Saturday, March 21, 2015

Stockton, CA. is THE Case to Look at For Pension Prospects

CalPERS building

CalPERS (California's Largest Pension Fund)

Almost exactly TWO years ago U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein ruled that Stockton, CA. could move forward with a plan to reorganize its debt. In that decision, he twice stated that the creditors had acted in bad faith and had refused to pay their share of the costs for negotiations. The ruling made Stockton eligible for bankruptcy protection and left the door open for CalPERS’ (California’s pension giant) obligations to be part of negotiations in the coming phases of the bankruptcy.

The Stockton decision has opened the door for the state to follow suit.

In the ongoing fight, the issue will be whether U.S. bankruptcy law trumps California law, which says the pension plan must be funded. IF it does, then the pension system there is all but dead in the water and that opens the door for more direct, or frontal assaults on public pensions across the country.

Considering the fact that the $900 million Stockton owes to the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CAlpers) to cover pensions is its biggest debt - as is the case with many cities in California – you can see where BOTH sides are fully dug in.

Prior to bankruptcy, Stockton predictably slashed its police and fire departments, halted bond payments, cut employee benefits and adopted an emergency spending plan that drastically reduced many city services, but the city continued to pay into the state pension.

AND it didn’t take long for the fight to expand, as just 400 miles south, in the city of San Bernardino, in that city’s bankruptcy case, the pension fund faces a new legal challenge from two companies owed $50 million. The companies say it's illegal for the city to continue paying CalPERS to fund workers' pensions while they get nothing.

"This is significant," said Adam Tatum, research director at California Common Sense, a nonprofit think tank. "It has put a chink in CalPERS' armor."

Karol Denniston, a public finance lawyer at Squire Patton Boggs, said Klein's ruling was "critical for every municipality in California."

"Next time we see a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing," she said, "pensions will be up for negotiation just like every other creditor."

Indeed, San Bernardino could become the first city in California to consider cutting worker pensions in a bankruptcy.

The fight has Municipal Labor in California back on its heels. Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, a coalition of 24 public unions, said workers are willing to discuss changes to their benefits during contract negotiations. He noted that Stockton's workers had agreed to give up the free healthcare they had been promised in retirement — a benefit worth more than $500 million.

"Unions have no interest in seeing their cities go bankrupt," said Mr. Low.

The fight is very real and with private sector pensions already gutted, the public sector workers are left with few allies among fellow workers.

WHAT, if anything, does this mean for New York?

That’s hard to say, given that the New York State-run pension funds are some of the best funded pension funds in the nation. STILL, that does NOT make New York immune to such national trends.

It also doesn’t help that new Municipal workers in New York City have lost many of the pension benefits that older workers have. Over a relatively short time period, those workers will become the overwhelming bulk of city workers and eventually ALL such workers. Couple that with the fact that the majority of pensioners leave places like New York for warmer, cheaper environs and you get a perfect storm – politicians willing to  sacrifice a non-voting group and resentful newer workers willing to trade the oldster’s pensions for some short term benefits for themselves.

It’s NOT a pretty picture!



No comments:

American Ideas Click Here!