June 3, 2010

RI has 2 of 7 "Junkiest Cities"

Marc Comtois


Think Greece and Spain are drowning in debt? Look a little closer to home. Seven U.S. cities recently had their municipal bonds downgraded below investment grade. Their debt is now junk, considered more worthless than that of the so-called PIIGS.

"America's short-term budget crises, long-term growth perspectives and needs for austerity are similar [to Greece]," said Matt Fabian, managing director at Concord, Mass.-based consulting firm Municipal Market Advisors.

Last quarter, Moody's Investor Services declared the debt issued by Harrisburg, Penn., and Woonsocket, R.I., to be junk, or below-investment grade. Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings currently has four other cities in the basement -- Detroit and Pontiac, Mich.; Harvey, Ill.; and Littlefield, Texas -- while Standard and Poor's has one -- Central Falls, R.I.

These seven cities are struggling under the weight of the recession. Residents are unemployed, and without a job, they can't pay their property taxes, which are the foundation of local budgets. And cities' operating expenses continue to soar; pension and debt payments don't go away. And as their credit gets worse, the cost of borrowing for municipal projects -- such as sewer plants and roads -- just gets more expensive.

"The fiscal stress is severe in cities around the country, and it's likely to stick around for at least a couple of more years," said Chris Hoene, director of policy and research at the National League of Cities.

2 of 7 from little Rhody? Ignomious distinction to say the least and reflective of deep cultural and political problems that we're all familiar with.

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Another proud day for RI...The GA should be so proud of their performance in running this state into the ground. Local leaders should be proud as well.

Posted by: JTR at June 3, 2010 10:24 AM

Hope I don't get my wrist slapped for this self-promotion, but I saw that too and put my writeup here:

A sad state of affairs indeed.

Posted by: Patrick at June 3, 2010 10:49 AM

We can kill multiple birds with one stone:

Regionalize into one municipality, to reflect the true nature of this city-state;

Get rid of the "racist" name "Providence Plantations" and

Engage in some "truth in advertising."


Rename this New England state to "New Detroit" since that is the path that the Democrat General Assembly has us on, and is determined to keep us on.

In other words, does anyone believe that the future of the whole state more resembles a thriving metropolis (e.g., Austin, TX) or the has-been wastelands like Central Falls and Woonsocket? These junkiest cities are harbingers of RI's future.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at June 3, 2010 11:02 AM

And considering how far behind the reality wave the rating agencies are, you can bet that the real number of cities in several financial distress is much larger than the few identified by Moody's, S&P and Fitch.

Posted by: BobN at June 3, 2010 12:00 PM

RIFuture will be up for sale in a few months. Perhaps we could all pitch in to buy it and use it to host pictures of the voids you describe as an economic warning sign.

Posted by: Dan at June 3, 2010 12:22 PM

Reflects well on the political "leadership" Woonsocket and Central Falls have had in recent years, eh?

Posted by: rhody at June 3, 2010 2:10 PM

Rhody, you're right. It is. Moreau has a chance of being led out of CF's city hall in handcuffs and Susan Menard was a nightmare for Woonsocket.

Unfortunately, Moreau is still in office, but Woonsocket has had a new mayor for just a few months now. Hopefully he'll be able to improve things there.

Posted by: Patrick at June 3, 2010 3:19 PM

I think there are a lot of reasons for RI's problems, some systemic and some visionary.

CF, WOonsocket and a number of others "were" mill towns, or manufacturing centers. They no loner are, unfortunately they cannot decide what they are now. In consequence, they don't know what direction to take.

RI politics has a reputatioon for being so shabby, that people of experience and vision don't want to dirty their hands. I'm not sure that I blame them. Do you p-ss into the wind, or do you take your family to a place with better prospects.

What I hear passing for "vision" is tourism. Great, more low wage jobs that "Americans won't do".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at June 3, 2010 5:10 PM

>>RI politics has a reputatioon for being so shabby, that people of experience and vision don't want to dirty their hands. I'm not sure that I blame them.

Such as the latest Paiva-Weed stunt?

And that's relatively benign by RI Democrat standards, given Operation Dollar Bill, RISDIC etc. etc. etc.

>>Do you p-ss into the wind, or do you take your family to a place with better prospects.

A few years ago the ProJo ran a story about RI and Michigan being the only two states losing population (Rhode Island IN SPITE OF the influx of illegals and anchor babies). They ran a concurrent poll on whether you'd leave RI if you could.

Something like 70% said "YES!" The accompanying comments -- hundreds if not thousands of them -- were astounding in their bitterness and cynicism regarding RI's past and future.

Several also commented from elsewhere about having left RI, how much better the "lifestyle" was elsewhere (notwithstanding RI's perennial "we have a great lifestyle" excuse for not tackling major issues). All of them, or at least almost all of them, expressed no desire to return (perhaps to visit, but not to live here).

It'd be fascinating if the ProJo ran more polls on peoples outlook for the future of RI, and their desire to stay or leave.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at June 3, 2010 6:13 PM

Ragin' Rhode Islander,

Just what makes you think Providence Plantations is "racist”?

