National Public Pension Coalition vs. Truth in Accounting: Who is Accurate With Public Pension Unfunded Debt?

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/national-public-pension-coalition

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NPPC, I recommend you think through what will actually inform and protect your members. The TIA folks are not distorting the message, except to the extent that state and local governments are undervaluing their pension and OPEB promises.

Complaining about TIA will not make the pensions better-funded. Complaining about TIA will not prevent the worst-funded pensions from running out of assets, which will not be supportable as pay-as-you-go, as the asset death spiral before that will show that the cash flows were unaffordable for the local tax base.

And don’t look to the federal government to save your hash. So far bailout amounts have been puny compared to the size of the promises.

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 9 June 2021

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

Illinois targets coal plant closures before all bonds retire

Link: https://fixedincome.fidelity.com/ftgw/fi/FINewsArticle?id=202106071513SM______BNDBUYER_00000179-e7af-dd1a-ab7d-efefe4190001_110.1

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A proposed mandate to shutter the $5 billion Prairie State coal energy campus and a Springfield, Illinois? plant by 2035 would hit local ratepayers with the double burden of funding new energy sources while still paying down project bonds, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers warn.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker backs a state mandate to end coal generation by 2035 to meet de-carbonation targets included in pending energy legislation. The package stalled during the General Assembly?s spring session that ended last week, but Pritzker said he expects lawmakers will return in the coming weeks for a vote.

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Retiring Prairie State early would mark the latest headache for some of the nine public utilities in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio that issued $4.5 billion of debt, some it under the federal Build America Bond program, to finance their ownership in project.

Peabody Energy Inc. initially sponsored the project in Washington County promoting it as an affordable source of energy with an adjacent mine and a cleaner one given its state-of-the-art technology at the time. Bechtel Power Corp. built it. It initially carried a $2 billion price tag that rose to a $4 billion fixed cost under the 2010 contract with utilities but cost overruns drove the price tag up to $5 billion.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 7 June 2021

Publication Site: Fidelity Fixed Income

Chicago Park District pension revamp takes fund off road to insolvency

Link: https://fixedincome.fidelity.com/ftgw/fi/FINewsArticle?id=202106081343SM______BNDBUYER_00000179-ec17-d1ac-a5fb-ef37eda90001_110.1

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The Chicago Park District pension funding overhaul approved by lawmakers moves the fund off a path to insolvency to a full funding target in 35 years, with bonding authority.

State lawmakers approved the statutory changes laid out in House Bill 0417 on Memorial Day before adjourning their spring session and Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign it. It puts the district?s contributions on a ramp to an actuarially based payment, shifting from a formula based on a multiplier of employee contributions. The statutory multiplier formula is blamed for the city and state?s underfunded pension quagmires.

“There are number of things here that are really, really good,? Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, told fellow lawmakers during a recent Senate Pension Committee hearing. Martwick is a co-sponsor of the legislation and also heads the committee.

?This is a measure that puts the district on to a path to full funding over the course of 35 years,” he said. “It is responsible. There is no opposition to it. This is exactly more of what we should be doing.”

The district will ramp up to an actuarially based contribution beginning this year when 25% of the actuarially determined contribution is owed, then half in 2022, and three-quarters in 2023 before full funding is required in 2024. To help keep the fund from sliding backwards during the ramp period the district will deposit an upfront $40 million supplemental contribution.

The 35-year clock will start last December 31 to reach the 100% funded target by 2055.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: Fidelity Fixed Income

The Municipal Bond Cases Revisited

Link: http://blogs.harvard.edu/bankruptcyroundtable/2021/06/01/the-municipal-bond-cases-revisited/

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The invocation of ultra vires to escape bond obligations is nothing new, though. In the second half of the nineteenth century, municipal debtors frequently welched on their debts. In the 1850s and 1860s, cities, towns, and counties across the Midwest and West issued bonds to finance the construction of railroads and other infrastructure. Many ultimately defaulted. Rather than simply announce that they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay, however, they often contended that they needn’t pay: for one or another reason, the relevant bonds had been issued ultra vires and so were no obligation of the municipality at all. Litigation in the federal courts was common. Several hundred repudiation disputes made their way to the Supreme Court in the forty years starting 1859.

With an eye to the modern cases, we set out to understand how the Court reckoned with repudiation. We read every one of the 196 cases in which the Justices opined on bond validity (i.e. the enforceability of a bond in the hands of innocent purchasers). In a recently published article, we correct received wisdom about the cases and remark on the logical structure of the Court’s reasoning.

