Three subtle ways inflation helps state and local government coffers

Link: https://lizfarmer.substack.com/p/inflation-impact-local-governments

Excerpt:

If inflation pushes up interest rates and accelerates wage growth, that could take some of the pressure off of public pension plan performance. Since the Great Recession, pension plans have been steadily lowering their assumed annual rate of return to better match the low-interest rate environment. Pension plan actuaries factor that rate when in calculating a government’s annual pension bill. Lowering that rate results in a higher bill because governments have to make up the difference. 

More stable returns. Rising inflation can result in higher returns from a pension plan’s fixed-income assets. Unlike the volatile equities market, the nice steady investment return from fixed-income securities is much nicer to rely on from a planning perspective. In fact, bonds used to be pensions’ bread and butter until interest rates began falling in the 1990s.

The National Association of State Retirement Administrators’ research director Keith Brainard told me this week that if inflation is sustained, governments could decide to stop lowering their investment return assumptions and some could even start raising them again. 

That could result in lower pension bills for governments with healthy plans. Or in the case of struggling plans like Chicago or Kentucky, it could at least slow the pace of their rising pension bills.

Higher worker contributions. What’s more, noted Brainard, accelerated wage growth also means those workers paying into pension plans will be contributing slightly more. “What wages will do when inflation is 2% is a lot different than when it’s 6%,” he said.

Author(s): Liz Farmer

Publication Date: 15 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Long Story Short at substack

HOW HAVE STATES USED THEIR DIRECT COVID RELIEF FUNDS?

Link: https://www.pgpf.org/blog/2022/01/how-have-states-used-their-direct-covid-relief-funds

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Excerpt:

The federal government provided $512 billion in direct financial assistance to help state and local governments cover their expenditures and revenue losses associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. So far, about $400 billion of that total has been disbursed. Here are some notable trends showing how lower levels of government have spent some of their relief funds using a database compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Publication Date: 14 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Peter G. Peterson Foundation

What Illinois didn’t tell you about its celebrated early payment of federal loan – Wirepoints

Link: https://wirepoints.org/what-illinois-didnt-tell-you-about-its-celebrated-early-payment-of-federal-loan-wirepoints/

Excerpt:

In fact, the state originally did intend to pay off the Federal Reserve loan with other federal bailout money from ARPA, the American Rescue Plan Act, according to The Bond Buyer. But the “Treasury threw a wrench in repayment prospects” when the initial federal guidance barred the use of ARPA aid for debt repayment. “The state lobbied for a change in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. But as state tax collections turned rosier, state leaders opted instead to cover repayment with tax collections,” says The Bond Buyer.

The bottom line is that all of us, as federal taxpayers, will bear the cost of the federal bailout, for Illinois and other states, whether through higher taxes to repay the Treasury or inflation created by Federal Reserve money creation. And Illinois will be worse off because only Illinois borrowed extra and incurred interest costs.

So, no, Governor Pritzker, paying back this loan ahead of schedule doesn’t mean Illinois achieved a “level of fiscal prudence not seen in our state for decades.”

Author(s): Mark Glennon

Publication Date: 7 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Wirepoints

Undermining Pension Reform

Link:https://www.city-journal.org/undermining-pension-reform

Excerpt:

The Biden administration is trying to prohibit California from receiving billions of dollars in new federal aid because, the administration claims, the state’s 2013 Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) denied workers the right to bargain for changes to their retirement benefits. The move could undermine state-worker pension reforms passed over the last decade.

In a letter to the state, the Department of Labor says that the 2013 pension-reform act “significantly interferes” with the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including transit workers. As a result, California risks losing some $12 billion in transportation money, most of it from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill. The administration is strong-arming the state and its municipalities to choose between tens of billions of dollars in savings for a deeply indebted pension system and grants from Washington. And its move raises serious questions about similar reforms enacted by other states that allow collective bargaining by public employees, including New York and New Jersey.

….

The Labor Department’s ruling, California governor Gavin Newsom said in a letter to Walsh, “deprives financially beleaguered California public transit agencies that serve essential workers and our most vulnerable residents of critical support, including American Rescue Plan Act funds that those agencies need to survive through the pandemic.” Newsom called the decision a “complete reversal” from a 2019 ruling by the Labor Department, which held that the state’s pension reforms did not represent a violation of federal law.

Author(s): Steven Malanga

Publication Date: 23 Nov 2021

Publication Site: City Journal

Equity, tech and climate change: Three big takeaways from the infrastructure bill

Link:https://lizfarmer.substack.com/p/equity-tech-climate-change-infrastructure-bill

Excerpt:

Green bonds. Issuance is expected to hit a record high this year and so are municipal green bond offerings. My friend and colleague Mark Funkhouser explains why local leaders should take advantage of this alignment of financial interests and moral ones.

More spending flexibility in the American Rescue Plan. Legislation now making its way through Congress would allow governments to use some of their ARP funds for highway and transit projects and to address natural disasters.

Rising income tax revenue. The K-shaped recovery and federal stimulus has resulted in the largest median state personal income jump in 14 years. According to Fitch Ratings, state income tax revenues increased by 6.3% last year and this year is expected to produce similar growth. This has implications for public pensionstax cuts and — of course — the 2022 midterms.

