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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 7, 2010 5:29 AM. The previous post in this blog was Have you heard about WikiLeaks yet?. The next post in this blog is Tax quiz. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You are what you elect

Yesterday's hilarious announcement by Portland's creepy mayor that the city must suddenly cut back on unnecessary spending came at a most interesting time. That very same day, the city was out selling general obligation bonds to the public via Wall Street intermediaries in a $20.7 million refinancing. Were the prospective bondholders alerted to the mayor's momentous memo about the looming cash flow difficulties? I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't. Is that kind of omission from disclosure legal under the securities laws? At this point, government finance in America has become such a Fantasyland that maybe it's not even worth asking any more.

How did the city wind up $2 million in the hole this year? Gee, could it have been the $415,000 that it paid Steve Janik to grease the skids on the Paulson stadium deal? Or the $159,000 in interest that will be paid out of the general fund in the first year of the new $12 million loan for the Paulson stadium deal? Not to mention what it spent on staff time to make His Lordship happy. That's more than a quarter of the $2 million shortfall right there.

And I thought we just discovered $2 million in mystery savings in the sewer department. Could that money be used to fund traditional city services? Oh, no -- that has to go for bike boulevards and bioswales (formerly known as ditches).

The most amusing part of yesterday's development, though, was the Trib's rote recitation of a highly misleading proposition: "the Oregon Constitution... requires the state and local governments to balance their budgets every fiscal year." Really? Then how does Portland have $2.9 billion (with a "b") in long-term bonds outstanding? And how is Portland able to borrow something like $27.8 million every year to pay police and fire pensions, by selling "tax anticipation notes," and pay the money back out of the following year's tax collections? Balanced budget, my eye. Credit card binging and check kiting is a lot closer to an accurate description of the reality. Whatever the state constitution requires, it's nothing like what any household's money manager would call a "balanced budget."

It's sort of like the oft-repeated assertion that Portland has an "AAA" debt rating. Of the billions in long-term Portland bonds outstanding, only the general obligation bonds are AAA-rated. Many other of its bond issues bear lesser ratings, and have done so since the financial crash of the fall of 2008. Saying the city has an "AAA" debt rating is like saying that you're a vegetarian sometimes.

When the house of cards blows down, and that day will be sooner than most folks think, the public will wonder, "What happened to us?" It's pretty simple. The public let guys like the mayor, the city's money people, the bond lawyer, and the bankers and rating agencies whom the city enriches month after month, draw a curtain of secrecy and complexity around municipal finances. The only people accountable to the public are the elected officials, and let's face it, we have put in charge of our money a guy who not so long ago couldn't be trusted to make his own mortgage payments. Now he's in charge of a multi-billion-dollar business that's way over his head. And apparently the city doesn't even have a CFO, a treasurer, or a controller at the moment.

Don't expect Salem to be of any help at all. Oregon's got a long stay in the intensive care unit right around the corner. There will be no handouts from that quarter. Maybe Mike Bellotti will step up and donate $2 million to the city, but I doubt it.

Down in Los Angeles, the mayor's about to put the city government on a three-day work week rather than have its checks bounce. They've finally run out the clock on the financial shell game there. Default and decay are about to happen. It'll be pretty bad in Portland, too, before you know it. Yesterday's memo from the dude at the top is just the beginning. But hey, time to buy the Post Office at 150% of appraised value! Time to form another "urban renewal" district!

Go by streetcar!

Comments (27)

"Really? Then how does Portland have $2.9 billion (with a "b") in long-term bonds outstanding?"

They have to balance their budget, but they can issue debt for approved projects which is a big problem for people like Samdy who like spending other people's money on their projects.

Of course, when you always tell people the money if for the kids or can arbitrarily raise water rates any amount you want, it makes it easy to shake us down.

Expect every city service they can charge for to double in the next 3 years - Randy knwos what works.

I heard on the news this morning: Business license tax revenues are down at a time when City spending is way up. The solution? Freeze unnecessary overtime.

What about reducing spending overall, not just overtime costs?

I'm worried about the #2 Best Bike City rating--I'm sure bike spending is about to increase significantly so we can earn back that #1 ranking.

Saying the city has a AAA debt rating is like saying you're a vegetarian sometimes. It's also a lot like part-time celibacy...

Mr. B,

Third paragraph:

"And I thought we just discovered $2 million in mystery savings in the sewer department."

I know how difficult it must be to suspend reality when referring to $2 million in "found" money is. But I believe it's $20 million that we have discovered for drainage ditches and nice pretties.

