Debt Crisis

Standard & Poor’s Warns Chicago ‘Downgrade Of More Than One Notch Is Possible’

Not too much talk about the following last week in the Chicago-area news. From Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Helen Samuelson over on S&P’s Global Credit Portal website on April 9:

CHICAGO (Standard & Poor’s) April 9, 2015–After months of campaigning and uncertainty, Chicago (A+/Negative general obligation debt rating) can get back to the business of running itself. As such, we expect Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attention to be focused on the city’s budget challenges, namely its ballooning pension obligation.

During the course of the election — and particularly during the runoff — Mayor Emanuel avoided addressing the possibility of property tax increases to help pay for these pension obligations.

“Following Tuesday’s vote, in order to maintain its current rating, we expect the administration to address the pension and budget challenges head on by providing solutions that will support the city’s credit strengths in the near and far term,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Helen Samuelson.

Our ‘A+’ rating is predicated on Chicago’s ability to make the changes necessary to address its budget gap and pension problem. However, even with this ability, to ensure long-term stability Chicago still needs to demonstrate its willingness to make difficult choices that address its budget issues.

Otherwise, the ‘A+’ rating could be severely pressured. Our negative rating outlook reflects the city’s fiscal pressures. If the city doesn’t find structural solutions, a downgrade of more than one notch is possible.

In our view, if the city fails to articulate and implement a plan by the end of 2015 to sustainably fund its pension contributions, or if it substantially draws down its reserves to fund the contributions, we will likely lower the rating. This is regardless of whatever relief the state legislature may or may not provide. We will likely affirm the rating and revise the outlook to stable if Chicago is able to successfully absorb its higher pension costs while maintaining balanced budgetary performance and reserves at or near their current level…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

To date, a different credit rating agency- Moody’s- has been making the most noise about the City of Chicago’s financial woes. Yvette Shields reported on The Bond Buyer website on April 6:

The city has suffered a steep credit rating slide and further credit deterioration is threatened.

Chicago’s GO ratings range from a low of Baa2 — two notches above speculative grade — from Moody’s to a high of A-plus from Standard & Poor’s…

“A-plus.” That may not be the case at year end.

You can read that entire Standard & Poor’s piece on the Global Credit Portal here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Shields, Yvette. “Big Stakes as Market Awaits Chicago’s Mayoral Pick.” The Bond Buyer. 6 Apr. 2015. (http://www.bondbuyer.com/news/regionalnews/big-stakes-as-market-awaits-chicagos-mayoral-pick-1071986-1.html). 16 Apr. 2015.

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Thursday, April 16th, 2015 Credit, Debt Crisis, Entitlements, Government, Taxes No Comments

Peter Schiff Advises Americans, Greeks: ‘Don’t Hold On To Dollars, Just Like You’re Not Going To Hold On To Drachma’

Tuesday, the CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, Peter Schiff, compared Greece’s financial situation with what’s going on in the United States. From his April 14 SchiffGold “Gold Videocast” entry on YouTube.com:

The only difference between Greece and the United States is the perception of our creditors. Because we are just as broke. We have borrowed more money than we can repay. Not only have we borrowed it like Greece, and we owe over $18 trillion when it comes to the national debt- the bonds that have been issued where we actually owe principal and interest payments. But just like Greece politicians, American politicians have made all sorts of promises to everybody to get votes. And there’s nothing that’s going to stop the U.S. government from repaying its commitments in worthless money. Just like there’s nothing that’s going to stop the Greeks once they get the Euro out of the way, and go back to the drachma…

And when the dollar collapses, and prices skyrocket, it’s not going to do any good if the government kept its promise in money that doesn’t buy anything. So I would give the same advice today to Americans as I would for Greeks:

Don’t hold on to dollars, just like you’re not going to hold on to drachma. Turn your dollars into something else, something of real, tangible value, that the government can’t create out of thin air. And I think the best choice would be gold. Gold or silver can retain their purchasing power in the face of government default through inflation.


“Greece and the Euro Breakup; Why the US Dollar Is Facing an Even Bigger Crisis”
YouTube Video

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s notes: Info added to “Crash Prophets” page; I am not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein.)

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Chicago To Be Run By Emergency Financial Control Board Within 2 Years?

Last Wednesday, I reminded Survival And Prosperity readers (local ones in particular) that Chicago- upon reelecting Rahm Emanuel as Mayor- remains in serious financial trouble. From that post:

As Rahm Emanuel enters his second term as Mayor of Chicago, I feel that proverbial brick wall is still fast-approaching.

Perhaps the best Chicagoans can hope for at this point is a controlled crash landing.

I know one thing. If I were still living in the city, I’d be preparing for the coming carnage…

Some readers might feel I was being a little too “sensational” with that statement. Therefore, I’d like to offer up the following for your consideration. Reuters’ Megan Davies and Karen Pierog reported on April 8:

Chicago has not seen the population losses Detroit did and its business and commercial real estate markets remain healthy, but its current circumstances are more dire than any other major American city today, with aggregate debt of $21.4 billion, up 60 percent since 2004.

Although Chicago’s situation isn’t bad enough yet to warrant a bankruptcy filing, that threat is out there if it fails to tackle its problems.

“People say Chicago’s not Detroit,” said Tom Metzold, a senior portfolio advisor at investment manager Eaton Vance. “Not right now. Chicago is Detroit ten years from now. I don’t care how economically strong your economy is. They don’t have a printing press. You can only tax so much.”

