Roberto Gualtieri, seven hills and two mountains: debt and waste

Roberto Gualtieri, seven hills and two mountains: debt and waste
Roberto Gualtieri, seven hills and two mountains: debt and waste

A largely unsatisfied citizenship, a debt monster, public transport not up to the level of a capital, poor cleanliness and separate collection far from the set objectives, opaque and cumbersome governance of subsidiaries and a clear inability to collect credits. Problems of difficult and certainly not immediate solution, but also challenges such as the 2025 Jubilee and the candidacy for Expo 2030. It is the Rome that the new mayor Roberto Gualtieri is about to inherit after five years of Virginia Raggi’s government. Today, the former Minister of Economy of the Conte II government goes up to Palazzo Senatorio to exchange deliveries with the outgoing mayor and discuss the most important dossiers.

The appointments and the formation of the council will be only the first formal steps of that five-year project which, according to Gualtieri’s idea, will transform the capital into the “city of 15 minutes”, or rather all the essential services available to every Roman citizen in a quarter of ‘Now. Right from the start, according to the electoral promises, the new council will dedicate itself to the waste emergency, with an extraordinary cleaning plan, and then dedicate itself to increasing the share of separate waste collection – target 70% at the end of the council – with the aim of reduce the Tari by 20%.

Noble intent, on refusals as on many other dossiers, outlined in Gualtieri’s electoral program which soon, however, will have to deal with a starting situation that is not at all rosy. Although the Raggi administration has promised (and largely failed) to relaunch the capital, many critical issues are still all there, scattered over an area of ​​almost 1300 square kilometers which makes Rome the largest metropolitan area in Europe (an extension higher than the territories of Milan, Naples, Turin, Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Palermo and Bari put together), divided into 15 municipalities and 155 urban areas, for a resident population of just under three million that become almost six million every day with the influx of students and commuter workers. Suffice it to say that the I Municipio has a number of inhabitants equal to Catania, the II equal to Verona, the III equal to Messina. The overall average income tax in the capital is well above the national average (27,700 euros against 21,600) but with profound social disparities between the various municipalities. About a quarter of the Roman population is at risk of social exclusion and about 40% have an income of less than 15 thousand euros.

Any analysis on the conditions of Rome must (unfortunately) start from its financial situation. And first of all from the maxi-debt that the capital has been carrying around for decades. The new mayor Gualtieri will no longer have to deal with a commissioner governance of the historic debt, the famous 12 billion inherited by Virginia Raggi from previous councils. In 2007, Rome’s debt already amounted to more than seven billion. In those years the capital entered a deep financial crisis not so much due to debt but due to lack of liquidity, in turn triggered by the crisis in the Lazio Region due to the debts that emerged in the health accounts.

The now famous ‘bad bank’ of the Roman debt dates back to that period, financed for 500 million each year (300 from the State, 200 from the Romans) which will formally close starting from January 2022, thanks to the Save-Rome Decree of the Conte Government. Part of the debts went to the State, which thus saved on management costs, the remaining part managed directly by the Municipality of Rome which, thanks to the renegotiation of mortgages, estimates it will save about two and a half billion under the repayment plan by 2048, to be diverted – according to the former mayor – to the reduction of personal income tax, the highest in the Italian municipalities. The rate of the surcharge is in fact 0.9%, and about half of the surcharge paid by residents in the Eternal City is intended for the repayment of the accumulated historical debt.

From a financial point of view, Gualtieri will not have to deal with the risk, real until recently, of a financial crisis in the commissioner structure. Public accounts have returned to a sustainable trajectory, with ordinary debt decreased by 300 million between 2017 and 2019, according to the 2019 report. Suffice it to say that between 2009 and 2013, as noted in an analysis of the former Deputy Mayor of Marino, Marco Causi, there was an imbalance between annual income and expenses of 800 million. The new council, however, will have to deal with the ordinary management of an articulated, complex, cumbersome and still opaque system today. And it will certainly have to rebalance the serious imbalance that has been created over the years between current spending and investment spending, the latter literally collapsing, if we exclude the latest planning document approved by the Capitoline assembly.

