Larry Littlefield's blog
The following post analyzes changes in local government revenues per $1,000 of personal income for FY 2002 and FY 2009, comparing New York City, the rest of New York State, and New Jersey to the U.S. average, using data linked from this post. My general take on this data over the years is that everything is locked in in New York and nothing ever changes, but in this case some things definitely did.
The upshot on revenues? In FY 2009 New York City’s state and local tax burden, as a percent of its residents’ personal income, was 53.2% higher than the national average, up from 34.4% above average in FY 2002. This despite the fact that the U.S. average increased as well, from just under 10.2% of personal income to just over 10.4% of personal income. New York City, based on long term Census Bureau data attached to this post, had not been that far above the U.S. average since 1987 – it had been more than 50.0% above average from 1977 to that year. The combined state and local tax burden for the rest of New York State, taken together, increased from 22.2% higher than the U.S. average to 34.4% higher. The rest of the state had never been that high above average according to the data I have available, for 1972 and all years from 1977 to 2009 (except a couple when the Bureau did not collect it). The tax burden of New Jersey had been about average in FY 2002, as it had been for some time before, but was 12.2% above average in FY 2009.
It is late in coming, and only preliminary, but comparative local government finance data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau became available for FY 2009 late last year. As in the past, I’ve crunched this down into tables that compare local government revenues, expenditures and debts for New York City, the rest of New York State, New Jersey and the United States for fiscal 2002 and 2009. I chose FY 2002 for a comparison year because it was a recession year for the economy, like FY2009, and because it was the last budget passed before now-Mayor Bloomberg took office. When the more detailed data from the 2007 Census of Governments was out, I had compared that year with 2000, another peak year for the economy, for the same reason – the need to separate the effect of trends in the economy from the effect of actual decisions by state and local officials, here and elsewhere, on the margins. The more detailed 2007 Census of Government data is attached to this post, and further described in this post.
Unfortunately, the part of the Room Eight program that allows spreadsheets to be attached no longer works, so I had to ask the site owners to post the new data here. The “output” worksheet was set up to print on two 8 ½ by 11 inch pages; the other worksheet show what I did with the data, step by step after downloading, to not only present it but also to make it comparable across areas to the extent possible, as described after the break. I suggest downloading the data, printing it, and then reading on.
Back in January 2007, five years ago. And here comes The Economist with the results. "There is no doubt that hedge-fund managers have been good at making money for themselves. Many of America’s recently minted billionaires grew rich from hedge clippings. But as a new book by Simon Lack, who spent many years studying hedge funds at JPMorgan, points out, it is hard to think of any clients that have become rich by investing in hedge funds" with an average return since 1998 of 2.1% a year, "half the return they could have achieved by investing in boring old Treasury bills."
"Mr Lack’s book suggests the blind faith displayed by many institutional investors in hedge funds needs to be reconsidered...Investing in hedge funds will enable some lucky managers to enjoy an early retirement on their yachts. It will not enable pension funds to eliminate their deficits." It wasn't blind faith. It was just coming up with an excuse to project future returns to be higher than they would turn out to be, to back a false estimate of the cost of pension enrichments for the pension rich while providing more public money to the one percent.
In the January 4 Financial Times, Alan Greenspan implies tomorrow’s senior citizens are the new welfare queens. “The welfare state in the United States has run up against a brick wall of economic reality and fiscal bookkeeping,” he wrote, because Congress “has enacted increases in entitlements without visible means of funding them.” He isn’t talking about Black people and Immigrants in older central city ghettos. He is talking about benefits for seniors. “The only viable long term solution appears to be a shift in federal entitlements programs to defined contribution status.” So he is asserting that his generation, and the ones immediately after, should only get back what they put in? Almost certainly not. After all, the baby boomers were “the most productive” in U.S. history according to Greenspan, whereas those who will replace them in retirement are those “who in 1995 shocked us by scoring so poorly on maths and in international science competitions.” Let’s give them the poverty and early death they deserve, says Generation Greed’s Greenspan.
What is particularly outrageous about this is not so much what is said but the man who said it. This is Alan Greenspan we are talking about. Remember 1982? Remember 2001? Remember 2007? The best that may be said of Greenspan is that his mistakes enabled those now 55 and over to benefit at the expense of those coming after, and those getting rich as their companies, particularly financial companies, were pillaged to benefit at the expense of the rest. It may be more accurate to claim that these were not mistakes.
Common Cause has recently released its own “non-partisan” redistricting maps for Congress, State Senate, and State Assembly. Although I liked the idea of possible turnover because some districts would have more than one incumbent while others would have an open seat, the Common Cause maps were not the improvement I hoped they would be otherwise. When I look at Brooklyn, the Common Cause lines are a mess for Congress and to a lesser extent for State Senate. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Assembly districts seem to be better, because they are smaller.
Perhaps the idea of “community of interest,” specifically based on race, is what is causing the problem. That certainly is what is causing massive gerrymanders in the proposed Common Cause map for Congress. What seems to be happening, in a country with a Black President and a city where there is no “majority” racial group, is integration, particularly among the young. Common Cause finds non-Whites moving in traditionally “White” areas and “Whites” moving into traditionally “Black” areas. And that is a problem for the way districts are thought of, through the eyes of tribalist bigotry. Thus Common Cause ends up with a mandate to create two "Black" districts, each one with a barely a majority for "Blacks," neither of which may still have a majority a few years from now. By dividing the “Black” neighborhoods into two, in fact, there may be no traditional “Black” seat by 2014. So I have another suggestion.
Things sure seem to have changed at the New York Times. After a couple of decades of being the veritable mouthpiece of the non-profiteers, the Times has recently been raising questions about how much New York City and State pay them, much of it under the Medicaid program, and how little is received in return. In the latest article, the Times examined at-home services for the disabled, for which the city state and federal governments pay $45 to $67 per hour to non-profit organizations that dispatch aides paid $9 to $15 per hour. The huge profit margin allows the non-profits to pay big salaries to those who run them.
This is just one example of what has happened in the city’s “non-profit” “charities” over the years. They have become a big part of the reason that New Yorkers pay so much in taxes, and receive so little in return. What is particularly disturbing is that this problem has infected a type of organization that was thought of as the solution 40 to 50 years ago, due the failures and ripoffs of public employee unions, government bureaucracies, and government contractors.
It’s happening, just as I predicted in this post after the 25/55 pension deal passed for New York City teachers. The New York Times reports that desperate middle class parents are responding to the financial degradation of the public schools by forming underground education co-ops. Providing for themselves, outside the formal structure and at risk of persecution from it, the education they pay taxes for after those taxes were diverted to the early retired. According to the article, the underground is in pre-K, which was supposed to become “universal” but never has been. “For parents like us, options are limited. Private pre-K can run more than $30,000 a year at the fanciest schools. Depending on the neighborhood, spaces with community-based organizations — private preschools that partner with the state and accept state subsidies but handle their own applications — can be as elusive as public pre-K spots. If home schooling is daunting, and if not schooling feels wrong, the only other choice, it seems, is to join the legions of parents who have taken matters into their own hands and formed co-ops.”
Today pre-K, tomorrow grade school and more. Not because it is better or even good, not because teachers aren’t needed or wanted, but because that is what will be left in the aftermath of Generation Greed. With the benefit of information technology and unemployed would-be teachers with no choice but to help out and work for peanuts, it might work for children with educated parents. For the rest, forget it, and kiss equal opportunity goodbye.
Confirming its prior analysis, and the analysis of independent actuary John Bury, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has once again found New York City’s pension plans to be among the most dangerously underfunded in the United States, this time in light of the new rules proposed by the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB). The New York State pension plans, which also cover local government workers in the portion of the state outside New York City, are once again found to be among the best funded.
Noted actuary Girard Miller who writes for Governing Magazine, for those plans scheduled to run out of money in less than 25 years “without causing a panic, it's clear that the time has come for stakeholders, trustees and plan sponsors in these systems to ask penetrating questions and get to work on solutions -- pronto. That includes the unions whose members must contribute to the solutions and stop playing the ‘not me’ entitlement game.” He lists 28 plans among those in desperate shape, including the New York City Teachers and New York City Employees, but the Boston College report only included larger plans. Other analyses have shown the NYC Police and Fire pension plans to be worse off than the NYC Employees retirement plan, though not as bad off as the Teachers. “This abyss,” said Miller, “is the result of a decade or more of benign neglect by all parties at the table.” Actually in New York, there have been additional retroactive pension enhancements in the past decade, and deals to borrow money from the pension plans to pay pension contributions, which is much worse than benign neglect.