Metzold estimated the odds of a Chapter 9 bankruptcy in the next five years are “virtually zero” but said in the next 10 years that could rise to 25 percent if it fails to act

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

In case readers are wondering, Metzold’s s “Street cred” includes serving as VP and Co-Director of Municipal Investments at Eaton Vance (one of the oldest investment management firms in the U.S.- established 1924), and as its Portfolio Manager since 1991.

Not as “optimistic” about Chicago’s financial future is Joe Mysak, Editor of Bloomberg Brief. He warned in an April 8 commentary:

I’m not a betting man. If I were, I’d bet that Chicago is going to be run by an Emergency Financial Control Board, or something like it, within two years, the same as New York City back in 1975 (and until 1986)…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Mysak, who’s been covering the municipal bond market since 1981, pointed out the city’s abysmal Moody’s credit rating (“one step from the basement of investment grade”) and wrote:

So a cut to junk may well be in the cards, and with it diminished and eventually lack of access to capital. Chicago has already creatively used, and some would say abused, the municipal market to subsidize city operations…

When the banks no longer want to lend to Chicago is presumably when the state of Illinois would come in, offering cash, loan guarantees, intercession with the federal government and whatever else the city needs in exchange for external management via an Emergency Financial Control Board…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The author of the Encyclopedia of Municipal Bonds signed-off with:

Two years. That’s how long I give the city of Chicago. Good luck, Rahm.

Good luck Chicago…

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Davies, Megan and Pierog, Karen. “Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel confronts fiscal nightmare as he begins second term.” Reuters. 8 Apr. 2015. (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/04/chicago-mayor-rahm-emanuel-confronts-fiscal-nightmare-as-he-begins-second-term/). 12 Apr. 2015.

Mysak, Joe. “Next Stop for Chicago: Emergency Financial Control Board.” Bloomberg Brief. 8 Apr. 2015. (http://newsletters.briefs.bloomberg.com/document/3fz176niqylzjr6oax/commentary). 12 Apr. 2015.

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Afterthoughts: Chicago’s 2015 Mayoral Election

In case you hadn’t heard, Rahm Emanuel remains Mayor of Chicago after defeating Jesús “Chuy” García yesterday in a run-off election 55.7 percent to 44.3 percent with 98.7% of precincts reporting.

Here are some of my thoughts regarding the 2015 mayoral election in Chicago:

1. The fact that “Chuy,” a Cook County commissioner who was born in Durango, Mexico, forced Mayor Emanuel into a first-ever run-off election for the position signaled two things. One, a number of Chicago voters aren’t too happy with the way the “Rahmfather” is running the city. And two, Chicago’s Hispanics continue to flex their growing political muscle. Natasha Korecki reported on the Chicago Sun-Times website back on March 15:

According to census data from 2010, Hispanics make up just shy of 29 percent of the city’s population- but they account for only 13 to 15 percent of the electorate. (Garcia’s campaign says that number was at about 16 percent on Feb. 24.)

Should trends hold, I envision Latinos making significant gains with that percentage. Korecki added:

“The Hispanic population is the fastest-growing segment of the early-childhood population,” says Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, an Emanuel supporter. “Latinos make up 47 percent of students in CPS,. It’s a very significant population…

Last December, the U.S. Census Bureau forecasted that Hispanics will comprise 25 percent of the U.S. population within the next 30 years- up from approximately 17 percent right now.

At risk of sounding like “Captain Obvious” here, I’m thinking Chicago’s future will be a much more Latino one. Particularly as city government is concerned.

(Editor’s note: Back in the fall of 1988 I told my high school Spanish teacher I wanted to learn the language because I thought it would “come in handy” someday. Has it ever.)

2. After being forced into a run-off, the Rahm camp realized he’s rubbed a number of Chicagoans the wrong way. Which led to commercials like this:


“New Rahm Emanuel Ad: ‘I Can Rub People The Wrong Way’”
YouTube Video

So now that he’s won the run-off, what’s Mayor Emanuel “tune” now? Rick Pearson and Bill Ruthhart reported on the Chicago Tribune website this morning:

After finishing a salad and bowl of matzo ball soup, Emanuel was asked what he learned from the runoff and whether he would, in fact, be a more inclusive mayor in his second term.

Emanuel responded by confidently saying the feedback he’d gotten from voters during the campaign would serve as his “North Star.” Asked by the Tribune if that meant he would take a different approach to running the city, Emanuel instead deflected the question by telling the reporter: “You’ll evaluate that, and my guess is you’ll tell me on a 24-hour basis.”

Pressed again on whether he had heard the voters and would change his often brusque style, Emanuel responded with just one word:

“Yeah.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Yeah. I don’t know about you, but the impression I get from that response is- something tells me old habits might be particularly hard to break with this one.

I can’t help but wonder if dead fish aren’t already on their way…

3. Chicago’s “financial reckoning day” is still fast approaching. And I don’t think it matters who’s in charge, as I believe we’re too far along in the deterioration and the required political will to do something about it just isn’t there. Still. I read a “funny” comment on the popular Chicago police blog Second City Cop earlier today. From a Tuesday night post:

Anonymous said…

Blah blah blah. The city will not go.bankrupt. We are third in the country for tourists, we have numerous international and national companies world headquarters plus we have a 100s of millions in tif funds. Commie chuy was a police hater that had no plan for this city. Rahm ain’t no picnic either but next to chuy he was a genius.

Now consider what the National Journal’s John B. Judis reported on March 30:

Chicago is facing a truly grave set of problems– problems that are essentially more extreme versions of the challenges confronting city governments across the country.

The quandaries begin with Chicago’s dramatic social divide. To an even greater extent than is the case in, say, New York or Philadelphia, Chicago has become two entirely separate cities. One is a bustling metropolis that includes the Loop, Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, and the Gold Coast, as well as the city’s well-to-do, working-class, and upwardly mobile immigrant neighborhoods. The other Chicago consists of impoverished neighborhoods on the far South and West Sides, primarily populated by African-Americans. These places have remained beyond the reach of the city’s recovery from the Great Recession.

Meanwhile, even as it grapples with this extreme gap, Chicago is suffering from a severe fiscal crisis. Like plenty of other municipalities, Chicago lacks the revenue to pay its bills, particularly its pension obligations to city workers. According to a 2013 Pew report, 61 other U.S. cities face similar difficulties, but Chicago’s situation is one of the worst. “Voters must realize we are facing the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression,” says Roosevelt University’s Paul Green, the doyen of Chicago political experts. “If something doesn’t happen, the city is beyond the abyss.”

Those problems aren’t really Emanuel’s fault, but his efforts to fix them over the past four years haven’t yielded especially good results. For his part, Garcia—who has been at the forefront of Latino politics in Chicago for four decades and who has a history of bucking Chicago’s political establishment—has run a campaign long on general populist criticism of the incumbent, but short on credible ideas about what he would do differently.

All of which means that this election won’t yield much of a mandate for dramatic solutions to Chicago’s twin crises

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Translated: Probably doesn’t matter who won the election, because Chicago looks to “lose” with either at the helm.

Once again, the economic situation appears too far gone at this point, and the political will to truly get the city’s finances back on track just isn’t there.

I hope Judis is wrong. And I hope I’m wrong here.

But the numbers are looking pretty atrocious right now.

As much as I’d like to side with “Anonymous,” as Rahm Emanuel enters his second term as Mayor of Chicago, I feel that proverbial brick wall is still fast-approaching.

Perhaps the best Chicagoans can hope for at this point is a controlled crash landing.

I know one thing. If I were still living in the city, I’d be preparing for the coming carnage.

More on that topic soon.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Korecki, Natasha. “Getting Hispanics to the polls in Chicago mayor’s race no slam dunk for Chuy.” Chicago Sun-Times. 15 Mar. 2015. (http://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/7/71/438985/getting-hispanics-polls-chicago-mayors-race-slam-dunk-chuy). 8 Apr. 2015.

Pearson, Rick and Ruthhart, Bill. “’Second chance.’ Emanuel says he’s ‘humbled’ by victory.” Chicago Tribune. 8 Apr. 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-chicago-mayoral-election-20150407-story.html#page=1). 8 Apr. 2015.

SCC. “Mixed Bag.” Second City Cop. 7 Apr. 2015. (http://secondcitycop.blogspot.com/2015/04/mixed-bag.html). 8 Apr. 2015.

Judis, John B. “Broken city: Rahm Emanuel and the unraveling of Chicago.” National Journal. 30 Mar. 2015. (https://www.yahoo.com/politics/broken-city-rahm-emanuel-and-the-unraveling-of-115037357316.html). 8 Apr. 2015.

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Thinking Of Illinois’ Financial Woes While In Wisconsin

Saturday morning while working on projects around my family’s place in Wisconsin, something I read earlier in the week came to mind. Steven Malanga wrote on The Fiscal Times website on March 30:

Illinois officials… are awaiting a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court on a suit by workers seeking to overturn the legislature’s 2013 pension reforms. If the court, which has previously refused to allow any changes to retirement plans for retirees or current workers, throws out the reforms, Illinois will face $145 billion in higher taxes over the next three decades just to pay off the debt, according to a report by the Civic Committee of Chicago.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

“Illinois will face $145 billion in higher taxes…”

I don’t recall hearing/seeing that figure being used before, so I decided to track it back to the source. From an October 9, 2014, press release from the Civic Committee:

The “What If?” initiative identifies some of the consequences that could result from an overturn of the pension law, including:

$145 billion in higher taxes and service cuts over 30 years
• Highest property taxes in the nation
• 41¢ of Big Three state tax dollars devoted to pensions, up from 8¢ in 2007
• A possible $2,500 tuition spike at the University of Illinois
• Severe cuts to K-12 education, leading to as many as 13,000 teacher layoffs
• Critical meltdown of social services, including the end of child care for 41,000 kids and 21,000 seniors losing in-home care

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

That’s a pretty scary picture being painted. The accompanying “What If?” brochure does a good job at accomplishing that. Consider some of these additional forecasts being made:

• 64,000 jobs lost
• $375 average property tax increase
• $3,000-plus in state taxes per household

The brochure didn’t indicate how all this was computed.

However, if conditions in the “Land of Lincoln” deteriorate to such a point, Wisconsin is where I’ll likely stay for good. Regular readers might recall that I’ve mentioned my permanent address being a Wisconsin one in the future.

You can read that entire press release/learn more about their “What If?” initiative on the Civic Committee website here.

While I support public pension reform in Illinois, I’m just not convinced what’s been put into play (passed into law) is the best way of going about it.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Malanga, Steven. “Outrageous public pensions could bankrupt these states.” The Fiscal Times. 30 Mar. 2015. (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/outrageous-public-pensions-could-bankrupt-172700274.html). 5 Apr. 2015.

