Category Archives: new york state legislature corruption, dean skelos, sheldon silver

The Sold Out Future By State Analysis Reprised

About a year ago I published an analysis based on U.S. Census Bureau government finances data, for all states and all available years from 1972 to 2016, that showed the extent to which each state’s future (with New York City and the rest of NY State analyzed separately, and the District of Columbia also included) has been sold out. Sold out by past decisions, non-decisions, deals and favors with regard to state and local government debt, past infrastructure investment, and under funded and/or retroactively increased public employee pensions.  The analysis was well received, and best of all many people downloaded the spreadsheet with all the data for all 50 states, all the tables, and almost all of the charts.  I always put up a post encouraging people to download the spreadsheets, look at the data themselves, and make up their own minds before reading my subsequent posts and getting my take on it. Generally people had downloaded charts, but not spreadsheets.  Last year that changed.

What I had forgotten last year, however, but have since remembered, is the multi-step process needed to put readable tables, in JPEG format, into the posts on WordPress.   So this year I added the tables to the posts I just completed on state and local government employment and payroll data from the 2017 Census of Governments, and I found that many people had downloaded them.  I don’t know why some people might prefer pictures of numbers to actual numbers, but apparently some people do.  So I plan to rectify last year’s omission of tables – except for people who downloaded the spreadsheet — from the Sold Out Futures posts with a brief reprise.   The data shows that while the blame for our sold out future is widely shared, New York City’s past taxpayers are the most the most blameless in the entire United States.  And New York City’s public employee unions and contractors have been the most unfair to other city residents.  And nowhere else is even close.

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Bureaucracy: 2017 Census of Governments Employment & Payroll Data

This post will complete my series on different government functions based on employment and payroll data from the Census of Governments, for March 2017 and previous years. It includes data for the kind of general government and legal workers one might generally expect to find hanging around in city and town halls, and county seats and courthouses, reviewing applications, keeping records, handling cases and doing inspections, rather than providing services.  At the local government level the functions included are, as delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau, Health, Financial Administration, Other Local Government Administration, Judicial and Legal, and Other and Unallocable. At the state level there are two additional functions:  Social Insurance Administration, basically state Departments of Labor, and “Other Education,” which includes oversight agencies such as the New York State Department of Education and Board of Regents.

For decades I’ve been making the case that for public employment and expenditures alike there is not much to see here. New York State is about average when you add everything up, and no part of the state is really out of line. Today, however, things have changed enough in one part of the state that this time around I don’t feel that to be true anymore.

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Hospitals, Social Services, and Housing: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

Health care vies with elementary and secondary education as the largest destination for federal and state government spending.  In fact, when I added it up in 2006 the federal, state and local governments were already paying for 75.0% to 80.0% of third party (insurance and public program) health care expenditures nationwide, which is to say expenditures other than co-payments and services people pay for themselves in cash (such as cosmetic surgery).  Directly (Medicare, Medicaid, the VA Hospital system) or indirectly (health insurance purchased on behalf of civilian public employees and their families, the exclusion of employer funded health insurance from taxable income, other tax breaks).

Socialized Medicine? Get Real, It’s Already Here

Since then the population has aged, leading to more Medicare and Medicaid spending, Medicaid has been expanded to more working people, and Obamacare has added another form of indirect federal support for private health insurance.  For all the discussion of “socialized medicine,” here in the U.S. the government share of third party health care expenditures is probably up to 85.0% or so, and as a percent of GDP it probably exceeds the cost of the entire health care system in developed countries.

Health care and social services, however, are provided by the government primarily through payments to private sector organizations, generally non-profits in New York City and throughout the Northeast.  Therefore in this, the fifth post based on my tabulation of state and local government employment and payroll data from the 2017 Census of Governments, data on related private sector organizations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will take center stage.   And this analysis features the most shocking trend I have found so far.

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It Would Seem That Somebody Doesn’t Like NYC Public Finance Charts

About a month ago, I went to post a comment on an article on the NYC blog Gothamist, which is owned by WNYC (to which we have contributed for decades), and found that I had been banned from commenting.

At about the same time, I sought to comment on an article on the NYC education blog Chalkbeat, and found that the same thing had happened.

Some other funky things started happening to some other comments I made elsewhere at about the same time.  I wrote to each of these sites to ask why I was banned, no so much out of disappointment, but out of curiosity.  Neither responded.  So I am left to look at my last comments on each site, which they deleted from their sites but cannot be deleted from my disqus account, to try to figure out the actual reason.

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Public School Finance Over Two Decades, in NYC And Elsewhere, Based on Census Bureau Data: Anyone Remember “School Reform”?

Remember school reform?  The idea that funding for public schools, in New York City and across the country, would be increased, and in return the kind of education those schools were expected to provide would rise as well, even for poor and disadvantaged students.  “No child left behind.”  Republicans such as George W. Bush were in favor, but so were Democrats such as Teddy Kennedy and Barack Obama.  But nobody talks about it anymore, and for good reason.  In New York City, and some places like it, the schools – and the teachers union — grabbed vastly more money, but once that was locked in they rejected any increased expectations, or any expectations at all, and have since demanded still more money.  In some other states anti-tax politicians reversed higher school funding, though not completely, and left the quality of education lower than it had been decades ago.

Nationwide the reversal was driven by three trends.  Since FY 2007, with the children of the Baby Boomers (aka the Millennials) exiting school, public school enrollment has been falling in many places, and barely increasing nationwide.  So the only generation that matters, the Baby Boomers, wants money and attention shifted to other things — even as the schools and the politicians they support, in places like Upstate NY, want more money funneled through the increasing empty schools as a jobs and retirement program.  Throughout their adulthood, this generation either failed to fund the pensions teachers had been promised, or retroactively increased those pensions to benefit the generations cashing in and moving out – themselves.  As a result much of the increase in school funding per student that did occur actually went to retired school employees, rather than to the classroom. All this came to a head with the Great Recession, followed by a perpetual fiscal crisis across the country.  One associated with falling tax burdens in some places, but rising tax burdens in New York. School reform is over across the country, but in New York City it was probably a fraud to start with.

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New York City’s Exploding Home Health Care Employment, Etc

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released re-benchmarked annual average Current Employment Survey data, for 2018 and earlier years, a week ago.  In past years, I’ve used this data source to document the trend in local government employment for New York City as compared with the Rest of New York State, something I will summarize briefly at the end of this post.  There is, however, a far more spectacular trend.  New York City’s private employment in the Home Health Care industry has apparently gone exponential.

NYC Home Health Care1

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Sold Out Futures By State: Public Employee Pensions in FY 2016

There was a time when a soaring stock market and zero percent interest rates, leading to soaring values of existing fixed-income investments, would have been enough to pull state and local government public employee pension funds out of the hole, at least by the (in my view false) measures used.  Today, however, that hole is so deep that for all state and local government pension funds in the U.S. combined, according to my estimate, later-born generations face a $3.5 trillion debt to pay for public employee pensions as of FY 2016, or 21.8% of the personal income of everyone in the United States.  Over and above any pension benefits that are being earned today. That exceeded the $3 trillion in formal state and local government bonded debt at the time.

More and more, various organizations are coming up with estimates of this combined debt burden, trying to predict which states and localities will be headed for bankruptcy, public service insolvency, or both.   Having pioneered this way of thinking nearly a decade ago with the first “Sold Out Future” ranking, let’s continue the analysis with regard to public employee pensions.

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