One factor that is never mentioned is that these local politicians depend on the votes of the municipal employees and their families. In old "Eastern" cities like Detroit, this group can constitute as much as 25-30% of the actual voting population. Thus, if you keep the city employees happy you can virtually guarantee your being re-elected in perpetuity. This is why you see this long history of city union contracts (salaried people get wages and benefits that follow) with NO concession of any sort, despite dramatic changes in the private sector. The politicians have simply been buying these votes with taxpayer money. And nothing ever changes. That's why the Detroit B'ruptcy ruling of a couple days ago is so huge. It breaks the dike that has been built around city workers' pay and benefits (esp. health insurance and pensions).