Laurence Msall

Analysts: Massive Chicago Property Tax Hike Just The Beginning

“And if Chicagoans think this major tax increase is some sort of one-off, well, I know of a certain bridge for sale out east.”

Survival And Prosperity, September 3, 2015

Chicago readers of this blog have been warned the last couple of years that the City of Chicago’s poor financial health means a sustained hunt for much more revenue (new and higher fees/fines/taxes) for the foreseeable future.

And Tuesday, this grim-yet-likely scenario was the focus of a City Club of Chicago luncheon.

Fran Spielman reported on the Chicago Sun-Times website yesterday afternoon:

A $500 million property tax increase will not be enough to solve Chicago’s $30 billion pension crisis or rid the city of the junk bond rating that has saddled the taxpayers with tens of millions in penalties and borrowing costs, analysts concluded Tuesday.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall and Matt Fabian, a partner at Municipal Market Analytics, offered the grim assessment during a lively panel discussion on city finances before a packed house at a City Club of Chicago luncheon…

Fabian’s conclusion was that, as tough as it will be for homeowners and their aldermen to swallow a $500 million property tax increase, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council need to bite the bullet even harder

Msall agreed that a $500 million increase that would be Chicago’s “largest in modern history” is “not the full answer and it’s not going to be enough because we’ve dug the hole so deeply” by underfunding pensions and granting benefits that taxpayers cannot afford.

“We are going to have raise taxes very significantly just to pay the interest on the debt we have built up and it’s not going to be enough to save the city of Chicago,” he said…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Still interested in that bridge?

Head on over to the Chicago Sun-Times website here to read- no, digest- what looks to be in store for the “Windy City” in the coming years.

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

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Wednesday, September 9th, 2015 Bonds, Credit, Debt Crisis, Entitlements, Fiscal Policy, Government, Taxes Comments Off on Analysts: Massive Chicago Property Tax Hike Just The Beginning

Crain’s Chicago Business: Pension Reform Ruling Could Cost Taxpayers Extra $200 Million A Year Through End Of Decade

In my Sunday post about Chicago’s pension reform legislation being ruled unconstitutional, I blogged:

Chicagoans- let that last line from Dardick and Pearson sink in real good:

“Taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation…”

How many hundreds of millions are we talking about here?

Greg Hinz wrote in his blog on the Crain’s Chicago Business website Monday:

The court decision throwing out a deal to refinance two Chicago pension funds appears to be among the most costly in the city’s history, in some ways ranking right up there with the Great Chicago Fire.

Exact figures are not available and vary some depending on who’s doing the estimating. But based on statements by city officials and documents filed by the pension funds themselves, it’s likely that the decision by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak will cost city taxpayers around $200 million a year through the end of the decade—and will keep rising for decades thereafter.

“You’d have to go back to either the Depression or the Great Fire to find a comparable situation in which the city faced either greater challenges or more painful decisions,” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said. “It’s clearly going to result in increased taxes and reduced services.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Remember, that additional $200 million hit to Chicago taxpayers would come on top of addressing fire and police pensions. And bailing out the Chicago Public Schools, which had its credit rating reduced to junk status today by Fitch Ratings. In May, I noted Moody’s downgraded the Chicago Board of Education (the primary debt issuers of CPS) three notches to junk.

You can read Hinz’s entire blog post on the Crain’s Chicago Business website here. If I were still a Chicago resident, I’d probably find it disturbing. But at least I’d be clued in as to what could be coming down the line.

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

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Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 Credit, Debt Crisis, Depression, Education, Entitlements, Fiscal Policy, Government, Taxes Comments Off on Crain’s Chicago Business: Pension Reform Ruling Could Cost Taxpayers Extra $200 Million A Year Through End Of Decade

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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Sunday, February 15th, 2015 Debt Crisis, Entitlements, Fiscal Policy, Government, Income, Spending, Taxes Comments Off on The Civic Federation Proposes Less Government Spending, More Taxes To Tackle Illinois’ $6.4 Billion In Unpaid Bills

The Civic Federation Analyzes Chicago’s FY2015 Budget

The last time I talked about 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) was back on March 4, when they proposed a five-year plan to balance the Illinois state budget, eliminate its huge bill backlog, and reduce income tax rates. But yesterday, the group released a new report on the City of Chicago’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015. From their press release Monday:

Civic Federation Supports FY2015 Chicago Budget

Recent Progress Threatened by Pension Funding Crisis, Borrowing for Operations

In a report released today, the Civic Federation announced its support for the City of Chicago’s proposed FY2015 operating budget of $7.3 billion but expressed deep concern for how the City will manage rising pension costs and debt service payments in future years. The full 101-page analysis is available here.

The FY2015 budget closes a $297.3 million deficit with reasonable structural changes including targeted tax and fee increases, vacancy eliminations and other operational efficiencies. The budget also reflects significant actions toward long-term stability including the 2014 pension reform law for the City’s Municipal and Laborers’ pension funds and the continued phase out of the City’s retiree health care subsidy and planned transition of most retirees to coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Mayor Emanuel and his team are continuing to make the reasonable changes and bold decisions necessary to stabilize Chicago’s finances,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation. “Two issues, however, threaten to erase all recent progress: the pension funding crisis and the administration’s continued use of borrowing for operations through the issuance of refunding bonds.”

Landmark pension reforms were enacted in June 2014, but only for two of the City’s four pension funds. The City’s Police and Fire pension funds remain dangerously close to running out of funds with market value funded ratios of only 27.0% and 31.7% respectively in FY2013. The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation in 2010 that mandates a sharp $550 million increase in contributions to the Police and Fire funds. This change, even without considering increased contributions to the City’s Municipal and Laborers’ funds, would require a significant increase in the City’s property tax levy, crippling cuts to City services, or both. The Mayor, City Council and State legislators must work together to create a reform framework for the Police and Fire funds that will stabilize the funds at an affordable cost to taxpayers. The Civic Federation also recommends that the City study ways to consolidate its pension funds, including the possibility of merging its Police and Fire funds with suburban and downstate public safety funds.

Over the last three fiscal years, the City of Chicago reduced its annual debt service payments by refunding bonds that are due to mature and extending the life of these bonds for an additional 30 years, a practice referred to as “scoop and toss.” This practice dramatically increases the cost of providing government services. It also could threaten the City’s ability to issue future debt by filling the out years of the City’s debt service schedule with previously issued bonds. The Civic Federation urges the City to develop a strategy for ending this costly and unsustainable practice.

The Federation’s full report also discusses the creation of the City Council Office of Financial Analysis in 2013. The office was intended to give aldermen access to the independent information and analysis they need to be effective stewards of the City’s finances. A delay in fully implementing the office means aldermen will not have access to this resource before they vote on the FY2015 budget.

You can read the 101-page report entitled City of Chicago FY2015 Proposed Budget: Analysis and Recommendations on The Civic Federation’s website here.

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

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Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 Bonds, Borrowing, Fiscal Policy, Government Comments Off on The Civic Federation Analyzes Chicago’s FY2015 Budget

Chicago Borrows $1.9 Billion, Piling On More Debt ‘For The Children’

“Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed the books on 2011 with $310 million in cash on hand, $167 million more than the year before, but added $465 million to the mountain of debt piled on Chicago taxpayers, year-end audits show…

The new round of borrowing brings Chicago’s total long-term debt to just over $27 billion. That’s $10,000 for every one of the city’s nearly 2.7 million residents. More than a decade ago, the debt load was $9.6 billion or $3,338-per-resident.”

Chicago Sun-Times website, July 22, 2012

“Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed the books on 2012 with $33.4 million in unallocated cash on hand — down from $167 million the year before — while adding to the mountain of debt piled on Chicago taxpayers, year-end audits show…

The new round of borrowing brings Chicago’s total long-term debt to nearly $29 billion. That’s $10,780 for every one of the city’s nearly 2.69 million residents.”

Chicago Sun-Times website, July 26, 2013

Chicago keeps piling on massive amounts of debt. From Fran Spielman yesterday on the Chicago Sun-Times website:

Chicago will test the bond market for the first time since its bond rating dropped three notches, thanks to $1.9 billion in borrowings added Monday to the mountain of debt piled on Chicago taxpayers.

The City Council’s Finance Committee authorized two massive borrowings: a $900 million general obligation bond issue to refinance old debt, pay for equipment and capital projects and bankroll $100 million for legal settlements incurred last year and a $1 billion borrowing for Midway Airport.

The Finance Committee also agreed to double — from $500 million to $1 billion — a so-called “commercial paper” program used to cover short-term borrowing between bond deals.

The general obligation bond issue includes $200 million in debt refinancing and $130 million in debt restructuring to “better align revenues with our obligations,” as [Chief Financial Officer Lois] Scott put it.

The so-called “scoop-and-toss” technique will stave off even higher taxes and fees, but it will saddle Chicagoans with another decade of debt that should be paid off today

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s worn-out line “it’s for the children” comes to mind here.

As well as that saying “you can pay now or pay later.”

Which is what Chicagoans will eventually be forced to do when the city’s “financial reckoning day” arrives.

The Chicago Tribune did a pretty good job illustrating just how serious the city’s debt crisis is becoming. Hal Dardick, Heather Gillers, and Jason Grotto reported on the Tribune website yesterday:

In a move that will add to the city’s mountain of debt, Mayor Rahm Emanuel won support Monday from the City Council’s Finance Committee to issue up to $900 million in bonds backed by property taxes.

It’s the largest request put forth during Emanuel’s tenure and comes at a time when Chicago already has about $7 billion in outstanding general obligation debt, more per capita than bankrupt Detroit or any of the 10 biggest U.S. cities except New York

Monday, aldermen asked few questions about the borrowing as the ordinance authorizing the debt sailed through the committee with virtually no debate.

“It raises questions of how much City Council members understand the financial condition of the city and what the plan going forward will be to meet the debt,” said Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan Civic Federation budget watchdog group…

The amount of borrowing sought by Emanuel suggests his administration continues to need huge loans to run the city

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

I can’t begin to tell you how depressing it is watching “The Machine” steadily bring the “City of Broad Shoulders” down to its knees. But what does City Hall care? More than likely they’ll have moved on to comfortable retirements or “bigger and better things” by the time the city implodes as a result of “scooping and tossing.”

Ubi Est Mea? (Pulitzer prize-winning newspaper columnist Mike Royko’s suggested Chicago city motto of “Where’s Mine?”)

How about “Not On My Watch,” all things considered?

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

Sources:

Spielman, Fran. “City to borrow $1.9 billion in first test since rating downgrade.” Chicago Sun-Times. 3 Feb. 2014. (http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/25360629-418/city-to-borrow-19-billion-in-first-test-since-rating-downgrade.html). 4 Feb. 2014.

Dardick, Hal, Gillers, Heather, and Grotto, Jason. “Mayor seeks to borrow up to $900 million more.” Chicago Tribune. 3 Feb. 2014. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-02-03/news/ct-met-bonds-new-chicago-borrowing-20140204_1_tax-increases-city-leaders-finance-committee). 4 Feb. 2014.

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Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 Bonds, Borrowing, Debt Crisis, Fiscal Policy, Government, Political Parties, Taxes Comments Off on Chicago Borrows $1.9 Billion, Piling On More Debt ‘For The Children’

Chicago’s Financial Condition Deteriorated More Than Many Other Major U.S. Cities From FY2007-2011

It’s been some time since I last blogged about 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. Back on February 5, 2013, the Federation’s Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability released an analysis showing the State of Illinois was on track to accumulate nearly $22 billion in unpaid bills by FY2018 “unless action is taken to curb rising pension costs and plan for increases in the Medicaid program.”

Illinois ended fiscal year 2013 with an estimated $6.1 billion in unpaid bills.

These days, attention is back on The Civic Federation again for a recent analysis focusing on the City of Chicago. From a November 8 press release:

A report released today by the Civic Federation uses nine indicators of financial condition to measure the relative financial performance of Chicago and 12 other major U.S. cities from FY2007 to FY2011. Of the cities analyzed, only Boston and Detroit consistently performed worse than Chicago by these metrics during the five-year period that encompasses the Great Recession and slow recovery. The full 56-page report is available at www.civicfed.org.

“Chicago’s relative financial performance during this period was defined by many of the same challenges it faces today including a structural deficit and high debt levels,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “These threats continue to handicap Chicago’s performance as many other cities were somewhat better equipped to weather the 2008 financial downturn and resulting economic challenges.”

