Tuesday, May 12, 2009

California Dreamin': Fiscal Irresponsibility

This is old news, but still worth sharing, because of California's upcoming special election:


Chris Street, treasurer of Orange County, Calif., warns if the federal government backs California's debt, the market for city bonds will be harmed. "Why would anybody buy the debt of a local issuer if they can get federally backed debt sold by the state?" he asks. He should know. The OC declared bankruptcy several years ago. Barron's is too smart not to notice the irony of quoting an OC official about the demand for municipal bonds.

Just in case you forgot--the CS Monitor reminds you that taxpayers back and insure government employees' retirement plans. Ultimately, every dollar that goes to them--the police, firefighters, and teachers--comes out of our pocket. Other states besides California also pay disproportionate amounts for their public pensions, showing the system itself is fundamentally flawed. For example, Illinois had $40.9 billion in future general and special obligation bond debt service as of June 30, 2006 ($22.7 billion principal and $18.2 billion interest). $10 billion of that–almost half of the principal--was tied to public sector pensions. (From http://www.wh1.ioc.state.il.us/fiscalcondition/DebtLevels.htm.)

Meanwhile, in California, things keep getting worse:

San Jose officials said Tuesday that the tanking stock market could force taxpayers to pony up as much as $50 million extra the following year to cover losses in the city's retirement funds.

Things look even worse in the longer term, as city officials say the cash-strapped general operating fund could have to pour tens of millions of additional dollars into the city's two pension programs by 2013.

If it's not painfully obvious by now, the current government retirement system--which is tethered to the vagaries of the stock market--is untenable. It promotes civil war between taxpayers, Wall Street, and government employees. We need to eliminate the special pension plans given to public sector employees and let them have the same retirement plan most private sector workers have--namely, a 401k or a 403b plan. In exchange, taxpayers can boost some government salaries, which are easier to track and not tied to the stock market.

As for the upcoming special election, California's governor wants Californians to vote "yes" on all the measures in the upcoming special election. I've already voted by absentee ballot, but I voted "no" on some measures. I am sick of my legislature not being able to handle basic accounting. When your income declines, you need to cut expenses. Will Sacramento ever learn third grade math?

Bonus: Robert Frank on people buying property.

Bonus II: Steve Malanga on public sector unions:


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