Public Sector Costs are Bankrupting Detroit and Illinois

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2013

Week in Review

Public sector pay and benefits are crushing state governments and cities.  The City of Detroit is probably going to file bankruptcy.  And the State of Illinois just saw its bond rating cut (see Illinois Bond Grade Cut as Lawmakers Can’t Fix Pensions by Tim Jones & Brian Chappatta posted 6/3/2013 on Bloomberg).

Illinois had its credit rating cut one level after lawmakers failed to restructure state pensions saddled with almost $100 billion in unfunded liabilities…

The retirement systems cover state workers, teachers, university employees, judges and lawmakers…

“It is disgraceful that this year’s legislative session ended without a new pension plan,” Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a 58-year-old Republican who is running for governor in 2014, said in a statement. The failure “costs the state millions of dollars each day, plus these downgrades could continue to make borrowing additional funds even more expensive…”

Illinois’s growing pension deficit is “unsustainable,” Fitch analysts led by Karen Krop, a senior director in New York, said in a statement. The inaction by lawmakers raises questions about the state’s ability to deal with “numerous fiscal challenges.” They also cited a growing backlog of unpaid bills and borrowing to cover operational costs, indicating another cut may be forthcoming.

These public sector workers have pay and benefit packages unlike those in the private sector.  Which has to pay for the pay and benefits of both the private and public sectors.  So they keep raising taxes on individuals and businesses.  And our politicians never worry about the long-term consequences.  But they can only tax so much.  People can only pay so much in taxes before they can no longer pay their own bills.  So they start borrowing.  And the more they borrow the more risky they are to loan money to.  The more in debt they go and the greater their spending obligations the higher the interest rates they have to pay to get investors to take a chance on buying their bonds.  Because there’s a very good chance something like this will happen (see Detroit to offer creditors less than 10 percent of what city owes -report by Steve Neavling posted 6/7/2013 on Reuters).

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr plans to deliver grim news to the city’s creditors next week: Take less than 10 percent of what the city owes or risk losing it all in a bankruptcy proceeding, the Detroit Free Press reported on Friday…

In his report, Orr stated that the city has run annual deficits of $100 million and more since 2008. Detroit is believed to owe about $17 billion in debts and liabilities.

So on the one hand they beg and plead for investors to loan them money.  So they can pay the overwhelming costs of their public sector in the face of a shrinking tax base.  And then when their finances get so bad that they can’t even service their debt any more they say, “Thank you for your money when we could not raise any ourselves.  And because you took that great risk for us we will reward you by screwing you out of 90 cents of every dollar you loaned us.  But stick around after the bankruptcy.  For once we shed this debt we will need to borrow more to pay for the overwhelming costs of our public sector.”

Detroit had annual deficits of $100 million.  Illinois has $100 billion in unfunded liabilities.  Is it any wonder Fitch lowered their bond rating?  For the state of Illinois has a greater financial problem than the City of Detroit has.  The State of Michigan gave Detroit an emergency manager to fix their problems.  They even offered to buy a city park.  Belle Isle.  To help Detroit get out of the mess they put themselves into.  But Illinois cannot help Illinois.  Only the federal government can.  But will they?  If they do you know California will demand a bailout, too.  As will every other state and city with a crushing public sector cost will.  But the federal government can’t bail out everyone.  Not when they have their own trillion dollar deficit problem to fix.

No.  There is only one way to fix the problems these cities and states are having.  They have to cut their public sector costs.  Which means someone else besides the bondholders will have to take a haircut to put these states and cities back into the black.  Meaning the public sector can no longer enjoy the kind of benefits people in the private sector haven’t enjoyed in decades.

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Public Sector Pay and Benefits are Bankrupting France and New Jersey

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 22nd, 2010

Soon, in France, You’ll be Able to Retire Before You Start Working – If the Protestors Get Their Way

Je suis français.  I am French.  And being French, it is my birthright to get lots of free stuff.  Or so says Gilly, a cemetery union representative in Marseille.  The following quotes come from AP’s French strike to save ‘birthright’ of privileges posted 10/20/2010 on Google News.

For Gilly and many other Frenchmen and women, social benefits such as long vacations, state-subsidized health care and early retirement are more than just luxuries: They’re seen as a birthright — an essential part of the identity of today’s France.

I remember reading about the French Paradox.  While Americans were suffering epidemics of heart disease, the French were living to ripe old ages.  Free from heart disease.  The paradox?  The French diet.  Heavy creams.  Cheese.  Wine.  Sure, the Americans eat a lot of crap.  But how can the French have such a high cholesterol diet and not suffer heart disease like the Americans?  Perhaps this can explain it:

“We want to stop working at 60 because it’s something our parents, our grandparents and even our great-grandparents fought for,” says Gilly, 50, a union representative at Saint-Pierre Cemetery, the largest in this bustling Mediterranean port city.

Retire at 60?  Work for half of your life (or less) and enjoy a generous retirement.  No wonder they’re living so long.  No stress.  Cradle to grave welfare.  An early retirement.  Gosh, that sounds good.  Almost too good to be true.  Once upon a time, in feudal France, you worked from childhood until you died.  Things have definitely got better.  Just how long has it been this good?  According to Gilly, it goes back generations.  All the way to his great-grandparents.  But has it?

It was in 1982, under Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, that the minimum age to stop working was lowered from 65 to 60. The measure, emblematic of the 14-year Mitterrand presidency, was adopted by a special ordinance that bypassed parliament.