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Bill Introduced To Permit Illinois Municipalities To File For Bankruptcy

Since I started blogging about a U.S. financial crash back on Memorial Day Weekend 2007, I’ve believed one casualty will be municipal government. Particularly in Illinois. So imagine my non-surprise when I spotted an article on the Chicago Tribune website a couple of days ago about proposed legislation at the state level granting Illinois towns the authority to file for bankruptcy. Nick Swedberg of the Associated Press wrote on March 26:

Stressed by pension debt, other financial issues and the possibility losing a chunk of their state aid, some Illinois cities want the option to file for bankruptcy. They’ve found an ally in a Republican lawmaker, who’s proposed legislation to allow municipalities to follow in the footsteps of Detroit and other cities in restructuring debt and paying back creditors…

Rep. Ron Sandack is sponsoring legislation that would grant authority for communities to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 9 of the federal code. The Downers Grove Republican says it’s a “measure of last resort,” especially with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal in next year’s budget to cut in half the local governments’ share of state income taxes by 50 percent.

“It’s just giving time and space to do things right,” he said…

Swedberg added later in the piece:

Municipal bankruptcies are rare, NCSL data shows. Of 37 local government filings since 2010, only 8 were cities, with the majority filed by utilities and special districts.

Detroit filed for the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in July 2013, looking to restructure $12 billion of debt…

It’s true. Municipal bankruptcies haven’t happened too often. But keep in mind what Eric Weiner wrote on the NPR website back on February 28, 2008:

For most of U.S. history, cities and towns were not eligible for bankruptcy protection. But during the Great Depression, more than 2,000 municipalities defaulted on their debt, and they pleaded with President Roosevelt for a federal bailout. “All they got was sympathy,” reported Time magazine in 1933. Instead, Roosevelt pushed through changes to the bankruptcy laws that allows towns and cities to file for bankruptcy. They even got their own section of the bankruptcy code: Chapter Nine…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

There’s also this from Robert Slavin on The Bond Buyer website back on January 14:

For the municipal bond industry, 2015 marks the midpoint in what may turn out to be the decade of the bankruptcy.

Four of the five largest municipal bankruptcy filings in United States history have been made in roughly the last three years, a trend analysts attribute to the aftereffects of the 2008 credit crisis and Great Recession, as well as changing attitudes about debt.

“The crash of 2008 and five years of stagnation preceded by years of escalating wages, pensions and Other Post-Employment Benefits set the stage for our recent Chapter 9 filings,” said Arent Fox partner David Dubrow.

Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy was adopted in 1937 but had been rarely used, particularly by large governments. However, since November 2011 San Bernardino, Calif., Stockton, Calif., Jefferson County, Ala., and Detroit have filed four of the five largest bankruptcies as measured by total obligations.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Could the specter of Meredith Whitney, the “Diva Of Doom,” be returning to take revenge on the municipal bond industry?

I’m not surprised Illinois municipalities would be interested in House Bill 298. From Patrick Rehkamp and Andrew Schroedter on the website of the Chicago-based Better Government Association back on December 6, 2014:

Reasons for filing vary but often include troubled public development projects, unanticipated hefty legal judgments against a taxpayer-backed entity, or massive pension and bond debt payments that leave a municipality cash-strapped and unable to cover operating costs of employee salaries, vendor payments and other expenses.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The public pension crisis in Chicago and Illinois has been well-publicized for some time now. And while such entitlements are supposedly protected by a provision in the 1970 Illinois Constitution, the BGA noted in their piece:

In Illinois, public employee pensions are guaranteed by the state constitution. But in the Detroit and Stockton, California bankruptcy cases, federal judges have ruled that pension benefits can be adjusted, the same as other debts, despite a constitutional guarantee.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

You can track the progress of HB 298 on the Illinois General Assembly website here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Swedberg, Nick. “Bill pushes for possible municipal bankruptcies in Illinois.” Associated Press. 29 Mar. 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-bc-il–closer-look-bankruptcy-20150329-story.html). 3 Apr. 2015.

Weiner, Eric. “What Happens When City Hall Goes Bankrupt?” NPR. 28 Feb. 2008. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=60740288). 3 Apr. 2015.

Slavin, Robert. “Why So Many Big Bankruptcies?” The Bond Buyer. 14 Jan. 2015. (http://www.bondbuyer.com/news/markets-buy-side/why-so-many-big-bankruptcies-1069539-1.html). 3 Apr. 2015.

Rehkamp, Patrick and Schroedter, Andrew. “Next Up: Illinois Municipal Bankruptcy?” Better Government Association. 16 Dec. 2014. (http://www.bettergov.org/next_up_illinois_municipal_bankruptcy/). 4 Apr. 2015.

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Jim Rogers: ‘When This Ends, It’s Going To Be Much Worse Than The Last Time We Had A Big Collapse In The Financial Markets’

Investor Jim Rogers appeared on Bloomberg TV India last Friday. Anupriya Nair asked the CEO of Rogers Holdings about a number of financial/investing topics, including his outlook for emerging markets. The co-founder of the legendary Quantum Fund issued the following warning to viewers. From their exchange:

NAIR: Jim, you’re an avid traveler as well. We here in the emerging markets are bystanders and watchers of what’s happening in the developing world. Should we be concerned though with the kind of movements we’re seeing in global currency and commodity markets. Is this the making of a perfect storm for emerging markets?
ROGERS: Oh yes. We’re going to have serious problems. America’s stock markets have been going up, almost straight up, for six years. That’s very unusual. At the same time, debt has been going higher and higher and higher all over the world, and central banks have been printing a lot of money. That is not normal. When this ends, it’s going to be much worse than the last time we had a big collapse in the financial markets. It’s going to be much, much worse. So yeah, we all should be concerned. We’re getting some signals now, in the emerging markets- markets which borrowed a lot of money. No, it’s going to be a mess the next time we have a financial crisis. And we will have financial crises- we’ve been having them since the beginning of time. If anybody tells you there’s no more financial crises, run the other way.

