Category Archives: generation greed

Term Limits: Impact On The Operation of New York’s Governing Bodies

During my Don Quixote protest campaign against the state legislature back in 2004, the only member of the media who paid attention to what I was trying to say was Erik Engquist, then of the Courier Life papers, now with Crain’s New York Business.   But he didn’t quite get it right. In one column, he said I was someone who cared deeply about the process of government. I e-mailed him and said that to be honest, like most people I never really cared about or paid attention to the process, I only cared about the results. He wrote back and said while that may be so, unless New York gets a better process, it isn’t going to get any better results.

This is the third and last post in a series on New York City’s double-blind experiment with democracy – a City Council that has term limits, and a state legislature that does not. In the first, I noted that thanks to term limits and public campaign financing there are actual elections for the City Council every eight years, with the would-be members forced to pay attention to the general public, whereas in the state legislature competitive contest elections almost never happen.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/term-limits-new-york-citys-double-blind-test-of-democracy/

In the second I examined the personal and professional background of the City Council and state legislature members, and found less difference than I would have supposed, due in part to a surprisingly large amount of recent turnover in the State Assembly, and due in part to the fact that ordinary citizens cannot, or do not, run for office.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2017/09/24/term-limits-impact-on-the-characteristics-of-nyc-representatives/

This is post is not about who the members are or how they get there, but what they do when they arrive. With regard to corruption, transparency, and the value they place on the common future, the one interest all of us (other than the most selfish seniors) share.

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Median Household Income: It Takes Five Minutes to See Beyond the Happy Horseshit

American Community Survey data was released for 2016 yesterday, and the news was reportedly good.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/us-middle-class-incomes-reached-highest-ever-level-in-2016-census-bureau-says/2017/09/12/7226905e-97de-11e7-b569-3360011663b4_story.html?utm_term=.6b0de01d116e

The incomes of middle-class Americans rose last year to the highest level ever recorded by the Census Bureau, as poverty declined and the scars of the past decade’s Great Recession seemed to finally fade. Median household income rose to $59,039 in 2016, a 3.2 percent increase from the previous year and the second consecutive year of healthy gains, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

While it is not a surprise that income is rising in an economic upturn, the claim is that this is more than a cyclical increase in income – even though wages are not rising.

The income increase extended to almost every demographic group, Census Bureau officials said. The figure the agency reported Tuesday was the highest on record. The agency reports that in 1999, median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $58,655.

Really? I immediately went to American Factfinder

https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

And downloaded median household income for 2016 and 2006, a year at a similar point in the economic cycle. Adjusting the latter into 2016 dollars for an inflation-adjusted comparison. Downloaded it by age of householder. And found almost exactly what I expected.

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Long Term Pension Data for New York and New Jersey to 2016: Teacher Pensions

Across the country taxpayer pension costs for public schools are soaring, and state and local taxes are being increased while money actually spent on education is being cut to pay for it. You see it in California, where a huge tax increase “for education” went exclusively to pensions, and in Illinois, where the City of Chicago’s schools are on the brink of bankruptcy. You see it in Kansas and Oklahoma. In some cases soaring pension costs are the result of past taxpayers’ unwillingness to fund the pensions teachers had been promised, promised for some in lieu of Social Security, which those teachers will not be eligible to receive. In other cases pension costs are soaring because politically powerful teachers’ unions cut deals with the politicians they controlled to drastically increase pension benefits, beyond what had been promised and funded. In many cases there is a mix of both factors.

New York City happens to be the place where the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), is perhaps the most guilty, and taxpayers are the least guilty, with regard to the pension crisis. And it the place where the burden of teacher retirement is the greatest. The result is large class sizes despite extremely high public school spending, and a host of services that New York City children do not receive. With virtually all New York politicians in on the deals that have left the New York City Teachers’ Retirement System (NYC TRS) among the most underfunded in the country, however, there has been a desperate attempt to cover up the damage. So the consequences of retroactive pension increases for NYC teachers (and police officers and firefighters) have shown up not so much in education (and policing and firefighting), but in every other public service in New York. And all of this is under Omerta.

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Long Term Pension Data for New York And New Jersey to 2016: Police and Fire Pensions

In 2016, according to data reported to the U.S. Census Bureau, the New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS) had 263,235 active members who were working, and 149,940 beneficiaries receiving periodic benefit payments, a ratio that implies just 1.75 years worked for each year in retirement. And it is much less than that if workers who depart early in their careers and don’t receive pension benefits are excluded. That year, the New York City Police Pension Fund Article 2 and the New York City Fire Department Article 1B Pension fund combined had just 45,047 active members working and yet had 66,374 beneficiaries receiving active pension benefit payments, a ratio that implies a little over two-thirds of a year work for each year in retirement.

