Texas Maternal Death Data to Be Published Post-Midterms

Link: https://www.governing.com/now/texas-maternal-death-data-to-be-published-post-midterms

Excerpt:

Texas health officials have missed a key window to complete the state’s first major updated count of pregnancy related deaths in nearly a decade, saying the findings will now be released next summer, most likely after the Legislature’s biennial session.

The delay, disclosed earlier this month by the Department of State Health Services, means lawmakers won’t likely be able to use the analysis, covering deaths from 2019, until the 2025 legislative cycle. The most recent state-level data available is nine years old.

In a hearing this month with the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, DSHS commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt said the agency wanted to better align its methodology with that of other states, and that there hadn’t been enough staff and money to finish the review for a scheduled Sept. 1 release.

….

Ortique said the state has already identified 149 potential maternal deaths in 2019, of which 118 have been analyzed by the committee to see if they were pregnancy-related. Six newly identified deaths may be added to that group, she said. The numbers cover deaths during the pregnancy through one year after giving birth.

The state has published a maternal death report every other year since 2014, often based on preliminary data updated later. For example, the maternal death report in 2018 identified 29 deaths in 2012 that were not included in the previous report. The committee also released updating findings from its most recent report, studying deaths from 2013, at the Sept. 2 meeting.

Out of 175 potential maternal deaths in 2013, 70 have since been determined to be pregnancy-related.

Author(s): Julian Gill and Jeremy Blackman, San Antonio Express-News

Publication Date: 14 Sept 2022

Publication Site: Governing

Appeals Court Rules In City’s Favor Following Challenge From The Houston Fire Firefighters’ Relief And Retirement Fund

Link: https://cityofhouston.news/appeals-court-rules-in-citys-favor-following-challenge-from-the-houston-fire-firefighters-relief-and-retirement-fund/

Excerpt:

Today, the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas reversed and rendered a decision in favor of the City of Houston against the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF).

HFRRF had challenged the constitutionality of a Texas statute designed to reform the City’s firefighter pension system that ensures that the actuarial assumptions for determining the City’s contribution rates are based on sound actuarial principles and establishes a process for setting the contribution rate when the City’s and HFRRF’s proposed contribution rates differ by more than two percentage points.

“The City of Houston has consistently maintained the constitutionality of the historic pension reform and welcomes the appeals court ruling,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “The firefighters’ pension is now 93 percent funded – compared to just 80 percent funded pre-pension reform – and is actuarially sound. It is important to note that the three pension systems – municipal, police, and fire – are healthier today because of the pension reform we have put in place.”

The latest ruling is the second time the Court of Appeals has upheld the constitutionality of the statute reforming the firefighter pension system, making the pension system more secure for Houston’s firefighters, both now and in the future.

The estimated unfunded pension liability reached as high as $8.2 billion before the 2017 reforms. Today, the unfunded liability of the City’s three pension plans is less than $1.5 billion.

Author(s): MAYOR’S OFFICE FILED UNDER: MYR – OFFICE OF THE MAYOR

Publication Date: 30 Aug 2022 (updated 14 Sept 2022?)

Publication Site: City of Houston, Texas

A Sneaky Form of Climate Obstruction Hurts Pension Funds

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/17/opinion/environment/climate-change-pension-texas-florida.html

Excerpt:

Mr. Read is the Oregon state treasurer.

In several Republican-led states, the officials who oversee pension funds for millions of state workers are being told, or may soon be told, to ignore the financial risks associated with a warming world. There’s something distinctly anti-free market about policymakers limiting investment professionals’ choices — and it’s putting the retirement savings of millions at risk.

The Texas comptroller, Glenn Hegar, recently announced that 10 financial firms and 348 funds could be barred from doing business with the state’s pension plans because they appeared to consider environmental risks in their investment decisions regarding the fossil fuel industry. The day before, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida announced a similar move. Other states, including Idaho, Louisiana and West Virginia, have either taken or are thinking of taking similar actions, which amount to ideological litmus tests that will likely result in lower returns for pensioners.

