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Quiz: How much do you know about Chico’s pension deficit?

18 Oct

Here’s Part 1 of the quiz I was promising. These questions are all from the first 10 or 15 minutes of the video presentation posted here:

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2020/10/09/heres-the-video-from-that-sept-23-finance-comm-meeting-ever-wonder-what-people-are-saying-about-your-money-behind-your-back/

If you feel like it, send this video to your district representative/candidate, see how many of these questions he/she can answer.

  1. What is the city’s current Unfunded Actuarial Liability (aka “pension deficit”), not including interest?
  2. How much has that figure grown in the last 5 years?
  3. What are the two types of payments the city currently makes to CalPERS?
  4. How much are those payments projected to increase over the next 5 years?
  5. What is CalPERS investment return target, and what have they been averaging over the last 20 years?

Well, that ought to give you something to chew on, I’ll get more questions when I have a minute.

The Elephant in Election 2020: The pension deficit and staff’s efforts to shift the burden fully onto the taxpayers

7 Oct

Yes, I am still pissed off about being locked out of the Finance Committee meeting two weeks ago. But, I got a flash drive from staff, and having loaded it onto my laptop, I will post that video asap, with my usual snappy narrative. 

I wish I had waited until I saw the  meeting. I had endorsed all three members of that committee – frankly, on a “lesser of evils” strategy. After I watched the meeting, I found myself even more in support of Randall Stone, while my feelings for Morgan and Schwab have cooled considerably. 

I still say those latter two are the best bet (mind you, we’re talking about gambling) in their respective races, but I can’t endorse them. If they were horses I’d turn them out to pasture. Both of them voted to take this Pension Obligation/Lease Revenue Bond scam to the full council. But I don’t expect their challengers would have done any different. They all have a vested interest in funding the pensions. 

Finance Committee Chair Stone was the one who reminded everybody at the meeting that the consultant’s proposal was assuming CalPERS would achieve their full investment target of 7%. The consultant acknowledged this fact, adding,  I quote, “but we know that’s not going to happen…”  He repeated almost those exact words several times in the subsequent conversation.

Even though Morgan acknowledged same – “we’re certainly not going to fix CalPERS, I don’t expect they’re ever going to do any better on returns…” – he also said “we owe it to staff...” to continue the conversation with full council. Schwab agreed. Admitting that the conversation “raised a lot of questions,” she predicted the consultant would have a “much better, more prepared presentation for council.” Yes, I’m sure he will, having heard the criticisms of the plan, he will downplay the risks and play up the supposed benefits. 

Stone was the only committee member to speak plainly about the risks of these schemes – namely, the CalPERS debt and the bond debt will be paid ahead of any other expenses, including staffing and services – including law enforcement and fire personnel. The consultant spelled that out very clearly under the power point heading “Eyes Wide Open to Risks” .  If these proposals were ski runs they would be labeled “Black Diamond”.

Stone was the only one to openly discuss the truth behind these bonds. ” I’m uncomfortable shifting the burden from the beneficiaries to the rest of the city.” Meaning, not only does this proposal shift the burden of payment from the employees to the taxpayers, it shifts our resources away from services to paying the pensions. Period. Both the consultant and Chris Constantin made it clear this was a risky proposal that could bottom out our General Fund and cause layoffs. The consultant specifically mentioned public safety. So, this proposal to guarantee the pensioners their pensions would come at the cost of future employees, and that means, city services.  

The pension deficit and staff’s efforts to shift the burden fully onto the taxpayers is the Elephant in the upcoming election, but nobody cares? Chair Stone announced that no other members of the public had signed in, having acknowledged that I couldn’t get in. So, I’m pretty sure the only candidates who “attended” the meeting were the committee members. I wonder where the challengers stand on any of this? You might want to ask your candidate about that, if your district is on the ballot. 

The consultant set a timeline for this bond – including the discussion period – staff hopes to be signing off on this deal by next spring. So the public needs to weigh in. Now, because, the “upside” to these bonds, as pointed out by the consultant, is there’s no “validation process,” meaning, no voter approval. Is that really okay with you? 

It’s not okay with me, so I wrote a letter about it:

The city Finance Committee discussed restructuring the pension debt – now at over $280,000,000, including $140,000,000 interest. Two schemes presented: 1) Pension Obligation Bond, 2) Lease Revenue Bonds, using our city streets as collateral. The borrowed money would be invested. Ideally, the investments would pay off, and staff would make bigger UAL payments, eventually achieving a lower interest rate from CalPERS.

There is a razor’s edge to this proposal. Worst case and very likely scenario: both CalPERS and the city fail to meet their investment goals, the taxpayers end up owing both the bond investors and CalPERS.

Committee member Randall Stone commented that the consultant’s recommendation assumes a CalPERS investment return of 7%. The consultant acknowledged this fact, admitting, “but we all know this isn’t going to happen.”

Staffer Chris Constantin added, if the city’s not able to pay, “they could forcibly take the money from the General Fund… “ without regard to direct impacts on staffing and services. The consultant reported that a large Southern California county may soon lay off public safety personnel “so they don’t violate their bond covenants.”

Stone voted NO, commenting, ”I’m uncomfortable shifting the burden from the beneficiaries to the rest of the city.” Members Schwab and Morgan voted YES. Morgan admitted he doesn’t expect CalPERS “will ever do any better on their returns…” Schwab concurred.

The Government Finance Officers Association does not recommend these bonds, their first objection being CalPERS’ history of poor returns. What are Schwab and Morgan thinking?

 

Another hair-brained scheme from Orme and Constantin – Finance Committee to discuss leasing our streets to pay the pension deficit. No, I’m not joking.

21 Sep

This Wednesday the city Finance Committee will be discussing the Unfunded Pension Liability. The agenda says they plan to “restructure,” but you know, the real dirt is in the reports, available at this link. 

https://chico.ca.us/sites/main/files/file-attachments/9-23-20_finance_committee_agenda_packet.pdf?1600381637

So, I wrote a letter to the paper about it yesterday. We’ll see if Speed Wolcott (if he’s even in town) can get it in before the meeting! 

Chico Finance Committee meets this week (9/23) to discuss “restructuring” the $146,000,000 pension deficit. Topics include a Pension Obligation Bond and “lease revenue bonds”.

Pension obligation bonds (POBs) are taxable bonds used to fund the unfunded portion of pension liabilities with borrowed money.  The presumption is that investments will pay the debt service. However, as with CalPERS, failure to achieve the targeted rate of return means the taxpayer is stuck with the debt service on the bonds.  And, we’re still stuck with the pension deficit. POB’s are a jump out of the frying pan, into the fire.

“Lease revenue bonds” involve municipalities issuing bonds (borrowing money) using their own city streets or buildings as collateral to pay down their unfunded pension liabilities. From the 9/23 agenda: “A lease revenue bond structure (leased asset required, such as streets or buildings) would avoid validation process [meaning, the voters] and could proceed on quicker schedule.”

Essentially, a city leases their streets to a special Financing Authority, which will pay the city their up-front money, and “rent” the streets back to the city, in order to pay off the bonds. (Forbes)

And the taxpayers pay the “rent”.  “The municipality will generally appropriate money during each budget session to meet the lease [rent] payment.” (Forbes) These appropriations come at the cost of public safety and infrastructure.

Lease revenue bonds are essentially pension obligation bonds, but can “proceed on quicker schedule” because there’s no voter approval.

A real solution for the pension crisis – ask employees to pay more.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA