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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 6, 2012 7:46 AM. The previous post in this blog was Blazer games will never be the same. The next post in this blog is Rogue Clackamas commission takes shaky bond deal into back room. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Oregon went long on a bad bet

Several readers have sent us links to this story, about how state and local governments stuck their necks out several years back by borrowing money to fund their employees' pensions. The idea was that the governments could make more money on their investments than they'd owe in interest -- the old concepts of leverage and arbitrage.

But it hasn't turned out that way. The interest that the governments are paying on the pension bonds nowadays is far greater than the returns that are coming in from investments. It's been that way for several years now. The banks and other bondholders are making out, but the states and municipalities are going broke quick.

And as it happens -- and this is what got our readers' attention -- Oregon is at the very top of the list of the states that took this risky tack. The state and various municipalities within it are suffering from a severe case of exposure. The City of Portland, for example, has about $260 million of "pension obligation bonds" outstanding, some running through 2029 at interest rates in the 7.5%-to-8% range. Such a deal. Those bonds were sold in 1999, when Char-Lie Hales and Mother Vera were watching over the money.

Down in Stockton, California, things have gotten so bad that the city has actually defaulted on its pension bonds. That hasn't happened in Oregon, at least not yet.

The Salem Statesman-Journal took a look at the situation in our state a few years ago. Its report is an interesting read, here.

Comments (15)

It looks like the Statesman and the Vancouver paper is now our go-to newspapers for news for our region.

Remember, these govt. folks are a lot smarter than us regular citizens.

As I recall, the brain trust over at Tri-Met did something similar when they were convinced that the whacky peak-oil theory was true and that diesel prices were on their way to $100/gallon.

http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/03/post_61.html

This all harkens to Hayek's Fatal Conceit. It would be wonderful if government could solve our problems or invest our money but it is never good at doing so.

Maybe all of this is the reason why the government folks are rushing to build everything they can - light rail everywhere, now a new passenger rail project, the Convention Center Hotel...they know that if they wait, we'll be bankrupt and it'll never happen. So put off the essential stuff, build the crap that we don't need. When we're bankrupt, then local residents will either be forced to jack our taxes sky high - OR choose what we want. And we wouldn't shut down brand new facilities, would we? We wouldn't dare shut down the shiny new light rail line we just built...no, we'll tear down streetlights, revert paved roads to gravel, "decommission" streets (turn the streets over to the adjoining property owners and let them deal with maintenance)...

Blues states lead and dominate the list of shame. People who blindly believe in the beneficence of government (aka Democrats) sow the very seeds of its destruction once again. It is to cover up follies like this that Obama and friends wasted stimulus funds, directing money to state and local employees and government employee unions, instead of investing in real infrastructure with real long-term payoffs that would be benefiting the economy today. When Obama says no one could have done better, he is either incredibly stupid or lying, take your pick.

"We'd never close that shiny new facility"

Actually, we'd never open or use that shiny new facility: Wapato Jail.

Erik H., you don't know the half of it. I suspect that with most of these goofball projects, the official argument for finishing them (and shooting the tax rate through the roof to do so) will be "Well, it's halfway done, so why not pay to finish it?" Let us never mind that these are, without fail, projects that shouldn't have been started in the first place. Sure, the streets are falling apart, basic social services are cut to a minimum, and Portland really does turn into "Gary, Indiana with trees." But look at all of the cool hipster attractions the city was able to put together before everything went to hell.

"stuck their necks out several years back by borrowing money"

Now we're back to the old-fashioned way - Just keep sucking it out of the budget $1B every legislative session. Amazing how they can hide this out of a $15B gen funds budget.

Get used to it since they can't steal stimulus or tobacco fund monies for the foreseeable future.

Also get used to 10-day school years before we cut any employee benefits.

You know, what happened in Greece is a new government came in, looked at what the previous guys had been doing with the books and said "holy crud!" They did the right thing and came clean with the Greek people, and the Euro zone, but we all know what has followed anyway.

Is there a chance after the election and change over in City Hall that the new crew will be forced to announce "we're in much deeper than we've been letting on?"

I mean, we'll reach that day eventually no matter what. On the other hand, any one who has been in City Hall, elected or staff, for the past decade+ have the motivation to keep it quiet as long as possible (i.e. until it blows up in our faces.)

On a related note, my son's PPS elementary school class has 5 hours of art instruction budgeted this year. Yes, you read that correctly.

Play with the big boys and you get burned, real bad. With the intentional take-down of the US economy, we will likely never see 8% gains in regular investments.

From the article:

Some of the biggest financial companies — including Goldman Sachs, Seattle-Northwest Securities and the now-defunct Bear, Stearns & Co. — helped create, sell or put into place an investment strategy that attempted to lower an agency's pension costs.