Having sat through numerous legislative revenue discussions in Salem, I've noted a growing sense that Oregon government (at all levels) is "too big to fail." It's as if the fan has been turned on and folks are just waiting for a large load of manure to arrive. When it does, there is also an expectation that the federal government will step in, clean up the mess and bail us out. After all, the feds helped out Wall Street, of course they'll do the same for us.

Considering how the street drains are so often clogged, turning corners into mini lakes, I have to wonder how long it's going to be before someone's kid drowns in one of the bioswales. Or someone pitches headlong into one by accident. Those suckers are deep. And I'm guessing that like sidewalks it's the property owner, not the city, who'll be sued.

You folks don't need to worry -- the Feds are building the marketplace's appetite for municipal debt through heavily subsidized Build America Bonds. And Daddy Barack proposes to make the program permanent. Debt is good, borrow on!

Mayor Adams is using Bama's tactics. Say you are concerned about a budget deficit (the smoke and mirror) all the while you have been growing spending/borrowing rapidly at a crisis building pace. What is really discouraging is these habits are decades in the making, made possible by DC's fiat money printing press.

Most of the growing financial problem nationally and at the state levels is not bond debt outstanding but unfunded obligations for Medicare, social security and government employee pensions (Something over $50 trillion present valued vs Debt outstanding of somewhere around $10 trillion). By the way, Stanford University calculates California's state employee pension unfunded obligation at some $500 billion.

Portland city also has pension problems, but it actually has just as much bond indebtness. Portland has been playing the high density construction game for so long that if this game slows, the house of cards our commissioners have built could collapse quickly. Cityhall's green rave policies are all about keeping this game going, not actual environmental concern. If the state and Metro can't keep population growth steered towards the city of Portland, this city goes down the tubes economically.

Personally, I hate the city's densification but if it doesn't continue then I probably get tagged with sharply higher property taxes and fees (significantly greater than otherwise). I guess the best personal course is to ready a Portland city exit strategy.

Great summary, file it away and pull it out after 5 years, in a 'told-ya-so' fashion...

"When the house of cards blows down, and that day will be sooner than most folks think, the public will wonder, "What happened to us?" It's pretty simple. The public let guys like the mayor, the city's money people, the bond lawyer, and the bankers and rating agencies whom the city enriches month after month, draw a curtain of secrecy and complexity around municipal finances."
===

So true. And it is the same at the federal level as well.

"The only people accountable to the public are the elected officials, and let's face it, we have put in charge of our money a guy who not so long ago couldn't be trusted to make his own mortgage payments. Now he's in charge of a multi-billion-dollar business that's way over his head."
===

Over his head in Portland. And Obama is over his head in Wash., DC. As was GWBush before him. Not just way over their heads, but very content (both of them) to just keep spending, even while saying slow down, their feet (both ObamaBush) firmly planted on the gas pedal.

Volker (or was it Greenspan?) just this week said that the only real answer for the Trillions in gov't spending at the Federal level is more taxes. He said that it is inevitable that a Euro-style VAT tax is coming. USA becomes more like Socialistic European countries or more like Greece. Spendaholics Bush, Obama or Samdy can only keep spending.

Every level of government has a teetering debt load.

Think of the Grinch holding his giant overburdened sleigh over the edge of that cliff. That is our debt load. But instead of a fictional character who can suddenly take on the strength of ten grinches plus two, that sleigh is being held by men like Sam Adams. Men who will turn and run for the exits when it becomes apparent that this isn't "blow over" kind of trouble, but real people-in-the-streets kind of trouble.

Watch what happens to Greece in the next couple of weeks. They've gone from talking to Europe about a bailout, to talking to the IMF, to now talking to Arab countries. Uh oh.

That's what's coming here. California going hat in hand to Abu Dhabi for one last hit off the crack pipe. "Just one more hit to get me through, then it will be alright."

You can't borrow your way out of debt.

The only "painless" way to alleviate the situation (and politicians only care about the most painless way) is through very significant inflation which makes the debt load seem not so bad, while crushing the value of your savings and your paycheck.

Buckle up. Keep your loved ones and friends close.

Harry, Volker said that. He's the only realistic person left in DC. At this point, the one telling you what you don't want to hear (more taxes are inevitable) is the only one telling you the truth.

Greenspan's only goal over the last few years has been to deflect blame off of himself.

Only a $2M shortfall? No problem, can't he just change some of the yellow money to blue money or re-category other funds like he usually does when convenient?

Balancing the budget, I believe, is expenses must not be greater than revenues. Deferred debt (think bonds) goes on the balance sheet - and most municipal entities have significant assets (buildings, roads, pipe in the ground, pump stations, parks, etc.) to offset the debt on the balance sheet. Of course, this does not take into account cash flow, and how do we fund all of this.