The entire interview can be viewed on the Bloomberg TV India website here. That bit about the next financial crisis starts at 5:21.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s note: I am not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein.)

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Illinois In Worst Shape Of 43 States That Filed FY 2014 Audits

William G. Holland, the Auditor General for the State of Illinois, has just reported on Illinois’ finances.

It’s still fugly.

From the Summary Report Digest for “Statewide Financial Statement Audit For the Year Ended June 30, 2014”:

The Illinois Office of the State Comptroller prepares the State of Illinois Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). The CAFR is the State’s official annual report which provides the readers with the financial position of the State as of June 30, 2014, and results of operations during the fiscal year.

The financial section of the CAFR includes the Independent Auditors’ Report on the basic financial statements, the management discussion and analysis, the basic financial statements, required supplementary information, and individual fund statements and schedules…

The June 30, 2014 financial statements of the State of Illinois are fairly presented in all material respects.

The financial statements at June 30, 2014 reflect the following:

The net position of governmental activities continued to deteriorate and the deficit increased by $1.3 billion from FY13 to FY14. Overall, the net position of governmental activities is reported as a deficit of $49.2 billion. (Exhibit 1)
• The General Fund deficit decreased by $658 million from FY13 to FY14. The June 30, 2014 deficit was $6.7 billion. (Exhibit 2)

Over time, increases and decreases in net position measure whether the State’s financial position is improving or deteriorating. A comparison of Illinois’ financial position to other states is contained in Exhibit 3…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

And the results of that “comparison of Illinois’ financial position to other states”?

Karen Pierog of Reuters reported Wednesday:

This left Illinois in the worst shape of the 43 U.S. states that had filed fiscal 2014 audits. The only other state with negative assets was Massachusetts at $29 billion. Texas reported the biggest positive net assets at $119.4 billion

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Good ol’ Texas. Probably get even more sneers from local folks at my University of Texas t-shirt I picked up while at that Food Insurance-sponsored prepper conference in Dallas the other year.

Pierog added something else of note:

The state marked its thirteenth consecutive year with a general fund deficit

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

For most of those years, Democrats have dominated state government, occupying the governor’s office and the majority of both houses in the Illinois General Assembly.

Coincidence?

I’ll keep typing it on this blog until my fingers fall off:

“Financial reckoning day” is eventually coming to the “Land of Lincoln.”

As such, it might be wise for Illinoisans to start preparing if they haven’t done so already.

It won’t be the end of the world, but for many it could feel like it. Therefore, it’s probably a good idea to start addressing various vulnerabilities for such an occasion- financial and otherwise.

You can read that Summary Report Digest (.pdf format) on the Illinois Auditor General’s web page here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s note: I am not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein)

Source:

Pierog, Karen. “Illinois finances continued downward slide in FY 2014: auditor.” Reuters. 18 Mar. 2015. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/18/us-usa-illinois-audit-idUSKBN0ME2M920150318). 20 Mar. 2015.

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Chicago City Council Budget Chair On Property Tax Hike: ‘I Believe We Can Truly Say That It Will Happen’

Back when I was an aide to U.S. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois, there was one cardinal rule to be followed when communicating with constituents:

Good news comes from Paul, bad news comes from his assistants.

With that in mind, last night my girlfriend and I were watching the Chicago news on TV when the following story appeared. From the WGN Web Desk this morning:

A Chicago property tax hike could be on the way.

That wasn’t announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

It was said by an alderman who is trying to help him get reelected.

Several of Emanuel’s allies held a press conference Monday to question how challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia would pay for the promises he’s making on the campaign trail.

That’s when 34th Ward Alderman Carrie Austin, the City Council budget chairman, said property tax increases may be needed to cover Emanuel’s spending plans.

“I believe we can truly say that it will happen, but it’s all in the ‘how much,’” said Austin. “Nothing is off the table, and I think we should be honest with the people to let them know that everything is being considered.”

(Editor: Bold added for emphasis)

Considering the event was organized to attack mayoral challenger Jesús “Chuy” Garcia and this City Council routinely carries water for Emanuel, I initially thought “The Rahmfather” was trying to kill two birds with one stone here- blast “Chuy” and have Alderman Austin start conditioning Chicagoans for the looming property tax hike I’ve been warning about for some time now on this blog.

Good news Rahm. Bad news City Council budget chairman.

But then I thought more about how Rahm obviously realizes talk of tax hikes is one of the “third-rails” of politics- particularly before a runoff election that’s only a few weeks away (April 7) and where “Chuy” is not too far behind in the various polls.

Plus there’s this from Hal Dardick about the incident on the Chicago Tribune website yesterday:

Austin, known for speaking off the cuff, quickly tried to qualify her property tax hike comment, saying she meant only that “everything is on the table.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Maybe this wasn’t orchestrated by Rahm?

Oh well. Smooth move or gaffe, I see it as yet more evidence of a property tax hike being just around the corner.

Plan accordingly.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

“Mayor Emanuel Ally: Property tax hike likely.” WGN News Desk. 10 Mar. 2015. (http://wgntv.com/2015/03/10/mayor-emanuel-ally-property-tax-hike-likely/). 10 Mar. 2015.