A majority of the cities experienced deteriorating financial condition during the five-year period, likely due to the Great Recession and its aftermath. However, Chicago fared worse than most of the other cities. In addition to Chicago, the 12 other major U.S. cities analyzed were Baltimore, Boston, Columbus, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City (MO), Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Seattle. These cities were also the focus of fiscal analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative, with the exception of Houston which the Federation substituted for Atlanta after a change in Atlanta’s fiscal year led to inconsistent analysis.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

“Only Boston and Detroit consistently performed worse than Chicago by these metrics during the five-year period that encompasses the Great Recession and slow recovery.”

Great. Just great.

You can read the entire press release here, and the study here on the Federation’s website.

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

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Monday, November 11th, 2013 Debt Crisis, Deficits, Entitlements, Fiscal Policy, Government, Recession Comments Off on Chicago’s Financial Condition Deteriorated More Than Many Other Major U.S. Cities From FY2007-2011

Civic Federation: Funding Continues To Decline For Chicago-Area Public Employee Pension Funds

The Chicago-based Civic Federation is out with a new report about the health of Chicago-area public employee pension funds. The independent, non-partisan government research organization that provides analysis and recommendations on government finance issues for the Chicago region and State of Illinois put out the following news release this morning:

Aggregate Unfunded Liability for Chicago-area Public Pension Funds Increased by $4.6 Billion in FY2011

(CHICAGO) A Civic Federation report released today examines the continued funding decline of Chicago-area public employee pension funds. Unfunded liabilities for the ten funds analyzed in the report increased to $32.0 billion in fiscal year 2011 from $27.4 billion in fiscal year 2010, an increase of 16.7% according to the most recent audited data available. For all pension funds supported by the taxes of Chicago residents, including statewide funds, the total unfunded liabilities reached $16,914 per Chicago resident in FY2011.

“Without comprehensive reforms, this staggering level of pension obligations will soon mean dramatic tax increases, significant service cuts or both for Chicago residents,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “Illinois and local lawmakers owe it to taxpayers and public employees to agree on reforms that will significantly reduce pension costs for our state and local governments and ensure that the funds remain solvent for current and future public employees.” In the report, the Federation urges local governments to develop pension reform frameworks suited to their own employee population, statutory provisions and funding levels. The report cites Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer’s OpenPensions.org site as an example of transparently advocating for changes tailored to the needs of the County’s pension fund.

Each of the ten funds analyzed in the report experienced sharp funding declines in the last decade. On average, the ten funds had an actuarial funding level of 50.8% in FY2011, down from 80.3% in FY2002. All ten funds are now funded below 65%, ranging from a low of 28.3% for the Fire Fund to a high of 64.9% for the Laborers’ Fund.

The declining health of Chicago-area public pension funds is due in large part to inadequate employer contributions over a sustained period and recent investment losses. All of the local funds analyzed received their statutorily required employer contributions in FY2011. However, the employer contribution level set by State statute was approximately $1.6 billion short of the $2.5 billion level necessary to cover current costs for the funds and reduce their unfunded liabilities over a 30-year timeframe.

Adequate funding levels are likely to be even more difficult to attain in the future because the funds have fewer employees to support a rising number of beneficiaries. In FY2011 the ten funds had 1.16 active employees for every beneficiary, down from 1.65 actives per beneficiary in FY2002. Six of the ten funds – the Police, Laborers’, MWRD, Forest Preserve, CTA and Park District Funds – had more beneficiaries than active employees in FY2011.

The Federation’s analysis reviews the FY2011 actuarial valuation reports and financial statements for the City of Chicago’s Police, Fire, Municipal and Laborers’ Funds, the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund and the pension funds of Cook County, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Chicago Park District, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the Chicago Transit Authority. FY2011 data is the most recent audited data available for all ten funds.

The full 79-page report, available at www.civicfed.org, is intended to provide policymakers, pension trustees, pension fund members and taxpayers with the resources to make informed decisions regarding public employee retirement benefits.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Even though I’ll be moving out of Chicago very soon, I’ll still be living in Cook County. As such, I won’t be surprised to get hit with more fees and taxes, in conjunction with less government services, as financial challenges grow at the county and state level.

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

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Tuesday, May 21st, 2013 Entitlements, Fiscal Policy, Government, Retirement, Spending, Taxes Comments Off on Civic Federation: Funding Continues To Decline For Chicago-Area Public Employee Pension Funds
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