The Culture Wars Are Coming to the SEC

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-culture-wars-are-coming-to-the-sec-11614813925

Excerpt:

At Tuesday’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Pat Toomey pressed Gary Gensler on the scope of the SEC’s authority to regulate politics. Let’s say “a publicly-traded company spends a financially insignificant amount of money on, let’s say, electricity,” Mr. Toomey proposed. “Is it material whether that electricity came from renewable sources or not?”

Mr. Gensler resisted answering, saying “it may not be material or it may be material.” This isn’t reassuring. The concept of materiality is crucial to securities regulation because it defines the transparency required for investors to make prudent decisions. The SEC is supposed to protect investors from fraud by making sure they have access to accurate information about a firm’s performance.

But progressives want to use the agency’s watchdog responsibilities as a guise to bend finance in service of unrelated political goals, like climate. Mr. Gensler seemed to reserve the right to impose such politicized disclosure requirements, even when the information is “financially insignificant.”

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 3 March 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Our View: Federal stimulus checks should not increase state taxes

Link: https://www.bluemountaineagle.com/coronavirus/our-view-federal-stimulus-checks-should-not-increase-state-taxes/article_5efb3986-7ae2-11eb-9c94-e30cd7275f13.html

Excerpt:

The federal stimulus checks helped a lot of Oregonians out when they needed it. And it is also going to help out Oregon government — about $100 million in federal stimulus payments is going to wind up in the state treasury.

The federal government is not taxing the stimulus payments. In Oregon, they are not taxed as income, either. But the payments can impact the federal tax calculations used on your Oregon income tax. And so the stimulus payment may mean you owe state tax on more of your income and wind up paying more taxes or get a reduced refund.

Does that sound right to you? The stimulus checks sure seemed to be aimed at helping individuals, not helping state government.

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 2 March 2021

Publication Site: Blue Mountain Eagle

Editorial: Former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s pension illustrates the broken system

Link; https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-fixing-illinois-chicago-budget-madigan-pension-20210226-tt4kmbn7hbetldxgez57x4ioqq-story.html#new_tab

Excerpt:

Former House Speaker Michael Madigan, after 50 years as a member of the Illinois House and a contributor into one of the state’s five pension funds, the General Assembly Retirement System, will receive an annual pension of around $85,117, about 85% of his final salary.

In July 2022, his pension will rise to about $148,995 due to padding lawmakers built into the system for themselves over the years. He’ll receive a guaranteed 3% raise on his pension each year, no matter what the actual cost of living is.

During those 50 years in office, Madigan contributed from his own paycheck about $351,000 toward his retirement account. He quickly will start receiving far more than he put in.

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 26 February 2021

Publication Site: Chicago Tribune

Editorial: The dangers of an oversized stimulus package and a lesson from Illinois — yes, Illinois!

Link: https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/editorials/ct-editorial-stimulus-payments-1400-economy-20210210-3jtgubimtjgi5deaigdplzilpe-story.html#new_tab

Excerpt:

Look at Illinois, of all places. Next week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to introduce his budget for the next fiscal year. While the details are sketchy, his office estimates the state will need to close a $3 billion deficit, less than the $5.5 billion his office originally estimated. A stronger than expected economy is partly due the credit. While closing a $3 billion hole is not great news, we’ll take what we can get around here.

Yet, rather than take into account rosier economic pictures states like Illinois are projecting, Democrats in Washington are pressing for another big spending bill, even as they juggle the other big news of the week, the start of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. They insist an undersized response during the Great Recession slowed that recovery. But keep in mind during that far worse slump, President Barack Obama’s stimulus program had a price tag around $800 billion. Since the pandemic hit, by contrast, Congress has responded with $4 trillion in new outlays.

Does that sound like “too little?” More than $1 trillion of that sum has not even been spent yet, according to the Committee For a Responsible Federal Budget.

