California Cities Don’t Need Bankruptcy. They Need

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Bankruptcy, whether you are a person or a California municipal government, is a tough, lonely process. If you're a city, you may be able to get out from some commitments, but you're likely to have to start over, by yourself, in a weakened position.

That's why struggling cities do -- and should -- avoid bankruptcy court. It's also why predictions of mass bankruptcies -- beyond those in Stockton, Vallejo, Mammoth Lakes, and now San Bernardino -- are unlikely to come true.

But struggling cities have real problems, and face real pain. And since bankruptcy is such a problematic option, what should they do?

The answer: share their pain. With other cities, preferably ones they love.

Here's some relationship advice for California municipalities: don't go bankrupt. Consolidate. Hook up with neighbors and see if you can share services, or maybe even get married. Economies of scale can be real -- and lead to real savings. California already has far too many cities in the state--nearly 500. And since municipalities are the biggest spenders in the state -- we are at or near the top in national rankings in public employee compensation, especially for law enforcement -- there's potential for real savings via consolidation of cities.

But how to find compatible partners?

Someone should come up with a for cities, an online dating site for those who want to get together and do some hot-and-heavy consolidating.

Because it's best not to face fiscal crisis alone.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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