I was born and raised in Rhode Island and Providence Plantation for over 60 years and if it were not the fact that Rhode Island and Providence Plantation provides no benefits for people to retire in the state I would still be living there.

I moved from Rhode Island and Providence Plantation to Honolulu, Hawaii to live in a Valley Plantation condominium complex. As far as I’m concerned the 26 acre plantation is a fine place to live and I find nothing “racist” about living in a plantation or the use of the word. As a matter of fact there are plenty of plantations throughout Hawaii and the people here love them and it’s a way of life here. Hawaii has the most diverse ethnic population in the nation and the highest percentage of ethnic inter-marriages in the nation.

Providence Plantations was alive and well long before the Civil War was fought.

The Civil War ended over 200 years ago. Don’t you think it’s about time you stopped fighting the war? The only thing "racist” about Providence Plantations is in your mind.

If you want to remove and erase the Providence Plantations as "racist” then I think you should incur the cost to change all the state, city and town letterheads and paperwork, badges, crests and logos, school department books, federal paperwork and history books.

Posted by: Ken at June 3, 2010 6:15 PM

Ken, he doesn't. He's being sarcastic with how people like Joe Almeida claims that the name is racist.

Nice diatribe though.

Posted by: Patrick at June 3, 2010 6:20 PM

Woonsocket was once a very vibrant city. It had a Mardi Gras parade with floats that rivaled New Orleans. The Social District was home to the Atlantic Fleet station at Quonset Point. There were liberty busses shuttling sailors almost every day into Woonsocket.

I lived in the city for close to 35 years and worked in city hall for a while.

There was a master plan for the city but politics and CVS got in the way. When the Atlantic Fleet was moved to Norfolk and the mills started shutting down and moving south the city found itself dying. As such small businesses started moving out of the city. A Pawtucket developer with the help of RI Congressman started building elderly housing and section 8 apartment complexes.

There was a master plan to revitalize main street Woonsocket into a Montreal like underground city and restore the Social District into a Providence like East Side District of old historical homes. For reasons unknown plans were scrapped and the Social District and flat lands were demolished in favor of building a whole new downtown leaving main street barren. Meanwhile mall construction was ongoing on the east side of the city on the Cumberland line splitting shopping areas.

CVS started exploding in size and a new industrial park was proposed on the west Cumberland boarder where there was access to I-295. RT-99 was being proposed as a link from I-295 to I-495 politics and CVS intervened and RT-99 was moved to dead-end at CVS new headquarters.

Woonsocket also smelled money when it bid for the regional waste treatment plant figuring all surrounding cities and towns would have to tie in their sewer systems. To the city’s surprise nobody wanted to tie in because of high cost leaving Woonsocket to run a massive regional plant on its own with no income resources.

The various recessions have caused local business to close up shop mainly to splintering of the city-wide shopping which is mainly now in east Woonsocket shopping strip malls or on 146 at Park Square. Main Street is still neglected. The savings and loan scandal also took its toll. Empty buildings in Social District are now been taken over by CVS making CVS the dominant employer in the city.

Many of the younger families have moved out and investors from Mass moved in buying up empty houses for quick flipping driving up prices. There has been some movement to turn vacant mills into condos with many young professionals working in downtown Boston buying in (12 min to nearest T-station).

Essentially 3 mayors, 3 recessions, one savings and loan scandal, lack of a unified city-wide development plan, local politics and one major business greed have helped drive Woonsocket to where it now is.

Posted by: Ken at June 3, 2010 7:03 PM

New Detroit is right on. How about East Newark or East Gary?

Hey Ken, as always you take 1000 words to desribe a problen where only one is needed-

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at June 3, 2010 8:40 PM

Well, we know that any smart person like Dan would simple leave rather than just complain. After all, why would anyone live somewhere which caused them to spend their days and nights complaining about it? Sounds like an abusive relationship to me!

How about a relatively accurate picture of these horrible junk ratings? What is the total amount of bonds that these two places have - compared to the total bonds of the entire state?

Stats like that might allow us to see this in context, rather than another complaint by chicken little that says the Sky is Falling.

Posted by: Stuart at June 3, 2010 9:22 PM

>>Ragin' Rhode Islander, Just what makes you think Providence Plantations is "racist”?


As Patrick noted, I was being sarcastic.

Recall that some of the gnat-like intellects that infest Smith Hill recently sought to remove that portion of the state name.

Similar ilk to the gnats in Washington, D.C. a few years ago who went ape because some official used the word "niggardly."

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at June 3, 2010 9:39 PM

Woonsocket? Nothing progressive about Baldelli, Lanctot or Menard (or any legislators they backed), that's for damned sure.

Posted by: rhody at June 3, 2010 10:03 PM

Tommy Cranston,

My father is a Toastmaster and taught me well! At 95 he still gets behind the podium!

Posted by: Ken at June 3, 2010 11:10 PM

Greece, Spain, Woonsocket, Central Falls... there's got to be some common thread...what could it be?

oh, yeah - Bush's fault!

Posted by: George at June 4, 2010 1:38 PM
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