California is about to start spending billions for new reservoirs

California took a big step Friday toward launching a new multibillion-dollar wave of reservoir construction.

After being accused of being overly tightfisted with taxpayer dollars, the California Water Commission released updated plans for allocating nearly $2.6 billion in bond fundsapproved by voters during the depths of the drought. The money will help fund eight reservoirs and other water-storage projects, including the sprawling Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley and a small groundwater “bank” in south Sacramento County.

In its new blueprint, which remains tentative, the Water Commission nearly triples the amount of money it will spend compared to a preliminary allocation it put out in February.

With climate change expected to diminish the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the new reservoirs are seen as a way of bolstering California’s ability to store water. Sites, a $5.2 billion project straddling the Glenn-Colusa county line, and the $2.7 billion Temperance Flat reservoir east of Fresno would become the two largest reservoirs built in California since Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor in the 1970s. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

California’s Total Government Debt Rises to $1.3 Trillion

california-debtjust released study calculates the total state and local government debt in California as of June 30, 2015, at over $1.3 trillion. Authored by Marc Joffe and Bill Fletcher at the California Policy Center, this updates a similar exercise from three years ago that put the June 30, 2012 total at $1.1 trillion. As a percent of GDP, California’s state and local government debt has held steady at around 54 percent.

For a more detailed analysis of how these debt estimates were calculated, read the studies, but here’s a summary of what California’s governments owe as of 6/30/2015:

(1)  Bonds and loans – state, cities, counties, school districts, community colleges, special districts, agencies and other authorities – $426 billion.

(2)  Unfunded pension obligations (official estimate) – $258 billion.

(3)  Other unfunded post-employment benefits, primarily for retiree health insurance – $148 billion.

This total, $832 billion, ignores the fact that these pension obligations are officially calculated based on a return on investment projection that currently hovers between 7.0 percent and 7.5 percent, depending on which pension system you consider. But CalPERS, the largest of California’s roughly 90 major state and local government worker pension funds, has already determined they will have to lower their rate of return projection to 6.5 percent, an action that when emulated by other pension systems will immediately raise the unfunded calculation from $258 billion to $390 billion.

Our estimate, which uses the assumptions municipal credit analysts for Moody’s now use when evaluating the credit-worthiness of cities and counties, uses a rate of return projection of 4.4 percent. That rate is based on the Citigroup Pension Liability Index (CPLI), which is based on high grade corporate bond yields. This rate is far more “risk free” than 6.5 percent, much less 7.5 percent, and when you apply this rate to calculate the present value of the future pension obligations facing California’s state and local governments, the unfunded liability soars to $713 billion, bringing the total of bonds, OPEB and unfunded pensions to $1.29 trillion.

This $1.29 trillion does not include deferred maintenance and upgrades to California’s infrastructure, nor does it include California’s share of federal debt. More on that later.

For the moment, let’s just assume the pension funds manage to earn around 5.5 percent per year. That’s less than the reduction to 6.5 percent they’re already acknowledging, but it’s more than the 4.5 percent that professional credit analysts are already using when reporting credit ratings for government agencies. That 5.5 percent assumption would put California’s total state and local debt right around a $1.0 trillion. How much would it cost to pay off a cool trillion in 30 years at a rate of interest of 5.5 percent?

Seventy billion dollars. That’s over $5,000 per year for every household in California. Just to make payments on debt. That’s before any payments for ongoing services.

It gets worse.

As noted in the study, if one allocates federal debt according to state GDP, the share affecting Californians adds another $1.8 trillion to their debt burden. Again, using rough numbers, we’re now talking about $15,000 per year, per household, just to make payments on local, state and federal government debt.

Nobody knows how this will unwind. If interest rates rise, debt service will rise proportionately. To spark inflation to whittle away the impact of debt payments may be the most benign scenario, but only if inflation affects wages and not just assets. Most scenarios aren’t pretty.

The study concludes:

“Combining California’s debt with publicly held federal debt, we estimate a total debt-to-GDP ratio of 125 percent (or 153 percent using the broader definition of federal debt). This level places California distressingly close to peripheral Eurozone countries that faced financial crises in 2011 and 2012. Portugal’s 2015 debt-to-GDP ratio was 129 percent and Italy’s was 133 percent.”

While recommendations were beyond the scope of this study, here are three:

(1) Reform pensions and compensation for government workers so they experience the same financial challenges and opportunities as the citizens they serve. Cap pension benefits at twice the maximum Social Security benefit (around $62,000 per year). At a minimum, enact these reforms for all future work performed, both by new and existing public sector employees.

(2) Invest a significant percentage of California’s pension fund assets in infrastructure projects here in California. By using a lower rate-of-return projection, pension funds can compete with bond financing. They will earn a risk-free rate of return, California will rebuild its infrastructure, and millions of citizens will be put to work.

