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Orme and Constantin propose to use the sales tax proceeds to incur bonded debt for capital – what does that mean?

16 Jun

Bob reminds me that city staffers Mark Orme and Chris Constantin have made it pretty clear they want to use the proceeds from the sales tax measure to secure a bond (bonds?). But it never really comes into the conversation.

In his report at the June 9 meeting, Item 5.2, proposal for a tax measure, Orme explained the “sensitivity range” for the tax – meaning, what they expect to get from the tax, from worst case scenario ($12 million annually) to the best ($21 million).

Using an average estimate of $18 million, Orme begins a sales pitch for a bond. “In Exhibit 3, the City would receive approximately $18 million on average. The exhibit highlights both the worst and best scenario for revenue with the worst case being the amount which could be safely relied upon for ongoing expenditures. As such, the City may incur bonded debt for capital or hire staff and not have a high risk or need to default or layoff should the economy shift.”

He talks at first about hiring more staff but here he tells us he wants $9 million for debt service on the bonds while only $3.8 million for hiring staffers. “As debt for capital represents the largest ongoing commitment, the exhibit shows the amount available for debt service should the City Council determine to allocate 50-80% of the worst case revenue amount for capital. The remaining revenue would be available for other ongoing uses, and what is left in each year may be used for onetime type of expenditures. For example, if the City allocates no more than 70% for capital, the City may safely use almost $9 million for capital debt and $3.8 million of staffing and related expenditures annually.”

Debt for capital” means either a loan or a bond. Investopedia explain this as it relates to private business, but it’s the same for public agencies.

https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/032515/what-are-different-ways-corporations-can-raise-capital.asp

“Debt capital is also referred to as debt financing. Funding by means of debt capital happens when a company borrows money and agrees to pay it back to the lender at a later date. The most common types of debt capital companies use are loans and bonds— “

As you know, a business goes under when it makes bad decisions and can’t pay it’s debts, but when a public agency makes bad decisions, the taxpayers get stuck with the debt service. Orme wants 50 – 80% of this sales tax for servicing the bond, but like Bob pointed out, nobody on council raised a single question when he flew through this report.

And here’s the whammy – they can do this without the consent of the voters. It will not be mentioned in the text of the measure. Council and staff will make those arrangements behind closed doors. One option they will probably discuss is a Pension Obligation Bond.

According to Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal, “POBs are bonds issued to fund, in whole or in part, the unfunded portion of public pension liabilities by the creation of new debt. It is like paying your Visa bill with your Mastercard.”

And, I believe it’s a tax passed without the voters’ consent. Coupal reminds us, “A policy reflected in the California Constitution since the 1800s is that government debt should be approved by the voters.  The reason for this is simple — today’s politicians should not be allowed to burden tomorrow’s taxpayers without the consent of those financially obligated for the repayment. Back in 2003, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued the state of California for its attempt to issue a statewide POB without voter approval. HJTA prevailed and the POB bond proposal was invalidated.

But Coupal reports that cities in California are still procuring POB’s without voter approval. Even after their victory against the state in 2003, HJTA joined the Ventura County Taxpayers Association to force the town of Simi Valley to rescind an illegal POB by demanding it be put before the voters.

Furthermore, “Other cities are considering or have actually pursued POBs without voter approval, including Riverside and Montebello.”

The Government Finance Officers Association warns that “the invested POB proceeds might fail to earn more than the interest rate owed over the term of the bonds, leading to increased overall liabilities for the government…

This is exactly what has happened to CalPERS – poor investment returns led to increased overall liabilities for the government, and you know, that means the taxpayers.

They will bring this all back to the table at another closed meeting on June 23. Between now and then we need to let our city council members know we know what’s going on and we’re not going to go for it.

Pension Tsunami, Part 1: How we got here…

7 Aug

In the late 1990’s, Governor Gray Davis and other union-friendly legislators set up the current pension system, agreeing to “defined benefits”.  Public employees had previously been given a “defined contribution” system. The difference being, with a “defined contribution” system, the employer agrees to pay a certain amount, with a “defined benefit” system, the employer agrees to provide specific benefits, no matter the cost.

About 2006 an “MOU” – memo of understanding – was approved by the sitting Chico City Council, with the recommendation of then-city manager Tom Lando, to “attach salaries to revenue increases but not decreases…”  Read that again – “but not decreases…”

Does that sound right to you?  Think about that – give them raises when we’re flush, but no “adjustments” when we’re bust, just lay people off and cut services. That’s been the pattern in Chico for 15 years now. After Lando floated that turd, his salary went from about $65,000 a year to over $150,000 within a couple of  years. His successor came in at $190,000/year.

Council handed out raises of 14%, 19%, 22%, until that memo was outed to the public and the taxpayers started to howl about it. But too late –  City of Chico salaries had progressed well over $100,000  for management and public safety, and other salaries were not far behind. Council approves automatic raises in the contracts so the salaries just keep going up. Even though former city manager Dave Burkland agreed to take a lesser salary than his predecessor, our current city manager now makes over $200,000/year. Add his benefits package and he is taking almost $300,000.

When the public found out about this scheme the city dumped that revenue-based raises mechanism, but came up with something better – “the employer paid member contribution.” That meant, the city not only paid a share of the employee’s benefits, but paid a portion – in some cases the entire portion – of the employee’s share as well.

This finally ended a couple of years ago, when, under intense criticism, those staffers – public safety and city management – agreed to pay their whole portion. And, hold onto your hats – about a year ago, these people even agreed to pay 3% of the “employer share.” 

Excuse me, my hat didn’t even jitter on that, because that makes the employee’s total share less than 10 percent. Anybody who has been a member of CalPERS for 15 years is a “classic member” and pays only 6%, plus that extra 3% – 9%, for a pension of 70 – 90 percent of their highest year’s salary is absolutely RIDICULOUS.

Meanwhile, the employer share has increased and increased, not to mention, the employer is making altogether separate payments toward the deficit, by way of the newly established “Pension Stabilization Trust.”

So, I imagine you saw this article in the paper recently.

Number of California public retirees in $100K Club skyrockets, but they’re just part of the burden on state pension system

This article gives a good historic overview of how the pension deficit has grown. I call it “rabbit math” – first they based the contributions on the employees’ salaries, and then they jacked up employee salaries.

I wonder how many other cities in California used Tom Lando’s ploy of attaching salaries to city revenue increases and then going on a development binge. When overdevelopment finally tanked the local market a few years later and revenues plunged, the salaries, benefits, and automatic raises, stayed in place. Salaries got higher no matter how revenues dipped for Chico. And the pensions and city contributions are based on the salaries. 

Getting dizzy yet? Maybe a little pissed off? Well this is where we’ll close and pick it up again tomorrow.