Dardick, Hal. “Emanuel ally: Property tax hike likely in second term.” Chicago Tribune. 9 Mar. 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/chi-emanuel-ally-says-property-tax-likely-in-second-term-20150309-story.html). 10 Mar. 2015.

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Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 Debt Crisis, Fiscal Policy, Government, Taxes No Comments

Moody’s Downgrades Chicago’s Credit Rating Yet Again, Issues Negative Outlook

Chicago’s financial health is still pretty bleak in 2015.

Almost one year ago to this day, I blogged about bond credit rating giant Moody’s Investor Service downgrading the City of Chicago’s general obligation (GO) and sales tax ratings to Baa1 from A3, affecting $8.3 billion of GO and sales tax debt. I added last March:

According to Moody’s, “Obligations rated Baa are judged to be medium-grade and subject to moderate credit risk and as such may possess certain speculative characteristics.”

Just before the weekend, Moody’s downgraded Chicago’s credit rating yet again. The Global Credit Research division announced on the Moody’s website under “Ratings News” Friday:

Rating Action: Moody’s downgrades Chicago, IL to Baa2; maintains negative outlook

Baa2 applies to $8.3B of GO debt, $542M of sales tax debt, and $268M of motor fuel tax debt

New York, February 27, 2015 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to Baa2 from Baa1 the rating on the City of Chicago, IL’s $8.3 billion of outstanding general obligation (GO) debt, $542 million of outstanding sales tax revenue debt, and $268 million of outstanding or authorized motor fuel tax revenue debt. We have also downgraded to Speculative Grade (SG) from VMIG 3 the short-term rating on the city’s outstanding Sales Tax Revenue Refunding Bonds, Variable Rate Series 2002. The outlook on the long-term ratings remains negative…

“The outlook on the long-term ratings remains negative”

Kind of hard to get excited about the “Windy City’s” prospects after reading that.

To be fair, some are suggesting the credit rating downgrades are being influenced by City Hall in order to avoid meeting certain financial obligations (i.e., Chicago’s well-publicized public pension crisis).

“We ain’t got it.”

You can read the entire Moody’s press release on their website here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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The Civic Federation Proposes Less Government Spending, More Taxes To Tackle Illinois’ $6.4 Billion In Unpaid Bills

Regular Survival And Prosperity readers shouldn’t be surprised to hear the following from The Civic Federation, an independent, non-partisan government research organization that provides analysis and recommendations on government finance issues for the Chicago region and State of Illinois. From a press release last Thursday:

In a report released today, the Civic Federation’s Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability proposes a comprehensive five-year plan that responds to the dire reality of Illinois’ financial condition with painful, but necessary recommendations. The plan immediately stabilizes the State’s operating budget and establishes a sustainable long-term financial plan that would pay off Illinois’ unpaid bill backlog of approximately $6.4 billion. The full 56-page report is available here.

Nearly five years after the official end of the national economic downturn, Illinois is still burdened with billions of dollars in unpaid bills. The State’s five pension systems, underfunded for decades and further weakened by recession-driven investment losses, are consuming a growing share of annual operating revenues. Temporary income tax rate increases enacted in 2011 helped the State cope with these massive problems, but the higher rates began to phase out on January 1, 2015 and the State’s income tax revenues are expected to plummet by $5.2 billion between FY2014 and FY2016.

“The incomplete FY2015 budget resulted in a greater deterioration of Illinois’ finances and made the necessary actions to fix this crisis even more painful,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation. “Illinois cannot afford such a steep rollback of its tax rates without eliminating entire areas of State services or completely restructuring the government.”

After examining the effectiveness of multiple budget scenarios based on the fundamental long-term financial goals detailed below, the Federation proposes the following recommendations as part of a comprehensive five-year plan…

In a nutshell, The Civic Federation proposes less government spending and more taxes for the State of Illinois. From that press release:

1. Fix Fiscal Cliff in FY2015: Rather than sharply dropping income tax rates by 25% in one year, the State should retroactively increase the income tax rate to 4.25% for individuals and 6.0% for corporations as of January 1, 2015. The State could then provide additional tax relief by rolling back the rates on January 1, 2018 to 4.0% for individuals and 5.6% for corporations.
2. Control State Spending: The State should restrict discretionary spending growth from the 2.7% level shown in its three-year projections to 2.0%, closer to the rate of inflation. This could reduce total State spending by $1.3 billion over five years.
3. Broaden the Income Tax Base to Include Some Retirement Income: Out of the 41 states that impose an income tax, Illinois is one of only three that exempt all pension income. To create greater equity among taxpayers, the State’s income tax base should include non-Social Security retirement income from individuals with a total income of more than $50,000.
4. Expand Sales Tax Base to Include Services: Illinois should expand its sales tax base to include a list of 32 service taxes proposed by Governor Rauner. Due to the complexity of sourcing rules and collections for new businesses that are not currently required to collect sales taxes, it is estimated this expansion could take up to two fiscal years to fully implement.
5. Temporarily Eliminate Sales Tax Exemption for Food and Non-Prescription Drugs: To provide much-needed immediate revenue, the State should temporarily eliminate the tax exemption for food and non-prescription drugs. The State should apply the full 6.25% sales tax rate to food and over-the-counter drug purchases through FY2019 and then reinstate the exemption in FY2020 after the service tax expansion is fully implemented and the State’s backlog of unpaid bills is eliminated.
6. Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to Provide Assistance to Low Income Residents: To help soften the impact of the State’s fiscal crisis on low income residents, the Civic Federation proposes an increase in the State’s Earned Income Tax Credit from 10% of the federal credit to 15% of the federal credit by FY2018…

At this point, I wholeheartedly believe it’s just a matter of time now before a number of the above are implemented either willingly (legislatively) or forcefully (“financial reckoning day”) in the “Land of Lincoln” down the road.