In New York City, politicians continue to argue over extending policies that provide higher wages for workers with privileged connections to government money (or employees of firms with privileged connections to government money). One of the goals is to prevent the city from reducing costs and providing better public services for its people by contracting with private companies, by comparing the cost of the contracts with the cost of public workers excluding their greatest cost – the many years they get in retirement.
In San Francisco, on the other hand, there is a higher minimum wage for everyone – now $10.20 per hour. Not just for those with a special relationship with the government, who are then made better off than those with no such relationship. Now San Francisco is not the equivalent of New York City. It is the equivalent of Manhattan. So I wouldn’t argue that all of New York City should have a higher minimum wage. But perhaps Manhattan and the downstate suburban towns that zone out the working poor should. To offset the cost of getting to work on a transit system that New York’s political class is sending back to the 1970s. Or the risk of long bicycle rides on suburban roads where the Lexus SUVs might just cement your low status by running you over. The political class and the executive class do pretty well in SF also, but I guess they have some money left over for the serfs.
We had a bunch of unemployed young adults hanging out in a park who were demonized by the press until they were cleared out by the police. We have a state budget that the Governor says is falling apart. We have a nexus of public employee unions and politicians, the political class, that starts yelling about Goldman Sachs any time anyone brings up the deals they have relative to other people. They desperately want to blame the ongoing collapse of public services on inadequate taxation of millionaires. You have an executive class that hates, Obama, the Dodd-Frank act, and Occupy Wall Street for raising the issue of executive pay, particularly on Wall Street, and calls anyone who wants to talk about it a “socialist” who doesn’t want to get a job, presumably including their own investors.
It’s getting nasty out there, and among the angriest people are those who have in fact become much better off over the past 20 years while most people have become worse off. Here in New York, I’ve found a way to show who’s who and what’s what in one chart, which is linked here (I hope). It shows trends over 20 years for three groups of people – the executive class, the political class and the serfs, along with a couple of causal indicators. I suggest printing it out before reading the rest of this post. You’ll see two lines that track each other almost exactly. One is payroll per worker in the Downstate New York financial sector, adjusted for inflation. The second is the total payouts from the public employee pension funds of the City of New York. Both have soared, relative to what most people earn, and for the same reason – self dealing by powerful insiders at the expense of everyone else.
There is breaking news that the NBA players and owners have reached a deal to save the extended pre-season. When that many teams make the playoffs, that’s’ all the “regular season” is – a preseason at regular season prices. The owners had locked the players out because they wanted what all members of the executive class want when they come to own professional sports teams. An end to the free market in labor, to be replaced with a “salary cap” system intended to keep labor income down, such as the one now in place (with “harder” and “softer” caps different cases) in every major sport.
The attitude is very different, of course, when members of the executive class are setting each other’s pay. They claim that the huge increase in their share of total wealth in the 1990s, justified then by the stock market bubble at the time but never reduced once the bubble deflated, is the result of a sacrosanct “free market.” In reality, however, the market in executive pay is just as rigged, but in the other direction. Through the agency of the executive pay consultants they all hire, Boards of Directors inevitably conclude that if the previous deal for an executive was for X, the next executive deserves X plus 10 percent. And then when member of the Board of one company get their pay set in another company, they expect X plus 10 percent plus 10 percent. That is nothing like a free market, and very much like the way public employee pay and pensions are set – more and more for those in on the deal, leaving less and less for those forced to pay, who have no say. And there is no salary cap in executive pay, and no thought of creating one.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Governor Cuomo is negotiating with public employee unions to use pension funds to pay for infrastructure. So how much interest is Governor Cuomo going to pay on those loans from the pension funds? They assume an 8.0% rate of return – starting from the peak of the stock market bubble in 2000. If they didn't, New York’s state and local governments would have to admit that, for example, NYC pension contributions would have to rise far higher than the 40.0% of payroll they are now. Taxes would have to rise, and or public services would have to be further gutted, to make up the difference. Above and beyond the devastation already being visited on less politically influential New Yorkers.