In 2016, New York City taxpayers contributed $3.4 billion to NYCERS. NYC taxpayers also contributed $3.4 billion to the police and fire pension funds, the same amount even though NYCERS covered nearly six times as many city workers. According to City of New York budget documents, in FY 2018 taxpayer pension contributions equaled 52.5% of wages and salaries for the NYC Police Department, where most workers are covered by the New York City Police Pension Fund Article 2, and 71.8% of wages and salaries for the New York City Fire Department, with most workers covered by the Fire Department Article 1B Pension Fund. But just 13.0% to 17.0% for the most of the non-uniformed city agencies, with workers covered by NYCERS. What is more, and what is worse, is that the current level of NYC taxpayer pension contributions to the police and fire pension plans are not enough.

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Long Term Pension Data for New York And New Jersey to 2016: The Large Plans for Most Public Employees (With Commentary on Hedge Funds)

New York City and New Jersey, like most places, have separate pension plans for teachers, police officers, and firefighters, and large general pension plans for all other public employees combined. This post is about updated Census Bureau data, for the years 1957 to 2016, for the general pension plans: the New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS), which also covers New York City transit workers, the New York (state) Public Employees Pension and Retirement System, which also covers local government workers (including police officers and firefighters) in the rest of New York State, and the New Jersey Public Employees Retirement System, which covers most public employees in New Jersey. In general the findings are the same as they were the last time I analyzed this data.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/updated-long-term-pension-data-for-new-york-and-new-jersey-the-large-plans-for-most-public-employees/

It has been a few years, however, so I have decided to repeat the analysis and update the charts below, and add a further discussion on hedge funds and the rate of return at the end. The data shows a pension disaster not only for New Jersey, where taxpayers have contributed very little over the years, but also for New York City, where taxes are high and taxpayers have contributed massively. The New York State system is in somewhat better shape – but in much worse shape than a decade ago.

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Public Employee Pensions in New York And New Jersey: Updated Data from the U.S. Census Bureau Through 2016

Last year, when I went to update the tables I had compiled of U.S. Census Bureau data on public employee pensions over the decades, I found that the City of New York had started misreporting data for the NYC teacher pension fund.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/census-bureau-pension-data-for-2014-and-2015-not-usable-thanks-to-nyc/

Reporting to the Bureau that the teachers’ own money in their Tax Deferred Annuity (TDA) accounts was actually pension fund money, to make the pension fund deficit seem less disastrous. And not reporting the payments from the actual pension fund to those TDA accounts as pension benefits, to make teacher pensions seem less costly than they actually are. I spoke with the Bureau about this, and they told me that they intended to speak with NYC about it, but no corrections would be made until this year. So I chose not to finish updating the tables and write posts.

This year I downloaded the data, and found the same errors. The Bureau told me it had intended to make a correction, but the incorrect data had “crept back in.” But if I waited until next year at this time, surely the data will be corrected. But instead of waiting another year, I decided to use the Annual Report of the NYC Teachers Retirement System to correct the data myself. The results are in the spreadsheets linked and available for download below.

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What the Social Security Administration Knows, and Could Tell Us

Last December I wrote a quick post expressing concern that the U.S. might have reached peak transparency, now that the Democratic Party, as a result of the rising burden of public employee pensions, has turned against the dissemination of accurate, factual information about government and society. Joining the Republicans, who have been against providing access to such information for a couple of decades.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/nobodys-gonna-pay-you-to-tell-the-truth-or-worse/

Since then I’ve seen the same concern expressed by many others, now that Donald Trump, hardly Mr. Transparency himself, is President, with reports of government bureaucrats spiriting away statistical information to a secure location before the change of regime, lest it be deleted. Even so, I’m always on the hunt for alternative sources of actual facts, and this January I happened to think of one – the Social Security Administration. And wrote a letter to the Deputy Chief of the Office of Long-Range Actuarial Estimates, the office “responsible for estimates for up to 75 years in the future, based on economic/demographic assumptions developed for the annual Trustees Report.”

I didn’t receive an answer. Given that people need to keep their jobs until they can collect their pensions, and having worked for the government for 20 years myself and knowing what it’s like, I didn’t expect one. It is fair to say that I wrote the letter that follows for the purpose of publishing it on this blog after a reasonable period of waiting for a response had passed.

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