Author(s): Liz Farmer

Publication Date: 17 Nov 2021

Publication Site: Long Story Short at substack

SFA Bailout Timeline

Link: https://burypensions.wordpress.com/2021/11/12/sfa-bailout-timeline/

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Excerpt:

For those wondering when payments under the PBGC Special Financial Assistance program will be coming, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans blog has some guidance.

…..

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) and Treasury officials have delivered a new briefing on the special financial assistance (SFA) program for financially troubled multiemployer plans under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). During the briefing on July 22, 2021, PBGC officials walked through the e-filing process, application instructions, assumption changes and what to expect after submitting the application. A recording and slides of the briefing are available here.

….

During the 120-day window, plans must notify PBGC about any facts or data submitted in the application that are no longer accurate. By day 120, PBGC will make a determination to approve or deny the SFA application.

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 12 Nov 2021

Publication Site: burypensions

SFA Application: Through the Forest and Into the Weeds

Link:https://burypensions.wordpress.com/2021/10/25/sfa-application-through-the-forest-and-into-the-weeds/

Excerpt:

The Road Carriers Local 707 Pension Fund , which was the first plan to seek bailout money under the PBGC Special Financial Assistance (SFA) program for troubled multiemployer plans, has their 425-page application uploaded on the SFA website.

…..

412-425) SFA calculations which is a fairly simple spreadsheet calculating the present value of the liabilities of all current participants (pages 419-420) and coming up with one amount ($706,400,534) to cover all their liabilities through 2051. New entrants presumably will be covered by new negotiated contributions and, after 30 years though if any of the current participants survive until 2051 they will presumably need another bailout.

The problem PBGC has with this filing appears to be that an interest rate of 5.32% was used for valuing liabilities which happens to be 2% plus the first HATFA Segment Rate when it is the third PPA Segment Rate to which the 2% should have been added. Per the IRS website (scroll down a little to Funding Table 3), that rate would likely have been the April, 2021 rate of 3.52% which would have made 5.52% the rate to be used for valuing liabilities (thus lowering the liability value as the higher the interest rate the lower the value). The tricky part is that the PPA third Segment Rate has been going down and is now 3.34% as of October, 2021.

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 25 Oct 2021

Publication Site: burypensions

SFA New Filing; First In a Month

Link:https://burypensions.wordpress.com/2021/10/23/sfa-new-filing-first-in-a-month/

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Excerpt:

Plan NameLocal Union No. 466 Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers Pension Plan
EIN/PN: 14-6085295/001
Total participants @ 4/30/20: 45 including:
Retirees: 30
Separated but entitled to benefits: 8
Still working: 7

Asset Value (Market) @ 5/1/19: $523,604
Value of liabilities using RPA rate (3.09%) @ 5/1/19: $5,108,203 including:
Retirees: $4,213,315
Separated but entitled to benefits: $820,490
Still working: $74,398

Funded ratio: 10.25%

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 23 Oct 2021

Publication Site: burypensions

COVID-19 Relief Program Tracker (NY)

Link:https://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/covid-relief-program-tracker

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Excerpt:

The Office of the State Comptroller has created this dashboard to track federal relief funds received during the pandemic and eight programs that offer targeted assistance to New Yorkers most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The tracker explains when each funding stream or program was authorized, how it is designed and how much has been received and spent to date. The data will be updated monthly and will be expanded over time as more information becomes available. We hope the information presented here can be used to help New Yorkers understand how federal aid is used and to inform future conversations about budget investments.

Select a relief program to view its funding and spending, or download this month’s data for all programs.

Author(s):Thomas DiNapoli

Publication Date: accessed 17 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Office of the Comptroller of the State of New York

State comptroller launches COVID-19 relief fund tracker

Link:https://www.timesunion.com/state/article/DiNapoli-launches-tracker-of-COVID-19-relief-funds-16533107.php?IPID=Times-Union-HP-CP-Latest-News

Excerpt:

The state has received $21 billion in federal pandemic relief money and has spent $6.1 billion since the end of September, according to a new online tracker released by the state comptroller’s office.

Despite less than a third of the money being spent to date, much of the federal cash has a general spending plan ascribed to it. The state has received just over half of its expected federal aid, which is to total $39.8 billion, according to the tracker. 

“Thankfully New York is getting billions of dollars of federal funding that really has been a lifeline,” state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli told the Times Union. “When you’re seeing an infusion of funding at that magnitude, it is important to follow the money and make sure it is spent as intended.”

Author(s): Joshua Solomon

Publication Date: 14 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Times Union

States Have $95 Billion to Restore their Unemployment Trust Funds—Why Aren’t They Using It?

Link:https://taxfoundation.org/state-unemployment-trust-funds-2021/

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Excerpt:

States are permitted to replenish their unemployment compensation (UC) trust funds using the $195.3 billion they received in Fiscal Recovery Funds under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)—and they need the help, having paid out $175 billion in state-funded benefits since the start of the pandemic, in addition to the $661 billion shelled out by the federal government in extended and expanded benefits, for a total of about $836 billion between January 27, 2020 and September 11, 2021.[1]

…..

Pre-pandemic trust fund balances stood at $72.5 billion. Today, aggregate trust fund balances are negative, at -$11.1 billion, reflecting $44.8 billion in indebtedness currently incurred by 10 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. By federal standards, 34 state accounts are currently insolvent, with $114.6 billion needed to bring them all up to what the federal government regards as minimum adequate levels.

Author(s): Savanna Funkhouser, Jared Walczak

Publication Date: 22 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Tax Foundation