And now the government wants to raise the retirement age to 62.  You can understand Gilly’s consternation.  If you do the math, the average lifespan per generation must be somewhere around 10 years.  So one can understand how the 50 year old Gilly is anxious to retire at age 60 instead of at age 62.  Because people in his family rarely live beyond 10 years of age.  Unless Gilly is exaggerating for effect.  Or lying.  Because the French were retiring at age 65 until Mitterrand changed that in 1982.

Tax the Rich, Middle Class and Anyone Else Who Isn’t in the Public Sector

This is all well and good as long as someone else is paying the bill.  And this is something that the people in the social democracies don’t understand.  There is a limit to the treasury’s generosity.  For the public treasury to pay these very generous benefits, there has to be money in the treasury.  And states fill their treasury, basically, in one of three ways: taxing, borrowing and printing money. 

If they tax too much, people will have less disposable income.  They will buy less.  Private business will see a loss in sales revenue.  At the same time, they will have to pay more in taxes.  They may lay off employees to adjust to the reduced demand and higher tax burden.  The economy will slow into a recession. 

If they borrow too much money, interest rates will rise.  This will increase the interest people pay on their credit cards.  They will buy less.  Private businesses will see a loss in sales revenue while their costs go up (because of the higher interest rates).  They may lay off employees to adjust to the reduced demand and higher costs.  The economy will slow into a recession.

If they print too much money, they may ignite inflation.  Inflation raises prices.  People buy less because of high prices.  Private businesses will see their costs go up with these higher prices.  They may lay off employees to adjust to the reduced demand and higher costs.  The economy will slow into a recession.

To summarize, excessive government spending leads to recession.  Which results in fewer jobs in the private sector.  This is a big problem for those public sector jobs.  Because it’s the taxes from those private sector jobs that pay for those public sector jobs.  In other words, the more the public sector demands, the more they kill the private sector, the golden goose providing that rich public sector pay and those glorious public sector benefits.

The Sans-Culottes are Very Much Avec-Culottes These Days – But They Still Revolt

I’m sure the French understand this.  I mean, how bad is it really getting over there?  Well, see Clashes, protests in French tensions over pensions by AP’s Angela Charlton on www. apnews.myway.com.  She begins with:

PARIS (AP) – Protesters blockaded Marseille’s airport, Lady Gaga canceled concerts in Paris and rioting youths attacked police in Lyon on Thursday ahead of a tense Senate vote on raising the retirement age.

A quarter of the nation’s gas stations were out of fuel despite President Nicolas Sarkozy’s orders to force open depots barricaded by striking workers.

Gasoline shortages and violence on the margins of student protests have heightened the standoff between the government and labor unions who see retirement at 60 as a hard-earned right.

New violence broke out in Lyon, as police chased rampaging youths who overturned a car and hurled bottles. Riot officers tried to subdue the violence with tear gas. A gendarme helicopter circled overhead.

Wow.  If it wasn’t for the Lady Gaga and the airport and the gas stations and the police helicopter, you’d think the sans-culottes were making another revolution.  It brings to mind the classic lyrics of Adam and the Ants’ classic Ant Rap (my sister was a BIG fan):

Liberté, égalité, au jourd’hui c’est tres tres tres

Voici l’opportunite nous incroyables!

But this ain’t the 18th century.  And famine isn’t a way of life for the masses.  No.  In fact, life is pretty darn good.  No 18th century peasant lived as grand.  In fact, the life they’re protesting about today was closer to the French nobility than it was to the Third Estate in 1789.  These aren’t food riots.  This generation just doesn’t want to work another 2 years before retirement. 

It would appear that these protestors don’t understand the intricacies of a market economy.  Perhaps they have lived too long in a quasi-socialist state.  Been brainwashed by their unions.  Or maybe they just don’t care.  As long as they get their benefits now they don’t care how they impoverish future generations.  It’s a pity.  How a minority of the French people can destroy a great nation. 

Good Work if You Can Get it – and You Can Get it if You Belong to a Public Sector Union

One wonders how people can resort to violence.  Of course, when you consider how much better the public sector lives than the private sector, you wonder how this hasn’t exploded earlier.  Let’s go across the pond.  To New Jersey.  But first, if you work in the private sector, pause for a moment and think about your pay and benefits.  How hard you work and how little time you get off.  Feel overworked and underpaid?  If you worked a 60-hour week or two, you probably do.  Now, think about the last time some public sector union went on strike.  When they asked you to feel their pain.  To support their cause.  Okay, now read this excerpt from a My FOX New York article by Luke Funk (see Audit: NJ Turnpike Wasted Millions On Perks on www.myfoxny.com):

MYFOXNY.COM – Auditors say the New Jersey Turnpike Authority wasted $43 million on unneeded perks and bonuses.  In one case, an employee with a base salary of $73,469 earned $321,985 when all payouts and bonuses were included.

How does that make you feel?  Think about this the next time you get change from the person sitting in a New Jersey toll booth.  Think about your skill level and your pay.  Then think about the toll booth occupant’s skill level and pay.  Now switch places and imagine someone wanting to cut your pay and benefits.  I mean, if someone was trying to cut your pay by, say, $300,000 because the state is on the brink of bankruptcy, what would you do?  Start looking in the want ads for another unskilled job that pays 3-5 times of a skilled job in the private sector?  Or are you going to do what the French are doing?

Is it any wonder Europe is burning?  First Greece.  Now France.  You get pay and benefits like this and you live like royalty.  And one thing about royalty.  They don’t abdicate without a fight.

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