Not only were state laws created to allow the strategy, but companies educated agencies about issuing pension bonds for investment purposes. Companies then turned around and underwrote those bonds, making more than $18 million in the process.

"The people moving the papers around, the intermediate players, made a lot of money on these financial deals," said Mark Thoma, professor of economics at the University of Oregon. "They weren't really assuming any of the risk, but they were making a lot of profit just by setting it up."

Snards, don't hold your breath on Europe coming clean with the folks over there:

"In Europe, the financially embattled nations of Greece and Italy brought in Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti as prime ministers. Both men are Trilateral members, and Monti is the former European chairman of the Trilateral Commission."

And if you think we are any better here, there are only 87 members of the Trilateral Commission who live in America. Obama appointed eleven of them to posts in his administration, including:

Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary

James Jones, National Security Advisor

Paul Volker, Chairman, Economic Recovery Committee

Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence.

Tim, I know that Europe is pretty much a black box now. Everyone is desperately cooking the numbers to hide the truth from markets.

I'm just talking about the original impetus of the Greek crisis - the new government came in and revealed the financial shenanagins, thus bringing the situation to a head. Now that government is gone.

18 October 2009: George Papandreou's new socialist government reveals a black hole in government accounts. He admits the budget deficit will be double the previous government's estimate and will hit 12% of GDP.

5 November 2011: The leaders of Greece's two largest political parties form a government of national unity, but it soon collapses. Papandreou confirms on television four days later that he will resign, ushering in Lucas Papademos, a former central banker, as prime minister.

No wonder the U of O came up with that idea - borrow at 5%, earn 9%, get rich of the difference.

What could go wrong?

Erik H., you don't know the half of it. I suspect that with most of these goofball projects, the official argument for finishing them (and shooting the tax rate through the roof to do so) will be "Well, it's halfway done, so why not pay to finish it?"

Even "WHOOPS" stopped "half way" (actually stopped only 1/5th of the way)...Oregon is going to be worse than WPPSS.

Way worse than WPPSS.

Actually, we'd never open or use that shiny new facility: Wapato Jail.

Maybe that should be opened as a Hyatt Resort. Call it the "Bybee Lake Resort", and encourage convention attendees to ride their bike to the Expo Center (another Metro/MERC convention facility).

For the really, really big conventions that a convention hotel will attract, there's even that MAX line that goes from the Expo Center to the Convention Center.

Approximately 49 other states are in the same destitution. Except N.Dakota, the only one with a State Bank. Part-way out of reach or independent from the City of London, the Federal Reserve, and the IMF.

'Municipal' money got scared and jumpy and 'in play' during the '90s, after the land valuation collateral 'bedrock' of state 'investments' got ground away into shifting sand by the 1980s devastation of the Savings & Loans ... holding home mortgages mostly ... homes whose owners lived in the state/municipality. [A couple details of the '80s: 1) the BCCI scandal, (Bank of Credit and Commerce Int'l was the drug-money laundering and illegal arms-sales laundering bank of the CIA, the one where Ollie North deposited the missile payments money from Iran and paid out logistics expenses for para-military (mercenary) murder squads in Nicargua); and 2) the S&L scandal, as said of the '80s, point being Poppy Bush directed both the liquidation of BCCI while shielding CIA accounts and the eradication of S&L's as institutional infrastructure for land mortgages and municipal/state bonding. Recall Poppy's father Prescott was a Brown Bros Harriman banker, discussing his Director's day at the office over the dinner table where 10-yr-old Poppy sat (in 1934) listening, learning ... and begrudging force-fed broccoli.] With the props knocked out from under it, investment money in the '90s got scared and jumpy and easily flim-flammed by the 'Eastern Big-City bankers' cartel, (City of London, Federal Reserve, IMF). They scammed here, in California, and everywhere ... and now, 10 years since the '90s, China owns 'our' National Parks, or something. (Lars said so.)

Big point being, and do y'all see?, jobs and wages and 'economics terror' and recession and dire defaults through the (100) years always always ALWAYS comes to be seen, when investigated, to be caused of steps following the money leading directly into the banks where bankers do 'their' craft.

Oregon's are not the only public pensions stolen; fixing and prosecuting default(er)s in Oregon or another individual state, fixes nothing -- the federal level must be arrested. Neither Obama nor Romney is going to reform and prosecute (themselves). Neither Democrats nor Republicans are going to reform and prosecute (themselves).

In order to restructure and prosecute the feds ourselves we must enforce on them and on our own civil lives (municipalities, states), the ways of money, the definition of money, and the issue of money. In order to know how read this book: Web of Debt.


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