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 10 February 2021

Publication Site: Chicago Tribune

Junk Has Never Been So Valued

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/junk-has-never-been-so-valued-11612915150

Excerpt:

The Federal Reserve has pushed down long-term interest rates by buying bonds and committed to keep short-term interest rates at near zero through 2023. While the central bank’s interventions were needed in March, it continued to buy corporate bonds well into the summer when markets didn’t need the support.

Chairman Jerome Powell last month reassured investors that the Fed won’t take away its market support until the economy makes “substantial further progress” toward inflation above 2% and maximum employment. The rush into high-yield corporate and municipal debt has since accelerated with yields dropping due to great demand.

Junk-rated Chicago Public Schools and the city of Detroit recently floated bonds yielding less than 2%. Spreads with the AAA muni-bond benchmark have collapsed. The sages at BlackRock last month recommended high-yield munis for their “diversification benefits” and “high levels of income” and saw “significant value” in Puerto Rican bonds.

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 9 February 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

States of Growth and Decline

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/states-of-growth-and-decline-11609460276

Excerpt:

Sixteen mostly coastal and Rust Belt states lost population from July 2019 to July 2020, according to the Census Bureau’s annual population survey, and Illinois, West Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Mississippi and Vermont have shrunk since 2010. At the same time, many low-tax Sun Belt states have continued to attract newcomers.

The pandemic may have contributed to population losses in some states as city dwellers with means escaped to rental and vacation homes. Foreign immigration also fell after President Trump suspended new green cards in April. Some states, especially in the Northeast, experienced thousands of more deaths than usual due to Covid.

But the bureau’s annual population estimate captures only the first few months of the pandemic when migration generally declined as most people hunkered down. Geographic mobility increased over the summer and fall, and the pandemic seems to have accelerated migration flows that have been occurring for years. States such as New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania and California have counted on foreign immigration offsetting net out-migration. That didn’t happen this year, so many states lost population for the first time in decades.

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 31 December 2020

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Start apologizing, Gov. Cuomo — and stop the lies

Link: https://nypost.com/2021/02/15/start-apologizing-gov-cuomo-and-stop-the-lies/

Excerpt:

Indeed, it seems to have started as soon as The Post’s Bernadette Hogan first revealed the existence of the deadly March 25 order by asking about it at a press conference weeks later. At that April 20 presser, the gov pretended he’d never heard of the order before. (And never mind that he is tight as a bug with the state hospital lobby, which plainly requested the order if only to clear beds for more urgent COVID cases. Nor that Cuomo is a notorious micromanager unlikely to let such a deadly mandate be issued without his personal signoff.)

It’s at about this point that the state Department of Health suddenly started reporting “nursing home COVID deaths” in a way unique to New York — leaving out residents who died only after transfer to a hospital. This, even as the DOH continued to record the full truth but refused to share it.

Indeed, the Cuomoites stonewalled Freedom of Information Law requests from the Empire Center and the Associated Press for most of the next year — again, starting long before the feds showed any interest.

The state only finally started releasing that info after 1) Attorney General Tish James’ report outlined the basic fact that the nursing-home death toll was 50 percent higher than Cuomo or Health Commissioner Howard Zucker had been admitting, and 2) a judge outright ordered the DOH to comply with the Empire Center FOIL request.

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 15 February 2021

Publication Site: NY Post

Editorial: Get tough, Gov. Pritzker, on AFSCME

Link: https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-fixing-illinois-chicago-budget-afscme-furlough-20210215-b6odtzttd5cjfkwu6vrde3e3be-story.html#new_tab

Excerpt:

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is scheduled to outline his budget plan on Wednesday for the fiscal year that starts July 1. It should include sacrifice from the nearly 40,000 state workers whose jobs have not been at risk like millions in the private sector and who got generous pay raises, funded by taxpayers, during the pandemic when Illinois’ unemployment soared to 16%. It is high time the state’s unionized workforce be part of the “shared sacrifice” our politicians so often expect of the private sector workforce.

….

