Your Least Loss is Your First Loss
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans told the assembled self very important persons at the Mackinac Policy Conference last Friday that he now believes that his county government can avoid bankruptcy. “He is now comfortable with the options” was the report. Little did he know that, on the very same day, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Lita Popke gave the County 48 hours to pay its retirees $ 49 million dollars to restore their 2010 ’13th check’ retirement benefit. Wayne County told the court flat out that it doesn’t have the money.
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.