A Bankruptcy Postponed Is Not A Bankruptcy Avoided
The $ 617 million PA 192 – 197 bail out package signed by Governor Snyder on 21 June (plus the $ 48.7 million emergency down payment earlier this year) will not fix the Detroit Public Schools. The culture of corruption and incompetence long fostered within DPS suggests that the new DPS – same as the old DPS, except for some liabilities – will fail miserably a few years hence in an avalanche of new liabilities. Michigan will then be left to sort out two separate DPS entities with unsustainable liabilities. This could easily occur even before Governor Snyder leaves office in 2019. Karma. Déjà vu all over again.
The ball is now in the Governor’s court, so to speak. The report is not public yet, but the press release is out. It only took the State independent review team 18 calendar days to figure out what everyone knows: Wayne County is in a ‘Financial Emergency’. Here is the money shot from the Michigan Department of Treasury press release:
The team’s extensive report indicates that numerous conditions led to the determination that a financial emergency exists in the county. Those conditions include the following:
The county’s last four annual financial audits revealed notable variances between General Fund revenues and expenditures as initially budgeted, as amended, and as actually realized. In addition, County officials underestimated actual expenditures in three of the fiscal years by amounts ranging from $16.7 million to $23.7 million.
County officials engaged in unbudgeted expenditures in violation of Public Act 2 of 1968, the Uniform Budgeting and Accounting Act.
Although there was agreement among county officials that existing detention facilities are inadequate, there is no consensus about whether to complete construction on a new jail or to renovate existing facilities.
According to the county executive’s recovery plan, unfunded healthcare-related liabilities were estimated to be $1.3 billion as of the last actuarial valuation with funding set aside for this purpose of less than one percent of liabilities. Healthcare-related liabilities represent 40 percent of the county’s long-term financial obligations.
The Governor now has 10 days to take one of five actions: do nothing, conduct another ‘neutral’ evaluation, arrange a consent agreement, impose an emergency manager, or file the County for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
The Wayne County Commission voted yesterday to tap most of the last remaining funds in the County’s much abused Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund, however Warren Evan’s subsequent veto threat all but assures that this summer’s county property taxes will increase 1.23 mils to pay this judgement. This property tax increase will not even require a vote of affirmation under the Headlee Amendments to the Michigan Constitution, because it is pursuant to a court order.
’13th checks’ are a devious method of looting pension funds which began in the 1980’s, in Michigan. When some Michigan public pension funds earned more than their targeted rate of return in a year, say 8%, the ‘surplus’ earnings got doled out to retirees in the form of a 13th check. These 13th checks could amount to far more than the pension fund’s actually surplus. Retirees never had to give back their prior 13th check payments when the pension funds dialed up a big loss, so the 13th check was an opportunistic form of looting – not an equitable form of risk & gain sharing. This practice has occurred in state pension plans, county pension plans, and city pension plans across Michigan. The particular problem in Wayne County is that Robert Ficano stripped his pension funds of the 13th check payment funds in 2010 to make his books look better. Worst of all, Wayne County’s pension funds are only about 44% funded and their OPEB’s (retiree medical care, etc.) are essentially unfunded.
Wayne County’s accounting is nebulous, to be charitable. A read of their 2014 CAFR (22 MB document, it took a lot of lipstick to make this dead pig look good!) shows that the County is carrying forward an unassigned deficit of $ 82.8 million, and only got it down to this awful level by diverting $ 91.7 million from their dwindling Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund to their General Fund in 2014. Then, depending upon whom in Wayne County government you are talking to, Wayne County is still losing another $ 4 – $ 5 million each month.
This amounts to something over $ 50 million per year.