port town of Piraeus has decided to stop "all payments following a central government decision to stop funding the debt-ridden authority. Having seen the kind of moral hazard allowed to his sovereign equivalents, the mayor Panaytois Fasoulas essentially says he believes he is owed a preferential debt restructuring: "Fasoulas said his municipality was not seeking privileged treatment but wanted to renegotiate the payment of its debts, paying larger installments at a lower interest rate." Surely, he is fully entitled to his ludicrous demands after what happened in Europe in the first half of 2010, and in the US in the past two years. We are only surprised that our own bankrupt cities haven't figured out that the right approach is precisely this: refuse payments unless demands are met. In fact, as reported in St. Louis Today, the near bankrupt city of East St. Louis, which just laid off 30% of its police force, has announced it would not make a scheduled $500,000 payment. "On Friday, the city approved a proposal to defer bond payments until next year in order to free up $500,000." In realizing that creditors don't really have a loaded gun pointed at their heads, US cities are finally waking up to what has been all too obvious to Europe for many months now. Look for the domino chain of state and municipal failures to really pick up in earnest over the next several quarters now that the creditor vs debtor battle lines have been openly set.

More from Kathimerini:

Addressing a press conference, Fasoulas requested a meeting with government officials to find a solution that will allow the municipality to make good on its obligations - to citizens, employees and creditors. The mayor did not rule out the possibility of strike action - without determining what form this would take - to demand the monthly disbursement of some 1.6 million euros.

Piraeus City Hall currently owes some 210 million euros in debts amassed over the past 20 years. Over the past three years, the government has withheld state grants from Piraeus municipal authorities. Fasoulas yesterday described the government's stance as «provocative,» noting that a total of 44 million euros had been spent on paying off municipal debts during his three years as mayor, while only 12 million euros had been spent during the eight years that his predecessor, Christos Agrapidis, had held the post. Fasoulas said his municipality was not seeking privileged treatment but wanted to renegotiate the payment of its debts, paying larger installments at a lower interest rate.

In a related development on Wednesday, municipal workers on the Ionian island of Zakynthos launched an open-ended walkout to demand three months in outstanding wages they claim to have been denied by cash-strapped authorities. The employees handed over the keys to the regional office for the Ionian islands in a symbolic gesture and said they would not return to work until authorities paid their outstanding salaries. The protesters accused their superiors of «whiling away their time in chic cafes while hundreds of municipal employees struggle to make ends meet» and called on Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis to intervene and ensure they get paid.

It is unclear if the IMF will take on the burden of bailing out insolvent Greek cities before the specter of televized violent escalations once again is considered. And just because our own back yard is in such fine shape, we are confident US taxpayers will be all for taking their tax money and saving cities thousands of miles away, even as police forces across the country are decimated for lack of minimal funding.

h/t Mike and Neal

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