Tag Archives: AB

Stockton, California tries to avoid bankruptcy via mediation

Stockton, California could become the largest city to declare bankruptcy in the US. On Tuesday the city council voted to skip $2 million in payments on $320 million in bonds. The bond insurer has promised to pay creditors in the event that the city cannot.

Now Stockton is in mediation. A new process, mediation is the result of AB 506, the intent of which is to slow bankruptcy proceedings by requiring all affected parties (debtors, creditors, unions) to meet and hammer out deals with a neutral party.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the city council is working on a restructuring plan. Since 2010 the city has twice declared a fiscal emergency. Pressure on city finances from rising health care benefits and debt associated with development projects have coincided with a period of depressed revenues and weak economic activity. Stockton has the second-highest foreclosure rate and eighth highest unemployment rate in the nation, reports Bloomberg News.

How the city reorganizes its finances is surely to be driven by the politics of unions and pension reform. The city faces a $417 million unfunded liability for employee health care benefits. How could that be allowed to happen? As a local city official tells The San Francisco Gate: “The problem is, nobody asked the question: ‘How do you fund it?’ And consequently there was no money set aside to fund those commitments,” Deis said. “It was an unsound decision and it has similarities to a Ponzi scheme.” Unfortunately, Stockton is not unique in this regard. Nearly all public sector health care benefits in state and local governments are unfunded.

In addition to its retiree health care costs, Stockton is paying 94 retired police pensions of $100,000 per year. As already accrued benefits, it’s not clear that the city has much room to modify this portion of the budget. And in fact, the police union is suing the city for reducing benefits. Another lesson in the importance of clear-eyed budgeting comes from Stockton’s troubles. Officials were caught off guard by the city’s sudden shortfall in part due to accounting gimmickry which included double-counting parking ticket revenues and overstating the city’s balance by $2.8 million.

 

Job creation or job protection in California?

The Mercury Sun News editorial provides a strong critique of several pieces of new Sacramento legislation, claiming the bills are simply jobs protection measures for unionized employees.

The bills include Senate Bill 469 which requires cities to conduct an economic impact analysis before approving big-box stores that sell groceries. Unions are for it. Grocers and land developers are against it.

AB 646 and AB 455 involve labor negotiations with unions. SB 931 forbids local government from using taxpayer funds on lawyers or consultants advising on how to get around union rules – which could be interpreted in one of two ways – does it limit local spending or does it favor unions?

And AB 438 requires public notice before a city can withdraw from a public library and contract with a private provider while “barring lower pay rates and layoffs in a new system.”

If the editors’ analysis is correct, the bills show how public sector unions as a special interest can acheive their goals outside of the collective bargaining process. At least one California legislator has introduced a bill aimed at collective bargaining reform. It could be that these bills aimed at local government may be part of unions’  pro-active strategy to prevent layoffs or firings of public employees should local governments introduce competition to city services.

More Evidence of Real World Tiebout Competition

The past year, California experienced its lowest population growth rate in over a decade. Furthermore, the state’s positive growth was maintained by foreign, rather than domestic migration. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Since [2005], more than half a million more people have left California than have moved to the state. They mainly have moved to neighboring Western states, said Mary Heim, chief of the demographic research unit at the Department of Finance. In past years, more of those people moved to Nevada, but last year saw an increase in people moving to Oregon and Washington, she said. Texas also attracts a large number of Californians.

The article quotes state policy analysts who suggest that the Golden State’s regulatory climate is driving jobs and residents to other states. Contrarily, a Newsweek article from earlier this year explained that California’s CO2 regulations, the strictest in the country, could help the state’s businesses:

California has led the way in demonstrating how market-savvy regulation, instead of stifling growth, can jump-start innovation. For instance, the state has revolutionized the way utilities are regulated: instead of making profits by building more power plants, the California Public Utilities Commission links utility profits to efficiency gains—and leaves it up to the utilities to decide how to do it most cost-effectively.

However, potential Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman sees the situation differently. She said of Governor Schwarzenegger’s energy regulation:

I applaud the goals of AB 32 and our Governor for forcefully advocating for a clean environment.  However, three years ago when the bill was signed, the unemployment rate was 4.9 percent with 883,000 Californians unemployed.  Today, we have 12.2 percent unemployment, with 2.2 million Californians out of work.  Simply, jobs must come first.

Whitman’s views are in line with the ALEC-Laffer analysis of the states’ business environments, which suggests that Americans are moving from states with higher regulatory burdens to those with more economic freedom.