Author(s): Tobias Read

Publication Date: 17 Sept 2022

Publication Site: NYT

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas needs to adjust its investment return assumptions

Link: https://reason.org/commentary/the-teacher-retirement-system-of-texas-needs-to-adjust-its-investment-return-assumptions/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

An adjustment of the assumed rate of return down to 7.0% means the plan will recalculate pension debt upwards in 2023, but will also be better positioned to avoid future debt growth over the longer run. The forecast in Figure 2 compares the growth of TRS’ unfunded liabilities under three scenarios: 

  1. Returns meet TRS assumptions;
  2. TRS experiences two major recessions over the next 30 years;
  3. And, TRS makes actuarially determined contributions (also using the two-recession scenario).

With this actuarial modeling of the system, it is clear that statutorily limited contributions will continue to pose funding risks for TRS that will be borne by Texas taxpayers. A proposed 7.0% assumed return will readjust 2023 unfunded liabilities upwards by $6.5 billion, but the plan will suffer fewer investment losses over the next 30 years when the plan inevitably experiences returns that diverge from expectations. TRS’ unfunded liabilities will remain elevated under the rigid statutorily-set contributions. If, however, TRS was to transition to Actuarially Determined Employer Contributions (ADEC) each year, then even by recognizing higher 2023 debt (under a 7.0% assumption) TRS could shave billions off its unfunded liabilities by 2052 ($74.7 billion down from $81.3 billion with current 7.25% assumption).  

Author(s): Anil Niraula, Zachary Christensen

Publication Date: 15 Jun 2022

Publication Site: Reason

Examining the Teachers Retirement System of Texas after the pension reforms of 2019

Link: https://reason.org/backgrounder/reason-review-trs-after-sb12/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

TRS currently uses a 7.25% assumed rate of return, which is on the higher end of investment return assumptions among major public systems.

The national average expected rate of return has fallen to 7.0% over the years, with major plans like CalPERS now lowering assumptions into the 6-7% range.

Despite SB12 (2019), with investment returns expected to underperform over the next decade relative to expectations, capping contribution rates in statute creates the perfect conditions for unfunded liabilities to keep accruing just as they have since 2001.

Author(s): Leonard Gilroy, Steven Gassenberger

Publication Date: 3 June 2022

Publication Site: Reason

Republicans are winning in state government because their tax policies are winning

Link: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2022/03/06/republicans-are-winning-in-state-government-because-their-tax-policies-are-winning/

Excerpt:

Tax cuts remain a powerful tool to entice people and firms, and the pandemic has triggered a new tax war. After the lockdowns, states and cities predicted unprecedented revenue drops. Instead, economies bounced back quickly from the pandemic, partly because of widespread adoption of remote work and extensive federal aid from the Trump and Biden administrations — hundreds of billions of dollars in unemployment benefits (which kept individuals spending money), business loans and funding for local governments to fight COVID-19.

The March 2021 Biden stimulus then provided local governments with an unprecedented $350 billion to bolster their budgets. The revenue gusher has produced state budget surpluses where experts had only recently predicted steep deficits.

Nearly a dozen states, mostly Republican-governed, have used the windfall to cut taxes. Idaho reduced its corporate and individual tax rates and shrank its income-tax brackets from seven to five, producing a $163 million tax cut for residents and businesses. The state also sent $220 million in rebates to everyone who filed tax returns in 2019.

….

Advocates for higher taxes often say that the levies don’t drive away wealthy individuals or businesses. When New Jersey raised taxes on the wealthy in November 2020, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said, “When people say folks are going to leave, there’s no research anywhere that suggests that happens.”

Yet New Jersey, with taxes on the wealthy and on businesses long ranking among the nation’s highest, ranked a dismal 42nd in economic growth over the five years preceding the pandemic, according to one study, and it has been an economic laggard for two decades. Voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic state showed their disapproval in giving incumbent Murphy an extremely narrow victory in his November reelection bid. Polls showed that most voters favored the Republican position on cutting taxes over Murphy’s.