Ringing up millions/billions in debt, especially when the payback may be fifty years in the future, certainly isn't always prudent - but only the immediate expense from the debt impacts budgets.

No, Mr. Belotti will be hanging onto his hard-earned money. I mean, look at all the glowing examples of good citizens he's turned out down there!
Oh, and if you think his parachute is shady, wait until Fred Hansen's exit package is discovered!

You guys worry too much. Any day now all those biotech jobs will come online and our streetcars and bike lanes and young-creative vibe will have Google and Apple and other cool Fortune 500 companies clamoring to move their headquarters here. Then Saks will come back, residents and business owners will move back in from the suburbs, and all the empty condo buildings will be filled. We'll have all that debt -- pennies, really -- wiped out in a New York minute.

Just another pattern of curtain open and curtain closed. Mayor telling of concern for finances, and then behind the scenes doing what?

Add in the mix, the emergency ordinance last spring by Leonard of over $130 million for a storage tank at Powell Butte just in case we couldn't get an exemption from EPA. Did the Mayor not know about budget problems a few weeks ago when Council passed another emergency ordinance for a Kelly Butte project? Sometimes the curtain opens and closes rather quickly. Can we now see the details?

The budget meetings for the public are just for show, like everything else. Curtain open, sit down and work like students on assignments. When I attended my first and only one, I asked about an item I was concerned about. A city official came to explain to me that item was not on the table. (apparently on a shelf with other items behind the curtain)

We need a list of what other items are not on the table for the public to prioritize.

Good material for political theater here. In this case we won't be able to just walk out of the play and go on with our lives. We will be living the "house of cards falling down"!

The biotech jobs are already here...just a few miles west. Genentech is opening new facility. Wasn't it supposed to be in SoWhat? No...they got smart and went to Washington County. Way too many things are too scary in Portland, starting with the City Council. Too late to move out now.

Genentech is a biotech company, but the Hillsboro location is NOT a biotech facility. It's a packaging facility:

"Manufacturing biologic drugs is a complex process .... That work is done at two California facilities. Genentech will ship that product to Hillsboro in bulk, where it will be placed in individual vials for distribution to doctors. The Oregon factory will be Genentech's only U.S. facility doing that kind of work."

Garage,
Yes but there were supposed to be research jobs from them at SoWhat. Try to keep up.

"Socialistic European countries"

Now I know where the -ic off of "Democrat" went.

I thought Steve Janik was only going to rep one side now - For a 20% discount in fees.

From today's New York Times: "Tensions had been growing in Kyrgyzstan over what human rights groups contended were the increasingly repressive policies of President Bakiyev, but it appeared that the immediate catalyst for the violence was anger over a reported quadrupling in the prices for utilities."

Thank goodness that could never happen in Portland. Right?

When we finally go belly up, all of the public assets that we have put up for collateral will go to the bond holders effectively privatizing government.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100406/METRO01/4060342/1409/Report--Detroit-bankruptcy-looms-without-drastic-change#ixzz0kRf52NXr
. . . Detroit -- Mayor Dave Bing and the City Council must reduce the size of government and slash the city's budget deficit to stave off bankruptcy or state receivership, according to a report released Monday.
Without draconian cuts and changes aimed at downsizing government, the city could end up with a "possible" general fund deficit between $446 million and $466 million to its $1.6 billion budget. . .

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland,_Oregon
Population (2009)
- City 582,130
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit
Population (2008)[2]
- City 912,062

Realizing Detroit numbers are a yearly budget, I still found it startling - that these figures are so remarkably similar to what we are hearing about what the EPA LT2 could cost us! The figures are about $400 million to cover reservoirs and about $1.6 billion with debt for the reservoir coverage and treatment plant. Oh and I might add, for a public health problem that does not exist. When will our PWB, Leonard and Council put a stop to this and seriously ask for an exemption?

Leonard is now asking for an investigation into Police budget over runs, while he sinks the ship with his irresponsible spending and debt in the Water Bureau. Very reassuring, with him knowing everything and always being right, with our money.

Y'all gave him a 72% election margin 2 years ago. Two more years of him should just about do it, as he threatens to close fire stations and then build unneeded reservoirs while lining his own pockets.

"Y'all gave him a 72% election margin 2 years ago."
===

Huh, we did?

Uh, whadda sayin?

Like, uh, what, we put him there, so we get what we wanted, or something?

That was then. People are saying he changed and regret they voted for him. What happened to Leonard?


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