Tidbits Quotations
To Accompany the September 10, 2012 edition of Tidbits
Bob Jensen at Trinity Universit


Another state should withdraw from the Dollar Zone so it can print its own currency
"A Downgrade for Illinois The worst credit rating aside from California," The Wall Street Journal, August 29, 2012 ---

"Illinois Debt Cut by S&P After No Action on Pension Funding," by Michelle Kaske, Bloomberg News, August 29, 2012 ---

Illinois, the U.S. state with the worst-funded pension system, had the rating on its general- obligation debt cut one level by Standard & Poor’s and may face more downgrades.

The change to an A rating followed state lawmakers’ failure to agree to reduce retirement costs during a special session Aug. 17. The outlook for the state’s debt, which now has S&P’s sixth-highest grade, is negative. California, with an A-ranking, one level below Illinois, remains S&P’s lowest-rated state.

Illinois has an unfunded pension liability of at least $83 billion, according to state figures. It had 45 percent of what it needed to pay future retiree obligations as of 2010, the lowest among U.S. states, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“The downgrade reflects the state’s weak pension funding levels and lack of action on reform measures intended to improve funding levels and diminish cost pressures associated with annual contributions,” said Robin Prunty, an S&P analyst, in a report today.

Governor Pat Quinn said today he is inviting legislative leaders to meet in early September to work on pension changes. Lawmakers have considered boosting employee contributions, passing some costs to local school districts and forcing workers to choose between the current system and receiving free retirement health care. No Surprise

Quinn, a Democrat, said the rating cut wasn’t a surprise.

Erasing the fifth-most populous state’s unfunded pension liability “is vital to getting our financial house in order,” Quinn said in a statement. “Today’s action by Standard & Poor’ is more evidence that we must act.”

Illinois had about $28 billion of general-obligation debt as of May 8, according to bond documents. The state of about 13 million people plans to sell $50 million of debt next month for technology projects, John Sinsheimer, the state’s director of capital markets, said in an interview.

Taxpayers will pay more to issue debt because of the lower rating, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford said in a statement.

“I urge the legislature to act decisively towards comprehensive, constitutional and fair pension reforms that will reverse this situation,” he said.

Jensen Comment
Unlike California, Illinois significantly increased corporate tax rates to deal with its deficit. But this turned into a sham when Gov. Quinn commenced to grant tax waivers to business firms (like Caterpillar) that threatened to relocate in other states.

In my opinion, however, Illinois stands a much better chance than California --- which by most accounts is a basket case.

"Pension Accounting for Dummies New government reporting rules are no better than the old ones," The Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2012 ---

The Government Accounting Standards Board has issued new rules that aim to crystallize government pension liabilities. It failed on that count, but it did succeed, albeit inadvertently, in making the case for defined-contribution plans.

GASB, as it's known in the trade, sets accounting guidelines for local governments. Since the board is run mainly by former public officials, its standards are often low. The board also usually takes several years to finalize rules, so it's often behind the times. Their new rules concerning how governments discount their pension liabilities are a case in point.

Financial economists have recommended for decades that governments calculate pension liabilities using so-called "risk-free" rates pegged to high-grade municipal bonds or long-term Treasurys. The argument goes that since pensioners are de facto secured creditors—even bankruptcy judges have been reluctant to slash retirement benefits—pensions are riskless and therefore the liabilities should be discounted at risk-free rates.

GASB's private cousin, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), began requiring corporations to discount their pension liabilities with high-quality fixed income assets in the 1980s. However, GASB let governments stick with their desired, er, expected rate of return, which is typically about 8%. Public pension funds have returned 5.7% on average since 2000. Achieving much higher returns over the long run would require markets to perform as well as they did in the 1980s and '90s. Would that be true.

Governments have resisted climbing down from Fantasyland because using lower discount rates would explode their liabilities. When the Financial Accounting Standards Board introduced its risk-free rate guidelines, many companies shifted workers to 401(k)s because they didn't want to report larger liabilities. Such defined-contribution plans are by definition 100% pre-funded.

Prodded by economists and investors, GASB began considering modifying its discount rate rules a few years ago. Public pension funds, lawmakers and unions, however, pushed back hard against suggestions that governments use risk-free rates, which could more than double their liabilities. No surprise, the government troika won.

GASB's new rules allow governments to continue discounting their liabilities at their anticipated rate of return so long as they project enough future assets to cover their obligations. At the time they forecast they'll run out of assets, they must begin discounting their liabilities with a high-grade municipal bond rate. The idea is that governments would have to issue bonds to pay retirees when their pension funds go broke.

But few pension funds project that they'll run dry since they're hooked up to a taxpayer IV. Those in really bad shape like Chicago's will likely rig their investment and actuarial assumptions to circumvent the new rules. FASB rejected similar guidelines in the 1980s because they were too easy to dodge. The point here is that it's impossible to get governments to come clean about their pension debt, and not just because the union allies controlling pension funds have a vested interest in obfuscating the liabilities.

In reality, nobody knows how much taxpayers will owe because so much depends on inscrutable actuarial and economic factors like interest rates 30 years from now (not even the Federal Reserve purports to be that omniscient). Slight discrepancies in assumptions can yield huge variations in estimated liabilities. One advantage of defined-contribution plans is that they don't require governments to calculate their liabilities. There are none.