To the extent the municipal bond cases are remembered, modern scholars usually think of them as exemplary instances of a political model of judging. The caricature has the Court siding with bondholders even when the law called on them to rule for the repudiating municipalities. The Justices—or a majority of them—are imagined as staunch political allies of the capitalist class, set against the institutions of state government and their regard for agricultural interests. We find that this picture is inconsistent with reality. In fact, the Court ruled for the repudiating municipality in a third of all the validity cases. As importantly, the Court’s decisions reflected a readily articulable formal logic, a logic the Justices seem, to our eyes, to have applied soundly.

Paper link: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3699633

Citation: Buccola, Allison and Buccola, Vincent S.J., The Municipal Bond Cases Revisited (September 25, 2020). 94 American Bankruptcy Law Journal 591 (2020), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3699633

Abstract

Recent high-profile attempts to repudiate municipal bonds break from what had become a stable American norm of honoring public debt. In the nineteenth century, though, hundreds of cities, towns, and counties walked away from their bonds. The Supreme Court’s handling of repudiation in the so-called municipal bond cases conjured intense animus at the time. But the years as well as the archaic prose and sheer volume of the opinions have obscured the cases’ significance.

This article reconstructs the bond cases with an eye to modern disputes. It reports the results of our reading all 203 cases, decided 1859–1899, in which the Justices opined on bond validity. At a high level, our findings correct a stock narrative in the literature. The standard account paints the Court as a reliable champion of northeastern capitalists in what resembled regional or class politics more than law. That story does not withstand scrutiny, however. We find, for example, that the Court ruled for the repudiating municipality about a third of the time. Moreover, the decisions had a readily articulable logic at the heart of which lay a familiar law/fact distinction. Estoppel barred issuers in most instances from denying factual predicates of bond validity, but it did not prevent scrutiny of legal predicates. The Justices were willing to hold bonds void on even highly technical legal grounds.

Author(s): Allison Buccola (Independent) and Vince Buccola (Assistant Professor, The Wharton School)

Publication Date: 1 June 2021

Publication Site: Harvard Law School, Bankruptcy Roundtable

Biden Budget Boosts Health Subsidies, Broadens Net Investment Income Tax

Link: https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2021/06/01/biden-budget-boosts-health-subsidies-broadens-net-investment-income-tax/

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The current, emergency health insurance premium tax credit subsidy levels would become permanent.

Either the net investment income tax or self-employment tax would apply to all individual income over $400,000.

The definition of net investment would expand.

Author(s): Allison Bell

Publication Date: 1 June 2021

Publication Site: Think Advisor

Return of the IRS Scandal

Link: https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/return-of-the-irs-scandal-11623191964

Excerpt:

 Less than half a year into the Biden Presidency, the Internal Revenue Service is already at the center of an abuse-of-power scandal. That news broke Tuesday when ProPublica, a website whose journalism promotes progressive causes, published information from what it said are 15 years of the tax returns of Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and other rich Americans.

Leaking such information is a crime, since under federal law tax returns are confidential. ProPublica says it received the files from “an anonymous source” and doesn’t know who provided them, how they were obtained, or what the source’s motives are.

Allow us to fill in that last blank. The story arrives amid the Biden Administration’s effort to pass the largest tax increase as a share of the economy since 1968. The main Democratic argument for a tax hike is that the rich should pay their “fair share.” The ProPublica story is a long argument that somehow the rich don’t pay enough. The timing here is no coincidence, comrade.

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This still leaves the real scandal, which is that someone leaked confidential IRS information about individuals to serve a political agenda. This is the same tax agency that pursued a vendetta against conservative nonprofit groups during the Obama Administration. Remember Lois Lerner?

This is also the same IRS that Democrats now want to infuse with $80 billion more to chase a fanciful amount of uncollected taxes. As part of this effort, Mr. Biden wants the IRS to collect “gross inflows and outflows on all business and personal accounts from financial institutions.” Why? So the information can be leaked to ProPublica?

Author(s): Editorial board of WSJ

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

‘Full funding’ for pensions – two ways to skin a cat

Link: https://www.truthinaccounting.org/news/detail/full-funding-for-pensions-two-ways-to-skin-a-cat#new_tab

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Spending plans that “fully fund” pension obligations by making statutorily required contributions — amounts required by legislators, by law — do not necessarily fully fund pensions. In fact, Illinois has a sad history of passing laws with funding that falls far short of actuarial requirements — the amounts necessary to keep pension (and related retirement health care) debt from rising over time.

For an example, take a peek at the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS). Their annual report for 2020 is available here. The table on pdf page 2 shows that the system has accumulated more than $50 billion in invested assets, but this massive amount actually falls far short of the nearly $140 billion in present value obligation for future pension payments, leading to a nearly $90 billion unfunded liability.

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The practice of distributing unfunded promises to pay money in the future has been a key of the tool chest that politicians have employed in misleading the citizenry that Illinois has lived up to constitutional balanced budget requirements, when in truth it has done anything but.