(3) Reverse the extreme environmentalist agenda that controls California’s state Legislature. Enact reasonable reforms to enable development of land, water and energy to lower the cost-of-living and encourage business growth. Private sector unions should be aggressively leading the charge on this.

There are a lot of good reasons why California is probably not destined to endure the financial paroxysms that already grip nations such as Italy and Portugal. Our innovative spirit and creative culture still attracts the finest talent from around the world. But California’s political leadership will have to admit there’s a problem, and make some hard choices. Hopefully when they finally do this, they will be thinking about the citizens they serve.

Ed Ring is the vice president of policy research at the California Policy Center.

Conflict laws must be stronger for California politicians

As reported by the Los Angeles Daily News:

Aren’t there people in your immediate family other than your spouse or partner whose financial well-being you have an extraordinary interest in?

Of course there are — especially when they are your children, including your adult children who are out on their own in the world. It makes little to no difference that any money they make, unlike a spouse’s income, is not part of your own community property, doesn’t bolster your own bank account. The fact is that of course you want them to do well. You raised them, after all. Who wouldn’t want them to succeed?

That’s precisely why it’s important to ensure that those we choose to be our political leaders, whether by election or appointment, are never put in the position of being able to put their own children’s or other close relative’s monetary interests over people with whom they are not related. No one — not even a politician — can be blamed for choosing to do so. So it’s only common sense to remove even the temptation to do so …

Read full article by clicking here.

CARTOON: A Thirsty California

Desert ground, texture

RJ Matson

California Rain

CA Rain

 

Daryl Cagle, CagleCartoons.com

VIDEO: Jim Lacy on the Obama administration picking winners and losers in business

ACU Board Member Jim Lacy appeared on Fox Business Network’s Stuart Varney Show on 8/15 to discuss the problems of government “picking and choosing winners and losers” in business in the case of California’s incentive offer to exempt Tesla from environmental regulations – but not the rest of the businesses in the state.

Rick Perry speaks at rally in Orange County Sept. 8 (part 1)

Budgetary Gimmicks Meet Economic Reality

Once again, California is already outside of its projected state budget, passed late last June.

How can Sacramento already be spending more than it expected to collect only two months since the budget was signed?

It is the economic assumptions that the state makes when planning the budget that are just as important as the application of rates of taxation and fee rates.  Is that boring?  Quite possibly.  But it speaks to the larger point that government is inefficient in determining future economic activity and, when possible, will make absurd assumptions when politically expedient.

And why is this important?

It is important because it allowed public officials to proclaim Californians will “live within our means” because the budget is now balanced – a refreshing headline!

But the “means” are the assumptions built into the budget.  In this year’s budget, Sacramento expected the economy to expand rapidly, despite a stubborn unemployment rate of 11.8% as of June and a willingness to drive away jobs. Thus, California is already ten percent below revenue projections, which amounts to a loss of revenue of nearly $539 million.

When sluggish economic reality meets the decree of Sacramento, automatic budget cuts are initiated, which insulates public officials from the criticism that comes with assembling a budget that truly reflects living within our means.

Regardless of nominal numbers, when a state spends more revenue than it takes in at an increasing rate, there will be a threshold where the state becomes insolvent.  Without quantitative easing or the ability to increase money in circulation, that state has no control over the currency it borrows and spends.  This makes every state a lot more susceptible to budgetary crises than sovereign nations.

Sacramento is in need of true budgetary solutions that reflect the state’s economic reality not rosy assumptions that politicians would like to see.  State government needs less economic delusion and more economic leadership. The first step is honest, household budgeting procedures.

 

A New Chapter For California: Chapter 11

As a state, we take in about $70 billion a year. That looks like big number, except for one problem. We spend about $90 billion a year. You don’t have to star in Good Will Hunting to figure out that there’s a hole in that math and some blame to be placed.

Actually, there’s tons of blame to shovel around. You can go back to Gray Davis, who somehow thought that the rising tide of tax receipts from the Internet boom would last forever. Actually, he wasn’t alone–pretty much everybody felt that way, but pretty much everybody wasn’t Governor. With all that money flowing in, he was a laydown for the state unions that demanded and received all manner of salary increases, retirement goodies, and other means of reward not tied in any way to performance.

Once that particular beanstalk crashed to earth, California was stuck with enormous transfers to its unionized workers that it could no longer afford. But it had to pay them anyway.

Schwarzenegger followed, and we as a state are waking up from that political equivalent of a one-night stand with the same question on Schwarzenegger’s housekeeper’s mind–What were we thinking? Or were we just blinded by his muscular good looks?  He’s free, and we’re stuck with his love child, a $20 billion deficit.