Either Cuomo is looking to raid the pension funds, perhaps offering even earlier retirement in exchange, with the cost deferred. Or the pension funds are looking to raid whoever will be paying back the debt, by having the state pay a higher interest rate than it could get by just issuing bonds. Or perhaps Cuomo hopes that by locking public employee pension funds into a lower rate of return, and then jacking up local government contributions to the funds to make up for it, he can force local governments to fund the state budget. Regardless, when politicians and pension funds get together, there is no doubt who is being made worse off. Future generations of less well off people who don’t even get pensions themselves. Because both pension funds and municipal bonds are tax free, it makes no sense of pension funds to invest in municipal bonds. This is just another way for Generation Greed to defer the disaster it has created for the future, now the present, into the later future. Hey Governor, if you want to borrow, put a referendum to the voters, as the state constitution requires. If the pension funds want to invest in the bond issue at the market clearing interest rates, they would be free to do so.
Even as Generation Greed politicians in Washington fail to agree whether to charge younger generations higher taxes than they themselves were willing to pay to make up for the debts and benefits they promised themselves, or to force younger generations of Americans to suffer drastic cuts in public services and benefits to make up for their history of voting for politicians promising tax cuts, the damage has started to accumulate. They have decided it is better if younger generations don’t know how much worse off they are, and have started suppressing the evidence, reversing the internet-driven trend of more information becoming easier to get. In the future, you’ll only know what the Executive Class and the Political Class want you to know.
The federal government has published a Statistical Abstract of the United States every year since 1878. The current, 2012 edition will evidently be the last. The Census Bureau is also scaling back information on state and local government finances and employment, in part due to budget cuts, in part because state and local governments are no longer willing to cooperate by sending in the data. Perhaps the political class doesn’t want people to be able to find out how much of their tax payments are going to the retroactive pension enhancements for public employees enacted over the past 20 years. The executive class certainly doesn’t want people to know how much everyone else’s wages are going down, which is why the Republican Party has called for the elimination of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. So why can’t the federal government afford to provide information to Americans anymore? What has changed? As I did the last time there was a Presidential election, I expect to answer that question early next year using data on federal revenues and expenditures over time provided in an easily accessible format by the Statistical Abstract of the United States. Perhaps for the last time.
Well, that was fun. How realistic do I believe the railroad pipedream outlined in the previous posts is? I had outlined and researched this series of posts in early July, but I didn’t find the motivation to write it until November. Now those who read all the posts might be in agreement, or disagreement, with the particulars of what I have suggested, and the economic, demographic and commercial real estate trends I have described. (Bear in mind that I write reports on those subjects every day, reports people pay to read). You may have other thoughts on the issue. You may be thinking about the possible effect of different decisions on the well being of large number of New Yorkers in the future, and how priorities might be set. You might even be thinking about construction methods, rail operations, and government contract law, commercial real estate trends, global economic trends, and demographic trends.
But I assure you, based on 20 years of observation, that none of those things mean much at all in the state legislature in Albany, New York. There the credo isn’t what is best for us, but what is in it for me and mine. And none of the parties involved could be expected to approach the issue of rail freight from any other perspective. In Albany it is never about “what,” and always about “who.”
The primary purpose of the Upstate railroad investments imagined in this pipedream is to speed freight traffic between points west of the Mississippi River, and east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio River, to New York State, New Jersey and New England. The Upstate investments would take the place of additional highway lanes, such as those being built in on the Turnpike in New Jersey, and make transportation through New York more competitive with transportation through other states. The Upstate investments would also make the New York/New Jersey seaport, located in New Jersey, more competitive with other East Coast ports, and could feed a rail freight tunnel from New Jersey to the Bronx. Finally, the pipedream would remove freight traffic from the Empire Corridor, making high-speed passenger rail more possible.
These are the transportation goals. But the entire pipedream, with the freight tunnel and the investments Upstate, would also have economic development goals for Upstate New York.