Author(s): Steven Malanga

Publication Date: 7 Mar 2022

Publication Site: Dallas Morning News

Texas teacher pension system makes investment in risky special purpose acquisition company

Link:https://reason.org/commentary/texas-teacher-pension-system-makes-investment-in-risky-special-purpose-acquisition-company/

Excerpt:

The Texas Teacher Retirement System recently announced that it would make its first investment in a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) totaling $200 million. Pension funds across the nations have spent the last decade seeking out higher investment yields from alternative investments like private equity in response to stagnating returns from more traditional investments. Recently a few funds have started to experiment with even more non-traditional vehicles such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs to improve investment results. Texas’ SPAC investment signals pension funds’ continued interest in these alternative assets.

….

SPACs are a perfect example of a high-risk, high-reward investment. Risk and transparency issues associated with this type of investment have even motivated the creation of SPAC insurance. Companies like HubInternational sell this insurance to investors for each stage of the SPAC process, ensuring they come out whole. Public pension funds like Texas TRS could theoretically buy this type of insurance on their SPAC investments, thus reducing the risk of the investment. The problem is the cost of SPAC insurance is rising fast, and the return adjusted for these costs is dwindling.

The risks associated with SPACs should make public pension funds very weary. Rather than continuing to take on riskier strategies to achieve lofty investment return goals, policymakers and those managing the retirement investments of public workers should lower assumed rates of investment returns and make other funding reforms that secure the long-term stability of retirement systems.

Author(s): Swaroop Bhagavatula

Publication Date: 21 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Reason

Wall Street’s Shift South Runs Into Texas, Florida Culture Wars

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-10-05/wall-street-s-shift-south-runs-into-texas-florida-culture-wars

Excerpt:

Wall Street’s three biggest municipal-bond underwriters have seen business grind to a halt in Texas after the state blocked governments from working with banks that have curtailed gun-industry ties. In June, as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was on the hunt for a new campus in Dallas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott took a shot at ESG initiatives by banning state investments in businesses that cut ties with oil and gas companies.

That’s not to mention the brawls over Covid vaccines and mask mandates, deadly Texas blackouts along the country’s most isolated power grid and new state laws that restrict voting and all but ban abortion. It’s all happening just as Wall Street’s shareholders push the industry to fight climate change, racism and the gender gap.

….

So far, most big banks haven’t taken public positions on the new abortion restrictions. They’re being cautious about requiring Covid-19 vaccinations for employees in places where officials have assailed mandates. But the new Texas gun law is running into both the industry’s efforts to advance social causes and its ability to work with the second-largest state for muni-bond issuance. 

JPMorgan Chase & Co. — which has 25,500 Texas employees, its most in any state outside New York — has said it can’t bid on most business with public entities in Texas because of ambiguities around the law. The biggest U.S. bank is assessing its potential next steps, said a person with knowledge of the company’s thinking. 

Author(s): Max Abelson, Amanda Albright

Publication Date: 5 October 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg

A New Study Confirms That Reopening Texas ‘100 Percent’ Had No Discernible Impact on COVID-19 Cases or Deaths

Excerpt:

More than two months later, the public health disaster predicted by Abbott’s critics has not materialized. A new analysis by three economists confirms that his decision had no discernible impact on COVID-19 cases or deaths in Texas.

“We find no evidence that the Texas reopening led to substantial changes in social mobility, including foot traffic at a wide set of business establishments in Texas,” Bentley University economist Dhaval Dave and his two co-authors report in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. “We find no evidence that the Texas reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases during the five weeks following the reopening.” They say their findings “underscore the limits of late-pandemic era COVID-19 reopening policies to alter private behavior.”