While sectors of the state workforce have been extra busy due to COVID-19’s strain on unemployment benefits and health care systems, many state offices and agencies have been closed, services backlogged and workers learning to perform their jobs from home. Taking unpaid furlough days should not be a big “ask” compared with what the private sector has endured under Pritzker’s shutdown orders — restaurants, hotels, convention business, sports and marketing jobs — entire industries sidelined and in some cases, wiped out.

Other blue state governors confronted their unionized workforces months ago and showed leadership in doing so. Democratic governors in Wisconsin, California and New York cut public sector pay, instituted across-the-board spending cuts throughout state government, froze hiring and scheduled raises, and prepared for what would become a nearly yearslong economic slump due to COVID-19. They did it to protect all taxpayers.

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 15 February 2021

Publication Site: Chicago Tribune

States of Budget Surplus

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/states-of-budget-surplus-11612999662?mod=opinion_lead_pos2

Excerpt:

Governors—especially from Democratic states—have been pleading revenue poverty since the pandemic began. But as we approach the anniversary of Covid-19 in America, that tall tale is becoming more difficult to sell.

Even the left-tilting media are beginning to figure out what we’ve been reporting for some time. One of our sources is Dan Clifton, of Strategas Research Partners, who has been tracking state revenue trends and Covid relief from the beginning. His latest analysis shows that state revenues have been doing far better than advertised, especially states that have kept their economies largely open.

He estimates that a majority of the 50 states are seeing revenues arrive above their pre-Covid levels despite the 2020 economic damage. The big exceptions are states that had the most restrictive business lockdowns (New York), those that rely on sales taxes and have no income tax (Florida and Texas), and those that depend on travel and tourism (Nevada).

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 10 February 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Junk Has Never Been So Valued

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/junk-has-never-been-so-valued-11612915150

Excerpt:

If you’re an over-leveraged company at risk of default, now’s your moment to load up on more debt. The average yield on U.S. junk bonds dropped below 4% for the first time on Monday amid a market scavenger hunt for higher returns.

The Federal Reserve has pushed down long-term interest rates by buying bonds and committed to keep short-term interest rates at near zero through 2023. While the central bank’s interventions were needed in March, it continued to buy corporate bonds well into the summer when markets didn’t need the support.

Author(s): WSJ Editorial Board

Publication Date: 9 February 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Marin pension changes are painful but necessary

Excerpt:

The combination of reality and responsible caution is getting expensive for Marin public agencies that provide their workers with generous pensions.

The member agencies in the Marin County Employees’ Retirement Association are getting the latest dose and the association’s board voted to reduce its annual assumption rate on investment returns to 6.75%. It is a quarter of one percent reduction, but one that will cost agencies such as the county and the city of San Rafael thousands of dollars every year.

….

It recognizes a combination of expected returns on its stock market and real estate investments and that the number of pensioners is not only growing, but they are living longer and drawing more from the fund.

Living longer may be great news for the retirees, but it is an increased cost for MCERA.

Author(s): MARIN IJ EDITORIAL BOARD

Publication Date: 28 January 2021

Publication Site: Marin Independent Journal

What Are the Values of Data, Data Science, or Data Scientists?

Link: https://hdsr.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/bj2dfcwg/release/1

Excerpt:

Difficult trade-offs therefore need to be made, and this is where things can be deadly controversial—pun intended—when lives and livelihoods are involved, especially on a massive scale. As Leonelli asks, “What are the priorities underpinning alternative construals of ‘life with covid’? … Whose advice should be followed, whose interests should be most closely protected, which losses are acceptable and which are not?” Such questions clearly cannot (and should not) be answered by data science or data scientists alone, but the data science community has both the ability and responsibility to establish scientific and persuasive evidence to help to reach sustainable compromises that are critical for maintaining a healthy human ecosystem.

Author: Xiao-Li Meng

Publication Date: 29 January 2021

Publication Site: Harvard Data Science Review