As such, it might be wise for Illinoisans to start preparing (if they haven’t done so already) for an impending hit to household finances and elsewhere.

You can read the entire press release and obtain that report on The Civic Federation’s website here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner To Push Drastic Spending Cuts, Sales Tax Hike In Near Future?

Some local news outlets have been giving new Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner a hard time lately, claiming he’s still in “campaign mode” and not providing much in the way of tackling the state’s economic ills.

But yesterday, Illinoisans got a glimpse of one potential measure the Winnetka businessman may turn to for improving the state’s finances. Jessie Hellmann and Ray Long reported on the Chicago Tribune website Thursday:

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner pressed a bit harder Thursday for an expansion of the Illinois sales tax as part of an agenda to right the state’s financial ship.

Using charts and graphs, Rauner explained how surrounding states use broader-based sales taxes than Illinois to take advantage of growing service economies. “We’re not competitive,” Rauner said.

The idea of expanding the state’s sales tax base to include services, such as on auto repairs, dog grooming or haircuts, has been debated in Illinois since the late 1980s. Expansion efforts repeatedly have stalled in the face of heavy resistance, but Rauner outlined how he thinks Illinois is “out of balance” with other states.

“We are not thoughtful about this,” Rauner said, adding that the Illinois sales tax is too high and too narrowly applied.

Expanding the sales tax is one of the few items Rauner repeatedly has mentioned as a part of an unspecific overhaul of the entire tax code, saying Illinois can’t “just nibble around the edges.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

It’s going to take a whole lot more than a sales tax hike to turn around the state’s economic fortunes. And Governor Rauner knows that.

So what other measures could be on his agenda for the near-term?

Rich Miller discussed the governor’s visit to the University of Chicago on January 22 and wrote on the Crain’s Chicago Business website the following day:

What is crystal clear is that he won’t ask for any more revenues without first making deep and even drastic cuts.

The new governor pointed to flat population growth and flat job growth as the roots of the problem.

Without “booming” growth, he said, Illinois can never dig itself out of the hole it’s in. And Rauner always HAS said that high taxes are a hindrance to growth.

Rauner singled out two items for his chopping block. First up, Medicaid spending.

“When you realize our job growth is flat, how do you pay for it?,” Rauner said of Medicaid. “I want to do that, but that is not sustainable.” Medicaid, which pays for everything from childbirth to nursing home care, consumes a quarter of the state’s operating budget, and despite some real reforms almost two years ago, costs are continuing to rise. And that’s a problem when next fiscal year’s budget deficit is being pegged at a whopping $9 billion.

Rauner also claimed state employees make too much money, saying they earn more than private sector workers (which AFSCME rejects, pointing to a recent University of Illinois study) and are the third-highest paid in the country. The number of state workers is declining, Rauner noted, but payroll costs are still increasing. Their health insurance is based on “low contributions” from workers, but has a high cost. So, while workers aren’t chipping in much, “you’re chipping in a lot,” he told his audience…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

“Deep and even drastic cuts.” “Expansion of the Illinois sales tax.”

It will be interesting to watch how Illinois Democrats- who hold veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly- react to such proposals if Governor Rauner goes this route.

This could get ugly real quick…

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Hellmann, Jessie and Long, Ray. “Rauner presses for sales tax expansion in U. of I. speech.” Chicago Tribune. 29 Jan. 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-bruce-rauner-champaign-appearance-met-0130-20150129-story.html). 30 Jan. 2015.

Miller, Rich. “Watch out: Rauner sharpens his cleaver.” Crain’s Chicago Business. 23 Jan. 2015. (http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150123/NEWS02/150129882/watch-out-rauner-sharpens-his-cleaver). 30 Jan. 2015.

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Signs Of The Time, Part 82

I had a tough choice to make earlier tonight- either watch President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Speech, or finish up doing laundry.

After all my clothes were put away, I saw on my Internet service provider’s home page some jibberish about how some “shadow of crisis” had passed. I pulled up a transcript of the President’s speech tonight and sure enough there was this:

America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:

The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.

At this moment — with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production — we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come…

Mark my words. The “shadow of crisis” hasn’t passed. It was merely papered over. Keynesian “enlightenment,” government intervention, bailouts, stimulus packages, quantitative easing, QE 1, QE 2, QE 3, willing-and-able presstitutes, and what do we have? The Not-So-Great Recovery. Answer me this- if the economy is so strong, why have interest rates been effectively at zero for how many years now? “But Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve are going to start raising interest rates soon.” We’ll see, but if they do, I suspect rates will be raised incrementally, and I can’t help but wonder if the next few years won’t resemble the early part of last decade when a housing bubble inflated (and eventually popped) under the guise of a strong economy, but with the Fed slow on the trigger to raise rates and take way the punch bowl. This time around, we could even have multiple asset bubbles (in bonds? housing? stocks?) formed before the next installment of the longer financial crash arrives. Who knows exactly how the next crisis will play out, but I’m pretty sure the end result will be much uglier than the last episode. Not many bullets left for Uncle Sam and the central bank to use.

One more thing. “We have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.” God forbid anyone scratch the surface to reveal how many more trillions of dollars of debt has been piled on our financial house of cards in order to kick the can down the road a little bit more. There’s no escaping the fact that the United States is the world’s largest debtor nation. And another inconvenient fact happens to be that taking on significant debt is akin to slavery.