Dave, San Diego State University economist Joseph Sabia, and SDSU graduate research fellow Samuel Safford looked at smartphone mobility data from SafeGraph and COVID-19 data collected by The New York Times. They compared trends in Texas before and after Abbott’s order took effect on March 10 to trends in a composite of data from other states that retained their COVID-19 restrictions but were otherwise similar.

Author(s): Jacob Sullum

Publication Date: 21 May 2021

Publication Site: Reason

The COVID-19 Disaster That Did Not Happen in Texas

Excerpt:

Most businesses in Texas had been allowed to operate at 75 percent of capacity since mid-October, when Abbott also allowed bars to reopen. It was implausible that removing the cap would have much of an impact on virus transmission, even in businesses that were frequently hitting the 75 percent limit.

While Abbott said Texans would no longer be legally required to cover their faces in public, he urged them to keep doing so, and many businesses continued to require masks. At the stores I visit in Dallas, there has been no noticeable change in policy or in customer compliance.

Conversely, face mask mandates and occupancy limits did not prevent COVID-19 surges in states such as Michigan, where the seven-day average of newly confirmed infections has risen more than fivefold since March 1; Maine, which has seen a nearly threefold increase; and Minnesota, where that number has more than doubled. Cases also rose during that period, although less dramatically, in other states with relatively strict COVID-19 rules, including DelawareMarylandMassachusettsNew JerseyPennsylvania, and Washington.

Florida, a state often criticized as lax, also has seen a significant increase in daily new cases: 34 percent since mid-March. But Florida, despite its relatively old population, still has a per capita COVID-19 death rate only a bit higher than California’s, even though the latter state’s restrictions have been much more sweeping and prolonged.

Author(s): Jacob Sullum

Publication Date: 21 April 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Eviction Moratorium Deemed Unconstitutional by Federal Judge in Texas

Excerpt:

Judge J. Campbell Barker of the Eastern District of Texas, sided with plaintiffs who challenged the CDC’s eviction moratorium on Constitutional grounds. We’ve embedded the opinion for Terkel v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the end of this post. Even though some will be inclined to dismiss the ruling as politically-motivated (Barker was a Trump nominee), recall that it was the Trump Administration that first launched the eviction freeze. It initially ran through December 31, and covered tenants who gave their landlord a declaration attesting that the made less than $100,000 a year, had suffered a large hit to their income, were seeking assistance and would pay as much rent as they could. The Biden Administration planned to extend the moratorium to the end of March.

Bear in mind that the eviction halt dumped the cost of keeping coronavirus-whacked workers housed on landlords, rather than having the government provide income or rental subsidies.

Before we turn to the reasoning of the ruling, keep in mind that Judge Barker did not issue an injunction against the CDC’s moratorium, since the CDC apparently made noises at trial that they’d withdraw the moratorium if they lost. However, Barker told the plaintiffs they could come back and seek an injunction if the CDC didn’t play nice. There is no indication yet as to whether the Administration will appeal.

Author(s): Yves Smith

Publication Date: 26 February 2021

Publication Site: naked capitalism

Finicky COVID-19 vaccines raise the stakes of power outages

Link: https://www.theverge.com/science/2021/2/16/22285394/covid-vaccine-power-outage-freezer?mc_cid=cd30d3af2c&mc_eid=983bcf5922

Excerpt:

Winter storms paralyzing the United States have left millions without power and sent health officials scrambling to protect freezers full of COVID-19 vaccines, which have to be kept at extremely low temperatures or risk going bad.

Rolling blackouts through Texas took out at least one set of freezers full of the Moderna vaccine; 5,000 doses were sent to a university, a jail, and a handful of hospitals before they expired. The Oregon Health Authority is moving vaccines to places with power, although the agency isn’t disclosing which storage sites have their systems down. As part of its storm preparations, Kentucky made sure places holding COVID-19 vaccines had contingency plans.

Author(s): Nicole Wetsman

Publication Date: 16 February 2021

Publication Site: the Verge