On the other hand, Rome is not an easy city to manage, as is well known, and not only because of its extension, the spending constraints introduced after the 2008 crisis that mainly affected local authorities, or the historically inadequate regional funding for as regards transport, a great criticality of the capital, only partially compensated by the state. Rome and the whole province represent more than 80% of the GDP of the entire Lazio region but for some time the Municipality has been asking for more powers to overcome evident administrative problems, cumbersome apparatuses, slowness in bureaucratic procedures, inability to collect taxes (in four of the in the last five years, the ‘uncollected’ has an average of 35%, a fair share represented by Tari) and in the expenditure of resources already committed in previous years (in 2019 they reached a historical record of 820 million).

As Causi points out, in Rome the current per capita expenditure in 2019 was around 1500 euros, a good 20% less than in Milan. But the real problem facing Gualtieri will first of all be how to relaunch investment spending, which has been dying for several years now. Of the total municipal expenditure, in 2018 that on capital account represented only 4.2% against 17% in Florence and 20% in Naples. Causi also notes that in the five-year period 2015-2019 the total investments financed by the Roman municipality amounted to 1.6 billion, in Milan two billion. The Raggi administration seems to have practiced prudence in financial management, concentrating investments only in the last year of the council, with a three-year plan of 1.5 billion in capital account, 450 million for Ama and just under a billion for public transport.

Gualteri inherits a deeply dissatisfied city from Raggi. According to a survey by the CGIL and Sbilanciamoci !, 72% of residents believe that the quality of life has decreased, only 26% are satisfied with transport, and only 8% with cleanliness. Many believe that the previous administration’s inability to manage waste – with the images of the streets invaded by garbage that have gone around the world – is one of the main causes behind the electoral failure of the Rays. In 2019, separate collection was 45.5% (compared to 42.9% in 2016), far from the set target of 65%. And then: the production of urban waste has increased, the cost for the management of the differentiated and undifferentiated as well, the cleaning of the streets has instead decreased according to the Romans.

Transport chapter. As is well known, the supply of the public transport service in the capital is in-house, entrusted to the municipal company Atac, and for about 80 bus lines to the private consortium Roma Tpl. Atac also started from a very heavy debt mass which led in 2017 to the well-known arrangement with creditors for a total debt of 1.4 billion, mainly due to credits due to public administrations, about 600 million credits plus another 500 million due from the Lazio Region difficult to pay. The reorganization work led the company to return to profit in 2019 for about 16 million.

But once the financial criticalities have been resolved, the operational ones remain: the average age of the cars is about 12 years, a lot for buses that grind millions of kilometers over time. The fires that have often occurred in recent years are the result of a constant trend towards underfunding of the vehicle fleet that the Raggi junta has attempted to reverse only minimally, purchasing more than 700 new buses out of a total of almost two thousand. Old vehicles means canceled races on a highly branched ordinary road network of eight thousand kilometers, of which 800 made up of high-traffic roads: in 2019 there were 1.63 million canceled races, with a doubling of breakdowns between 2015 and 2019 (from 300 thousand to 660 thousand). But it also means fewer people who rely on public transport (-30%). CGIL and Sbilanciamoci! Write: “In the last five years, the long sequence of burning buses and the stops of Line A closed for maintenance, accidents on escalators and overcrowded buses have compromised the image of TPL”.

The composition procedure has in fact paralyzed the management of the company. But what undermined the healthy administration of the ATAC was also the lack of obligations that committed the public administrations to pay the resources foreseen by the investment plans. As we have seen, for example, in the case of Metro C which for years has lived on intermittent financing. There will be much to do for the new mayor on the front of social spending for families and minors. During the Rays management, the expense of this mission increased, albeit slightly, and the waiting times for nursery schools were reduced, with demand coverage of 34 places per 100 inhabitants. However, per capita spending is still low: in 2018 it was 239 euros compared to 296 in Milan. And it is even worse for the elderly: 79 euros in Rome, against 261 euros in Milan. Evidently, too little.

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