Everyone is clear about what they don't want
It's not a great mystery why our political leadership hasn't resolved the Jefferson County sewer debt crisis. Anyone who has ever ordered a pizza with a large group of people can understand the problem.
I'm allergic to onions.
Alright then, no onions.
I'm a vegetarian.
That means the meat-lovers is out. Never could tell the difference between ham and Canadian bacon.
And no anchovies!
I don't think anyone was suggesting anchovies, but nonetheless, no anchovies. Come to think of it, has anyone ever seen anchovies on a pizza before?
Well, lactose can't tolerate you, either.
Nothing. So we're down to dough and sauce. Thin crust or hand-tossed everybody?
I can't have gluten.
What the hell is gluten?
Pretty much anything to do with bread.
And so on and so forth. A half an hour later someone says out loud to no one in general, "Haven't we ordered a pizza yet? I'm starving!"
The problem for Jefferson County is that all the parties involved know what they don't want to do to resolve the crisis.
Bettye Fine Collins
The county commission president doesn't want bankruptcy, which runs crosswise with her sententious sensibilities.
She's served in office longer than any of the current commissioners. She was there when some of the former commissioners arrived, and she was there when they went to jail. She was there when most of these bond deals were done, and despite a lot of grousing over her colleagues junkets to New York, she voted for most of the bond deals and swaps that went south.
She doesn't want anyone to remember this, and she especially doesn't want anyone to remind her constituents of it.
Also, she doesn't want anything Jim Carns wants.
Doesn't want bankruptcy. Doesn't want to go to jail. Luckily exorbitant grass-cutting contracts pale in comparison to the $3.9 billion bond problem. Still, it's curious a populist such as Smoot wouldn't want to wrestle with Wall Street. Maybe she doesn't want something to come out in court that we don't yet know about.
Doesn't want to pay Wall Street - in particular JPMorgan - a dime more than what's available from net sewer revenues. Carns argument is that net sewer revenues is all we are contractually obligated to pay. What's more, Carns doesn't want to cut any deals with Wall Street - especially JPMorgan - until the banks and insurers answer for any corruption or collusion that might have happened behind the scenes. Carns does want bankruptcy, which would provide and avenue for that.
Also, he doesn't want anything Bettye Fine Collins wants.
Same as Carns.
The newest commissioner, Bell doesn't want anyone to remember that when running for the office he made a campaign promise to hold the banks accountable. He keeps a low profile, because now that he's in office, he mostly doesn't want to be notice.
Like all the other commissioners, he has said he doesn't want to raise sewer rates any further. He doesn't want to declare bankruptcy. And he doesn't want to face the fact that, as the commission's swing-vote, he must choose between the two.
No matter all their bravado, the banks really don't want to answer for what some of their bankers did for the last decade or two. Several JPMorgan public finance bankers have received target letters from the Justice Department and SEC. JPMorgan fired those bankers, but it the deals those bankers put together remain in place. The last thing JPMorgan wants is for any of those bankers to take a seat on a witness stand. "Former employee pleads Fifth" is a headline no one wants to read, except for Carns, Humphryes and Jefferson County sewer rate payers.
The bond insurers don't want to admit that the insurance they sold was nothing but a bunch of high-finance snake oil. If Jefferson County can't pay its bond debt, then the insurers are on the hook for that money. The problem is that the insurers bet badly on mortgage-backed securities, so they don't have the money to pay off the bonds, either.
The insurers also don't want to admit that much of this disaster is their fault. Because they invested badly, the ratings agencies downgraded them. Because they were downgraded, the fine print in all those bond deals Jefferson County did now require the county to pay outrageous interest rates, sometimes in excess of 10 percent.
Instead, the insurers want to put the county into receivership, another way to squeeze blood from our turnip.
Gov. Bob Riley
Riley does want bankruptcy, either. This is because his attitude toward bankruptcy is moralistic and overly simple - based mostly on getting stiffed in his personal business ventures by other businesses that went into bankruptcy.
Riley, like most politicians, doesn't want to deal with details or nuance. He doesn't want to lawyer up or depend on financial advisers to strategize the negotiations.
Most members of the Jefferson County legislative delegation don't want to do anything but make the county commission look worse than it already does. Most don't want to help, and the few who do want to help don't want to learn enough about the issue to make smart decisions.
A few do want to posture in the press and in front of constituents about how they're trying to help, but when you press them on what plan they actually have, they claim there is no plan. Want to cut funding for Cooper Green Mercy Hospital? No, they don't want to do that. But wasn't that part of a plan they floated to their colleagues a couple of months ago? Wont' admit that either. It was just a draft/idea/fart-in-the-wind/whatever.
They don't want to go broke for flushing their toilets.
War on Dumb is a column about political culture. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org