GASB Statement No. 68
Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions—an amendment of GASB Statement No. 27
--- Click Here
http://www.gasb.org/cs/ContentServer?site=GASB&c=Page&pagename=GASB%2FPage%2FGASBSectionPage&cid=1176160042391 Bob Jensen's threads on the sad state of governmental accounting ---

Bob Jensen's threads on pension accounting ---


Former Comptroller General David Walker has been saying this all along
"Social Security’s Woes Are Worse Than You Think," by Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg, August 27, 2012 ---

While the Romney and Obama camps have made increasingly bitter accusations about each other’s plans for Medicare, a bipartisan consensus on entitlements has emerged in the past few years. Too bad that consensus is wrong.

On both left and right, the politicians and the experts are saying the U.S. needs to fix Medicare -- and have made fixing Social Security an afterthought. President Barack Obama has signed changes to Medicare into law, but has done nothing about Social Security. For two years in a row, Republicans in Congress have supported budgets that rein in the growth of Medicare spending but leave Social Security alone. Expect to hear a lot more about Medicare than Social Security at the Republican convention this week.

The main reason Medicare is getting more attention is that in the long run, it has much higher costs than Social Security. That’s why it’s often described, accurately, as the driver of America’s long-term debt problem.

The Social Security gap looks small, though, only in relation to Medicare. On any other scale, it’s pretty big. The 1983 deal to fix Social Security is often held up as a model of bipartisan achievement, with the implication that it just needs to be replicated to fill the gap: No big deal. Charles Blahous, a Social Security trustee and the author of a recent book on the program, points out that this model is actually pretty discouraging. Twice as Large

In 1983, the financing gap over the next 75 years amounted to 1.8 percent of payroll. Blahous estimates that the gap today, measured using the same standards as in 1983, is 3.5 percent: almost double what it was then. And every year that passes without action, that number gets bigger. Do we think today’s politicians are prepared to solve twice as large a problem as their predecessors did?

Right now, we spend more money on Social Security than on Medicare, and that will remain the case for a while. The programs’ trustees project that by 2035 Social Security will consume 6.4 percent of the economy and Medicare 5.7 percent. The Medicare projection may be optimistic about recent attempts to impose cost controls, but we shouldn’t expect Medicare to become vastly larger than Social Security in the next two decades. After that point, Social Security costs start going down as demographics play out while Medicare becomes a vastly larger problem.

But our finances will be in what’s technically called a world of hurt before Social Security costs peak. Under current projections by the Congressional Budget Office, by 2025 public debt will have reached 106 percent of gross domestic product. By 2035, it will have reached 181 percent. What would happen after that point is an academic question: We can’t allow ourselves to get there.

We need to fix both programs. If anything, it’s Social Security that ought to be saved first because it’s the more urgent near-term problem. Some of the steps we can take to make the program solvent, moreover, would improve Medicare’s finances, too. Raising the retirement age, for example, would encourage people to work longer and thus pay more taxes into both programs. Restraining Growth

Perhaps even more important, we have a better sense of how to restrain the growth of Social Security than of Medicare.

One promising option is to reduce the growth of Social Security benefit levels, especially for high earners. The program could be reformed so that high earners who retire in 2040 receive the same benefit level that high earners who retire in 2020 will -- with an adjustment for inflation, but nothing more. Under the program as it stands now, those future retirees will get a bigger benefit.

Benefit levels for people in the middle of the income spectrum, meanwhile, could be set so that they more than keep up with inflation but don’t rise as much as currently scheduled.

It’s easy to attack this sort of proposal. In the past, opponents have said, for example, that it would be a draconian 40 percent cut in benefits for high earners. That’s true, when the proposal is compared with the benefit levels that the law has scheduled but hasn’t figured out how to pay for. Compared with today’s benefit levels, though, it’s not a cut at all.

Democrats will prefer to raise taxes, especially on high earners, to let benefits grow faster. The drawback to this approach is that higher payroll taxes, the CBO has found, discourage people from working and saving. We would be taking a hit to economic growth for a purpose -- boosting benefit levels for relatively well-off seniors -- that shouldn’t be a high social priority. It seems perverse to raise taxes on high earners to finance higher benefits for them.

Continued in article

Bob Jensen's threads on entitlements are at



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Enron --- http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/FraudEnron.htm

Rotten to the Core --- http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/FraudRotten.htm

American History of Fraud --- http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/FraudAmericanHistory.htm

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Shielding Against Validity Challenges in Plato's Cave ---

·     With a Rejoinder from the 2010 Senior Editor of The Accounting Review (TAR), Steven J. Kachelmeier

·     With Replies in Appendix 4 to Professor Kachemeier by Professors Jagdish Gangolly and Paul Williams

·     With Added Conjectures in Appendix 1 as to Why the Profession of Accountancy Ignores TAR

·     With Suggestions in Appendix 2 for Incorporating Accounting Research into Undergraduate Accounting Courses

Shielding Against Validity Challenges in Plato's Cave  --- http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/TheoryTAR.htm
By Bob Jensen

What went wrong in accounting/accountics research?  ---

The Sad State of Accountancy Doctoral Programs That Do Not Appeal to Most Accountants ---


Bob Jensen's threads on accounting theory ---

Tom Lehrer on Mathematical Models and Statistics ---

Systemic problems of accountancy (especially the vegetable nutrition paradox) that probably will never be solved ---

Bob Jensen's economic crisis messaging http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/2008Bailout.htm

Bob Jensen's threads --- http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/threads.htm

Bob Jensen's Home Page --- http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/