Schwarzenegger’s next movie shouldn’t be a Terminator film. It ought to be a remake of Gulliver’s Travels, re-christened Governor’s Travels, or Governor’s Travails.  Here’s the plot:  Ahh-nold is tied down to a bed of concrete cigar boxes by a bunch of girly men playing the part of Lilliputians playing the part of members of the State Assembly and Senate. The only person who got more money out of Schwarzenegger than the unions will be Maria.

Then you’ve got the left, which has somehow made a moral issue out of violating borders and demanding handouts. Frankly, as a businessman, I’m astonished I have time to write this column. I’m so busy supporting not just my family but sixteen union workers and approximately forty-three undocumented individuals who are attending California schools and universities, benefiting from California hospitals, and otherwise enjoying the crumbling infrastructure of California, all on my dime.

I actually agree with one liberal shibboleth–people aren’t illegal. Illegal acts, however, are illegal. Breaking the law is illegal. If the numbers were reversed–if California took in $90 billion in taxes and only spent $70 billion–I might feel a little more charitable. As it is, I’m feeling a little pinched.

That’s why I say it’s time for California to declare bankruptcy. A clean slate. A fresh start. Just like you see on those late night infomercials. California ought to go to one of those bankruptcy guys you see advertised on the backs of buses and declare itself bankrupt, for the low, low fee of $249.00, plus filing fees. If we did that, what would we get?

We’d get a chance to start over. We’d get a chance to rewrite all the agreements with the unions, and maybe we’d have enough money left over to buy back some of the legislators whom the unions currently own.

We’d be able to reallocate spending in this state, so that there’s more of a connection between who earns money and whose kids get educated.

We would no longer be tied to the craven, secret giveaways that governor after governor has offered to special interests in exchange for campaign contributions, cigars, hookers, junkets, or whatever the currency of Sacramento really is.

With that kind of clean slate, we’d be able to pay people what they are worth, instead of what their union leaders have been able to carve out for them over decades of wheeling and dealing.

We’d be able to pay our prison guards what they would make in other states, which would allow us to build more prisons and arrest more bad guys to fill those prisons.  We might even have enough left over to hire some more prison guards.

As a result, the state and municipalities might not be so broke that they have to spend all their time nickel and diming businesses to wring out every ounce of tax revenue to pay for the bloated expenditures that are destroying our state.

There might even be enough money left over to re-open the courtrooms, libraries, and emergency rooms that have been shuttered by our endless financial emergency.

Would it be a black eye for California if we went bankrupt? Yes, but compared to what? The knuckleheads in Washington, who nearly took down the world economy and may have torched America’s fragile economic recovery in the name of scoring a few points during the debt ceiling fiasco? Compared to Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain–five European nations who make Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown look like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton?

Although, come to think of it, Thomas Jefferson died broke, so maybe that’s not the best analogy.

You get what I’m saying. As one economist put it, “Things that can’t go on, stop.” It’s time we put a stop to the idiotic, seemingly unstoppable spending that is bankrupting the state, driving businesses to Texas or other healthier, more business-friendly locales, and get things headed in the right direction.

Going bankrupt, for California, would hardly be a badge of shame compared to what’s been going on in Sacramento for decades. It would be a situation where the state finally told the truth.

 

Michael Levin is a New York Times bestselling author and runs BusinessGhost.com, America’s leading provider of ghostwritten business books.

Green energy boondoggle raises costs while killing jobs and birds

You have to wonder if most California politicians simply can’t stand the notion of a thriving economy.  In a move that will have a devastating effect on jobs and on the pocketbooks of regular citizens, Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that will dramatically increase the amount of costly “green” energy California’s citizens will be forced to purchase.

In this time of record high unemployment, the political class should focus on stimulating the economy to create jobs.  Instead, the politicians have imposed a new mandate called “renewable portfolio standard” or RPS which decrees that 33% of our energy needs to be green by 2020 – as of right now, we have not even met the 20% target that was set for 2010.

Statistics from the Department of Energy show that renewable energy, as defined by the RPS mandate, can cost three or four times as much as traditional energy on a per-megawatt basis.  Higher electricity bills will further strain taxpayers’ budgets and lead to even more job losses.  The US Bureau of Statistics just released a report saying California lost 572,400 manufacturing jobs over the last decade, and our unemployment is now a full two percentage points worse than Michigan, a state famous for Detroit and its poorly performing economy.

In fact, California’s environmental regulations are so extreme that the majority of the renewable power we will be forced to buy will not even be produced in this state but imported from Mexico, Canada and other states.  While the political class likes the idea of green energy, getting any type of power plant built in California is difficult in a state as tangled in government red tape as ours.

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