“Freer to write our own future.” If only it were true. Financial reckoning day is more like it.

I’ll leave Survival And Prosperity readers with this. Back in the early 1990s while attending the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign I remember listening to a recording of “The Rat Pack” in action. Frank Sinatra was chiding Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Now, the “Chairman Of The Board” made an observation that better describes the situation we’re in than what the President Of The United States said this evening:

You’ve had your fling and you flung it.

Enjoy the “good times” while they last, then prepare to batten down the hatches.


Scene from The Final Countdown (1980)
YouTube Video

Note that it’s not the end of the word I’m talking about here. But things will definitely suck for a while before the economy and society gets better again. By that time, we’ll probably be well on our way to having passed the baton to China.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Illinois Debt Crisis Latest: $9 Billion Annual Deficit, $159 Billion In IOUs

Illinois residents are waking up to disturbing news this morning. From the “Press Room” over on the website of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois:

Illinois faces $9 billion annual deficit and $159 billion in IOUs

New analysis (PDF) by the Fiscal Futures Project finds no easy fix to Illinois’ chronic fiscal imbalance. Illinois now faces a $9 billion annual deficit that will grow to $14 billion by FY 2026.

“Years of pay-later budgeting has resulted in a massive imbalance between sustainable revenue and spending,” said Richard Dye, co-director of the Fiscal Futures Project. “Like a person in deep credit card debt, the state has been spending more than it can afford, and is covering the gap by issuing IOUs.” The report finds that the state’s IOUs now total $159 billion—more than twice the inflow of revenue in a single year. It’s a monumental problem that will require a long-term fiscal plan that includes tax increases, spending cuts, and economic growth.

The report, Apocalypse Now? The Consequences of Pay-Later Budgeting in Illinois, examines what it would take to balance the budget. The options are limited.

• Bringing back the 2011 tax increase would close only about one-half of the gap projected for the next several years.
The problem cannot be solved with spending cuts alone. Because Illinois can’t cut debt service or pension payments, it would take at least a 20 percent cut of all remaining spending to eliminate the deficit. This includes education, corrections, Medicaid, public safety, transportation, and more.
• Economic growth is also not a cure-all: an increase in the growth rate of personal income by an extra one-half percent every year for 10 years (an optimistic scenario) would only have a modest effect on the deficit.

The report concludes: “Changes in awareness, expectations, and policy are needed to restore fiscal balance in Illinois. Being saddled with paying past years’ bills means that today, Illinoisans must reduce their expectations for the services that they can expect from government and be prepared to pay more for government, now and in the future.”

(Editor’s notes: Bold added for emphasis)

Like I blogged a week ago:

A lot less government services. Much higher fees, fines and taxes.

An outcome I see for Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois residents down the road.

And plenty of Illinoisans wonder why their neighbors are high-tailing it out of the “Land of Lincoln.”

You can read a summary fact sheet or the entire report over on the IGPA website here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Illinois Diaspora Latest: Net Loss Of 94,956 People In State-To-State Migration In 2014

More evidence that Illinoisans are voting with their feet rather than be around as the “Land of Lincoln” is run into the ground. From the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board back on January 6:

Even on days when the temperature is above zero, Illinois struggles to keep people here. They’re leaving, in droves, for states with sunnier economic opportunities.

New census data and other figures reveal the cold hard truth: More people are moving away than coming, tipping Illinois last year into the dreadful category of states with declining populations. From July 2013 to July 2014, Illinois shrank by about 10,000 residents in all

Illinois suffered a net loss of 94,956 people in state-to-state migration last year, the highest rate in decades. That number is one part of an equation involving births, deaths and immigration from other countries that yields the overall population loss. But Illinois’ state-to-state migration loss is the biggest contributor to that overall population decline, Frey says. The last year Illinois had lost population was 1987-88

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The Illinois Diaspora has been a recurring-yet-unwelcome theme on Survival And Prosperity lately. I blogged as recent as January 4:

The Illinois Diaspora continues…

Gregory Karp reported on the Chicago Tribune website Friday afternoon:

Illinois was the No. 3 state in America for outbound moves in 2014, United Van Lines said Friday.

Earlier this week, Allied Van Lines said Illinois was No. 1 for outbound versus inbound moves in 2014, according to its moving data for the year. And Atlas Van Lines said Friday its data also show more people leaving the state than coming, with Illinois ranking second among states with the highest proportion of outbound moves.

Whatever, people sure seem to love to leave Illinois…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

I’m skeptical that a Republican governor now at the helm will be able to reverse the outflow- or the state’s fortunes- anytime soon. First, the Democrats who have mainly presided over the fiscal mess are pretty much still in power- sans Pat Quinn. Second, I’m awaiting the Rauner administration to announce down the road that “drastic times call for drastic measures” (or something like that) to bring the state’s economy back. I’m guessing those “measures” might not be too appealing to prospective Illinois residents, let alone those already here.

“I’m awaiting the Rauner administration to announce down the road that ‘drastic times call for drastic measures’ (or something like that) to bring the state’s economy back”

Anyone hear Governor Rauner’s multiple mentions of “sacrifice” in his inaugural address just the other day?

Stay tuned…

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Editorial Board. “Goodbye, Illinois: residents are leaving for other states.” Chicago Tribune. 6 Jan. 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-illinois-census-brookings-edit-0107-20150106-story.html). 15 Jan. 2015.

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