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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 1, 2007 4:26 AM. The previous post in this blog was Yes? Maybe. The next post in this blog is Quotation of the Day. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Grampy's payday loan

Remember last year, when we Portlanders voted to increase our property taxes in order to begin making a dent in the $1.8 billion (and growing) unfunded liability known as the city police and fire pension and disability fund? If you've forgotten, you'll be reminded soon. The annual property tax statements are due out within a couple of weeks. This is the first year we'll be paying the increased tax.

But did you know that the city's already spent that money? Our little examination of the city's finances last week revealed that the city ran out this past July and borrowed $23.7 million to "fund cash flow deficits" in the police and fire pension fund, with the newly-voted-in property taxes being designated to pay off the debt. Although tons of property tax cash will be flowing into the city's coffers in November, the bonds will remain outstanding until late June of next year. The interest rate (tax-exempt) is 4.25 percent. On $23.7 million, a year's worth of interest at 4.25 percent comes to $1,066,500. That's more than a million bucks in interest, because the city can't seem to manage its cash flow.

Portland, it appears, can't stop borrowing money. It's running out to the bond markets a half dozen times a year or more. There's another $15 million in bonds getting ready to be issued for emergency facilities, and new lines of credit totalling a whopping $277 million are about to be opened up for more "urban renewal." Every time Portland borrows money, a certain law firm is involved, no doubt earning a nice fee, and there are probably underwriters or other go-betweens who pick up a sizable commission on the placement of the debt. Portland's like a desperate family that can't pay its bills, and the payday lenders are making a pretty penny on the resulting mess.

The times of living within our means are ancient history in Portland -- that we probably will never reverse. But the size and frequency of the expensive borrowings are becoming frightening, and something ought to be done about them.

Comments (18)


Isn't that about the time the City declared a one time "surplus" and went on a $30+ million spending spree.

John, please. It was for the children... and the doulas...


Jack I just looked up the link.

http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=151729

The budget would have gone into effect July 1 why didn't we use that surplus to pay the bills. It is all smoke and mirrors.

It looks from this as though they've been running out and borrowing money to pay police and fire pensions every summer since 2002. That's a lot of bond counsel fees, and a lot of interest.

Amanda asked in her Blog about relative indebtedness of cities. Could you run that same Bond Report for several similar sized cities like Seattle, and Sacramento.

Wouldn't this fit within the description of job creation? A rough parallel to trumpeting the explosion of the number of Mortgage Brokers as a good thing?

The transaction cost per dollar of debt is much smaller with creation of public debt than with creation of private debt.

A student of African history would recognize that the profitable slave trade would not have been possible were it not for the complicity of blacks that had disagreements with other blacks.

The debt peddlers need the active assistance of locals.

A stream of payments not yet due until a future date, equally as to both an outstanding bond AND on a pay-as-you-go pension scheme, are just a market opportunity.

My initial challenge is still to get you to strip the word "unfunded" from characterization of Portland's safety worker pension scheme. So long as the scheme is pay-as-you-go (for tier one and tier two) the proper analysis is exclusively between sound or unsound. The instant the scheme is replaced with (or tainted with) the government acting as the designated investment banker for the private savings of private persons then it should fully flip over to an issue exclusively of who bears the risk of loss/gain on investments.

Otherwise, the ("unfunded") stream of payments due on a bond could itself serve as justification to issue bonds to invest on the hope of capturing a fraction of some presumed fact of future gain as asset hyperinflation explodes out of control in lockstep with the money supply. (In an absurd infinite repeat loop of bond issuances.)


See Perdue, Treasurer, v. Wise, Governor (No. 31749, December 1, 2004)

"The bond sale proponents envisioned that investment of the proceeds would yield income in excess of the interest payable on the bonds and thereby enable the state to reduce its future annual appropriations for the three pension systems. Opponents of the plan stressed that the investment plan contemplated by the Act necessarily includes the possibility of sustaining substantial losses due to stock and money market fluctuations."

*

"In challenging the constitutionality of the Act, Appellants argued below that the Act violates the debt provision of the State Constitution which, barring certain exceptions, prohibits the the state from incurring debt."

Would the referenced "certain law firm" think that the West Virginia court, or rather their reasoning, is more absurd than what I consider to be absurd?

Could our AG and State Treasurer candidates take a position similar to that asserted by the State Treasurer and Auditor in West Virginia? Could our state's outside council on such matters effectively represent them in such an assertion, consistent with rules pertaining to conflicts of interest and the principal of judicial estoppel?

Please drop "unfunded" and replace with "unsound," at least as to the old Portland safety worker pension scheme.

This is good stuff, Jack. Looks like Portland's been throwing a party with public debt, and someday, like next month the first of the bills start arriving in many of electorate's mail boxes. I'm hoping the bills might sober up the electorate, but I'm not sure. A month after the Oregon state kicker checks show up maybe offsetting the soberness of this November. May the Party continue until I've vacated this city for a more fiscally fit city/community.

I hear drug addicts steal metal to sell for scrap. How long 'til our city council's spending addiction means the end for Portlandia?

end for Portlandia

Surely there are some rails that could be pulled up and sold before it comes to that.

The most eggregious part of this story Jack raises is that it is so difficult to find this out and not a single elected official or agency tracks or raises concern for this problem.

Elected officials full of themselves, multiple agencies and 1000s of bureaucrats spending 100s of millions every year and this stuff lays around in peieces never to be collected and considered?
Exactly how bad would it have to get before someone, besides Jack, who is elected and paid to be "responsible" actually took responsibility?
This sort of management rises to the Enron form if only by reckless irresponsibily and incompetence.

And at the same timne insulting the masses with glee over a budget suplus?

Heads should roll.

Notice how the media hasn't reported anything about this debt clock of Jack's. Maybe the voters can do something about it in regards to Sam Adam and Randy Leonard's re-election hopes: vote them out.

No offense to those who are...but I'm so glad I'm not a civil servant.

About a year ago, I went out and borrowed money against the equity in my home, and spent it on things that I thought were important! Can you believe that I had the gall to do something like that?! How totally irresponsible!

The problem, Jonathan, is that people aren't aware of the extent of the borrowing and its effects on their future tax burdens, and they generally don't get to vote on the issues that led to all the debt.

In addition, we are saddling future generations with debt that they didn't create and may not want. Does this sound fair to you?

"I went out and borrowed money against the equity in my home, and spent it on things that I thought were important!"

That's nothing, my neighbor took out his home equity and raided his kid's college fund so he could buy a Porsche. You know it was important to him. He told the kid it would only take 30+ yrs to pay him back.

Speaking of borrowing for pensions, this story notes that sometime this week, the Oregon School Boards Association will be selling $110.1 million of "limited tax pension obligation bonds," through Seattle-Northwest Securities.

I went out and borrowed money against the equity in my home, and spent it on things that I thought were important

If you used the money to buy groceries, lottery tickets, and liquor, that was a bad move.

Could you run that same Bond Report for several similar sized cities like Seattle, and Sacramento

I would if I thought it would prove anything. We're running up too much debt, and I don't care whether other cities are doing the same thing. It's pure folly.


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