Author(s): Bill Bergman

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: Truth in Accounting

New CT budget has an unprecedented built-in surplus of $2.3 billion

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Question: When was the last time a Connecticut legislature was poised to adopt a state budget with a $2.3 billion surplus built into it?

Answer: Never, until now.

Democrats and Republicans alike were expected to vote for the $46.4 billion, two-year package when it goes before the House of Representatives on Tuesday. But even though about 5% of the funds appears to be left unspent, the anticipated surplus would become a payment into the state’s pension accounts.

That’s because the budget, which boosts spending 2.6% in the fiscal year beginning July 1 and by 3.9% in 2022-23, really is the first of its kind under a new system designed to bring stability to state finances.

Connecticut is four years into a savings program that limits spending of income tax receipts tied to capital gains and other investment earnings, but this is the first time since 2017 that analysts are projecting big revenues from Wall Street before legislators actually approve a budget.

Author(s): Keith Phaneuf

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: CT Mirror

The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax

Link: https://www.propublica.org/article/the-secret-irs-files-trove-of-never-before-seen-records-reveal-how-the-wealthiest-avoid-income-tax

Methodology: https://www.propublica.org/article/how-we-calculated-the-true-tax-rates-of-the-wealthiest

On legality etc: https://www.propublica.org/article/why-we-are-publishing-the-tax-secrets-of-the-001

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ProPublica has obtained a vast cache of IRS information showing how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax compared to their massive wealth — sometimes, even nothing.

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In 2011, a year in which his wealth held roughly steady at $18 billion, Bezos filed a tax return reporting he lost money — his income that year was more than offset by investment losses. What’s more, because, according to the tax law, he made so little, he even claimed and received a $4,000 tax credit for his children.

His tax avoidance is even more striking if you examine 2006 to 2018, a period for which ProPublica has complete data. Bezos’ wealth increased by $127 billion, according to Forbes, but he reported a total of $6.5 billion in income. The $1.4 billion he paid in personal federal taxes is a massive number — yet it amounts to a 1.1% true tax rate on the rise in his fortune.

Author(s): Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen, Paul Kiel

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: ProPublica

Illinois Budget Leaves Billions in Federal Rescue Funds on the Table

Link: https://www.centerforilpolitics.org/articles/illinois-budget-leaves-billions-in-federal-rescue-funds-on-the-table#new_tab

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The federal government will soon give the cash-strapped state of Illinois $8.1 billion to cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, but next year state officials plan to use less than a third of the windfall.

That means that some $5.5 billion in unspent federal cash will remain in state accounts until lawmakers figure out how they want to use it. The state treasurer’s office will invest the money, along with the $38 billion it is already responsible for investing. 

Ironically, Illinois is supposed to get its money faster than many other states because of its urgent need. Most states will get their money from the American Rescue Plan Act in two payments, a year apart. But Illinois is expected to get its full share all at once in the coming months, because it has a high unemployment rate. 

The fact that Illinois is letting so much money sit in the bank, even when it has a long list of pressing financial needs, has a lot to do with the rules the federal government wrote for how states can use the Rescue Act money. 

Author(s): Daniel C. Vock

Publication Date: 6 June 2021

Publication Site: Center for Illinois Politics

2021 Update: Public Plan Funding Improves as Workforce Declines

Full Report: https://crr.bc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/SLP78.pdf

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The aggregate funded ratio improved from 73 to 75 percent from FY 2020 to 2021. At the same time, contribution rates rose from 21 to 22 percent of payrolls.

While initial expectations for public pensions were low due to COVID, financial markets rebounded and municipal tax revenues were quite resilient.

Yet one other COVID-related factor – cuts to the state and local workforce – impacted public pension finances in FY 2021.

These cuts had little impact on funded status and required contribution amounts, but they do explain the rise in contribution rates, which are expressed as a share of lower payrolls.

Author(s): Jean-Pierre Aubry, Kevin Wandrei

Publication Date: June 2021

Publication Site: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Sovereign Defaults Hit Record in 2020; More Are Possible

Link: https://www.fitchratings.com/research/sovereigns/sovereign-defaults-hit-record-in-2020-more-are-possible-08-06-2021

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The sovereign issuer-based default rate rose to a record high in 2020 against a backdrop of weakened sovereign credit profiles due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Fitch Ratings says. Downgrade pressures have eased this year, but our ratings indicate that more defaults are possible.

Fitch’s recent Sovereign 2020 Transition and Default Study shows that five Fitch-rated sovereigns defaulted in 2020, up from only one in the previous year. As a result, the sovereign default rate rose more than threefold to 4.2% from 0.9% in 2019. The previous high was 1.8% in both 2016 and 2017.

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: Fitch Ratings