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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 8, 2007 10:41 AM. The previous post in this blog was How soft are the East Side streetcar budget numbers?. The next post in this blog is Send a message to Bush: Yes on 50. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

City of Portland debt update

A while back, I sat down and tried to get a handle on just how much long-term debt the City of Portland is in. Between pension obligations and long-term bonds, the amount I came up with was more than $4.2 billion, with a "b." That's a startling enough number that I posted a box summarizing my calculations in the left-hand sidebar to this blog. Yikes.

In continuing to study the city's numbers, I now see that my earlier calculations actually understated the city's debt. In addition to the long-term bonds and the unfunded pension liability, the city also has outstanding $172.2 million of nominally "short-term" debt obligations that are inevitably going to be turned into long-term bonds as soon as the city gets around to issuing the permanent IOUs. From the preliminary official statement on last week's bond sale (page 29 of this pdf file):

The City has issued short-term notes and lines of credit for a variety of purposes including interim construction financing of local improvement districts and interim financing for urban renewal district projects, housing, transportation, and other capital projects. The notes are paid primarily from bond proceeds sold at completion of the construction projects. The City currently has approximately $172.2 million of these short-term obligations outstanding.
This number is about to increase substantially as the PDC goes to the well for more "urban renewal" interim debt -- see the agenda for the next PDC meeting -- but just to keep our earlier report accurate, we need to show the existing $172.2 million on the city's debt clock. Moreover, the additional $11.5 million of debt that the city racked up in new bonds last week also needs to be reflected. The two new items total $183,690,000, which brings the city's grand long-term debt total up to $4,412,880,469 -- roughly $4.4 billion. Per resident, the debt comes to $7,842.47-- more than $31,000 for a family of four.

Here's a revised debt clock:

There's at least one more category of debt that is likely to be added to the clock soon. Government entities are now required to state their unfunded liabilities for retiree health care benefits. The city subsidizes retiree health insurance to some degree, and it's going to be required to come up with a figure representing its obligation to continue this subsidy. Multnomah County has already got an estimate of this figure in its bond sales document: $44.7 million. So far, Portland's been saying that it doesn't have a handy figure for this liability. When we see it, we'll be adding it in.

Comments (7)

This should be an interesting figure. The City self insures it's health care. State law requires the City to sell health care to retired employees at the average cost of insuring all employees both retired and not retired until age 65. Since older persons, retired or not, tend to use more heathcare than younger then arguably the younger trending non-retireds "subsidize" the older retired employees who are paying for the health care. Whmmmm.

Now MCO is different in that they directly partially subsidize health care for retired employees. (They pay part of the reired employees health care costs.) The City of Portland does not.

I'm betting the City reports that since it doesn't directly subsidize retired employees health care it has no number to report.

Greg C

In the latest bond offering document, they say that a number is being developed and has to be reported under the new government financial accounting rules.

******In the latest bond offering document, they say that a number is being developed and has to be reported under the new government financial accounting rules.*****

Well then we can look forward to reading an negative article about the number in the big "O" as soon as it comes out.

Greg C

"Government entities are now required to state their unfunded liabilities for retiree health care benefits."

Isn't this what is sinking GM (at least until the latest contract)? I think health care costs GM something like $2000 per car.

I am almost at the point in beliving in national health care IF the govt doesnt exempt govt employees.

Isn't this what is sinking GM (at least until the latest contract)? I think health care costs GM something like $2000 per car.

GMs problem is providing fully paid health insurance (no premium cost) to their retirees.

COP charges their pre-Medicare retirees the full premium cost. Greg C is correct -the subsidy comes in that the premium is set using the combined pool of actives and retirees (which is required by state statute).

When they come up with the number, we'll see how significant the subsidy is. In Multnomah County's case, it was substantial.

If the CoP were to require every employee to sign a document on an annual basis that they have been paid in full for all their labor services for the preceding year . . . is there ANY thing PROSPECTIVE to measure? If someone objects to signing such a document then they would have the burden in court to prove the value of this category of compensation that they claim to have earned (or accrued as with uncollected interest earnings of a financial institution). If it is not measurable and attributable to each employee could it really have ever been part of any bargain for pay for labor services? (That is a rhetorical question.) If they can measure it with sufficient certainty for a judicial determination of some debt owed to them by the CoP is it not also sufficiently certain too for the IRS to claim it as taxable earnings from labor services? (Or at least reportable but exempted in part from taxation.)

While we are on the accountability kick:

The substantial "employer contributions" to PERS is a form of compensation for labor services that also does not appropriately get pinned to individual employees as compensation contemporaneous with the period it was "earned" and thus escapes treatment as individual taxable earnings (or to apply federal limits for individual contributions to retirement plans in each year for federal income tax purposes). Is it really earnings or just post-employment tax-free gifts? (That is a rhetorical question.) (The PERS bonds are, in simplest terms, advance payment of "employer contributions" where liability is presumed.)

Would the present prospect of not receiving in the future an unearned untaxed gift constitute an "injury" that can form the basis for a "justiciable" controversy and result in a final court order? (GASB 43 and 45 transparency stuff does not trump this core issue, among others.)

Slush funds should not be coupled with "government." (My objection is not too different than my objection to any private company having their own in-house financial institution, in the form of a pension scheme, and thus escape heightened personal liability for the incorporator's of stand-alone financial institutions upon becoming insolvent. See for example Section 3 of Article XI of the Oregon Constitution.)

Just because some actuary can pull a number out of a magic hat does not translate to the notion that it is a "liability" in the same sense as with a determination of rights and obligations that accompany a final judicial action, one that it is stripped of non-cognizable contingent speculative future events. An actuary's "assumptions" are not FACT, except to the extent that they have such assumptions.

The only analytically sound way to address the "liability" is to assume that it is addressed in court upon the complete termination of such schemes, and which in truth represent dramatic departures from the principal found in the Equal Privileges and Immunities clause in any event. For example, henceforth all public employees get just cash and only cash. If the "government" offers a health coverage/insurance plan the eligibility for participation would not distinguish between people based upon the description of the entity from whom they obtained their cash, or even whether they obtained it from a gift or from self-employment or from the profits from the sale of goods or from royalties.

We won't have a clear answer, one that actually represents a real court determined liability, until someone demands that public employees are paid in cash, and for which the outer limit of the role of the government employer is to accommodate the individual employee to have some portion of their cash transferred (like automatic deposit) to private insurance provider (or dedicated investment trust) X Y or Z; just like any person without the status of employee of the "government."

The Wall Street creators/masters of GASB, and the little minions that think it IS LAW, are dead set on using "apparent" liability as an excuse to compound that liability by funding it by funneling money from locals (even if bonded) to Wall Street -- not to terminate the underlying liability and replace it with a substitute liability but to ADD NEW AND HIGHLY SPECULATIVE liability to potentially cover for investment losses. Try telling an official "internal auditor" that they are part of the problem rather than part of the solution! Try arguing that the Institute of Internal Auditors is part of a grand scam, dependent on the general incompetence/ignorance of it's members. (Same holds in part for CPAs.) Holding stock does not make a liability funded any more than does taking a snap shot of the credits one has racked up on a Video Poker Machine. It is not made any better if one has taken a sequence of snap snots of the credits on a Video Poker Machine to show that it has gone up, on average, as proof that it WILL GO UP AGAIN just as surely as the sun will rise again tomorrow (As The World Turns).

Go ask a certain local affiliate of a bond counsel firm, that also represented Oakland, if I am just blowing smoke. Or whether it is they who are full of _i_t?


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