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  • To Enact Pension Reform, Make Good Policy Good Politics

    March 5, 2014 11:34 AM

    broken-piggy-bankIn my previous post, I looked at some basic principles that should guide state policy makers when tackling pension reform. Now, we turn to the politics. And in that regard, Rhode Island's 2011 pension reform offers a useful example for other states to consider.

    In his Brookings study, "Pension Politics: Public Employee Retirement System Reform in Four States," Drew University political science professor Patrick McGuinn looks at recent reform efforts in four states' experience in implementing pension reform.

    Two of these states—Utah and Rhode Island—enacted significant structural changes to their pension systems while the two others—New Jersey and Illinois—enacted more limited changes that were less innovative.

    Drawing lessons from those four states, he then outlines some basic principles for how to implement reform, citing examples.

  • Who Wants to See Their State Go Broke?

    March 5, 2014 11:30 AM

    Few people would raise their hands when asked that question. But actually putting a state's financing on sound footing is difficult in practice. That makes Rhode 's Island's pension reform not only unique, but also a good example for other states to consider.  Rhode Island got not only the policy, but also the politics right, according to Drew University political science professor Patrick McGuinn in a new Brookings Institution study.

    In other words, how pension reform is accomplished is as important as what the reforms entail. In his study, McGuinn offers some sound principles on the politics -- the "how" -- of pension reform. Another new study, commissioned by the Society of Actuaries (SOA), offers some basic principles on the policy -- the "what".

  • "The bill doesn't come due until well after the legislators who wrote the check have left office"

    March 4, 2014 1:24 PM

    Thus describes an Illinois state Senator the challenge states face in reforming their public employee pension systems. Given that reality, it's astounding reform would ever succeed. But succeed it has, in states with very large pension shortfalls that threaten to blow up their budgets.

    Staring into the financial abyss, it seems, can help politicians overcome their strong temptation to offer generous benefits to their supporters -- government employee unions in the case of pensions -- and passing off the bill to future generations. Yet, government unions will defend their benefits even in states in extreme financial distress, as the recent Rhode Island pension settlement shows.

    On February 14, Rhode Island officials reached an agreement to end six legal challenges to the state's 2011 pension reform, the most far-reaching in the nation to date. The agreement scales back some of the savings in the 2011 reform bill, but  preserves most of them. Governor Lincoln Chafee and State Treasurer Gina Raimondo invested considerable effort and political capital in crafting and enacting the 2011 pension reform. So why did they agree to scale back any of it?

    Because they had to. The state was forced into negotiating by a judge, ruling on a union legal challenge to the pension reform legislation. As Drew University political science professor Patrick McGuinn describes the decision in a new Brookings Institution study, "Pension Politics: Public Employee Retirement System Reform in Four States" (which points to Rhode Island's reform as a model):

    In December 2012, a Superior Court judge ordered the unions and the governor/treasurer’s office into mediation to resolve the dispute—an extremely unusual (and perhaps even unconstitutional) move.

    In effect, the judge ordered the Chafee administration to negotiate with the unions to amend a law that had already been passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.

    While legally dubious, the February 2014 agreement may be the least bad option in terms of achieving sound policy -- which in the case of Rhode Island means preventing a budget meltdown. If a judge is willing to order the state government to renegotiate a law already on the books, who knows what might come next in court?

  • Bad Highway Policy Is a Bipartisan Affair

    February 28, 2014 11:18 AM

    Two major pieces of surface transportation policy news dropped this week. President Obama is readying the release of his budget, which will contain over $300 billion in transportation funding. Across the aisle, Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, released a sweeping proposal to overhaul the U.S. tax code, which includes a component that would direct $120 billion in tax savings into the Highway Trust Fund.

    The president's latest budget is far from surprising, as it differs very little from his previous surface transportation proposals. Of the combined highways and transit spending ($278 billion), he proposes to allocate 25 percent ($72 billion) to mass transit -- a mode that makes up about 5 percent of trips.

    Thankfully, neither proposal has any chance of being enacted, at least as standalone comprehensive packages. Unfortunately, most of Congress's "business" is recycling and repackaging previous proposals, which means some aspects might well find their ways rolled into future legislation. With the current highway bill, MAP-21, expiring at the end of September 2014, Congress will begin the reauthorization process in the coming months. It is likely that some of these bad ideas will pop up again.

    First, the president's budget. He wants a $302 billion, four-year transportation bill. Half of that would supposedly come from tax reform, amounting to a massive bailout of the Highway Trust Fund. This is par for the course for President Obama, who has long advocated eliminating the Highway Trust Fund in favor of a slush fund that would enable additional gimmicky projects such as high-speed rail and urban streetcars.

  • No Obamaloans at the Post Office!

    February 12, 2014 11:19 AM

    While Sen. Elizabeth Warren may proudly brand herself a populist, in her latest crusade, she is casting her lot with fat cats. Warren wants to bestow banking privileges upon the United States Postal Service (USPS), an organization with executives living high on the hog even as, by Warren’s own admission, its “financial footing” is in doubt.

    The USPS pleaded poverty last month as it raised the price of a first-class stamp from 46 to 49 cents and promised that more rate increases are on the way. Yet in 2012, it managed to pay Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe $512,000 in total compensation, according to page 67 of the annual report filed by the Postal Regulatory Commission. And in 2008, then-Postmaster General John E. Potter received more than $800,000 in total compensation and retirement benefits. As The Washington Times noted, “that is more than double the salary for President Obama."

    Dozens of other USPS executives also rank among the vaunted “one percent.” According to the Federal Times, “As the U.S. Postal Service was careening toward a record $8.5 billion loss in 2010, it was paying more than three dozen top executives and officers salaries and bonuses exceeding that of Cabinet secretaries.” In fact, in 2012, Rep. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., and other House Democrats sponsored legislation to limit USPS executive salaries to those of cabinet secretaries under the president.

    The USPS and its defenders respond that this compensation isn’t as high as that of executives at competitors Federal Express and United Parcel Service, and Warren might argue that it’s not as high as the that of the CEOs of the nation’s biggest banks. But it’s certainly higher than the average compensation of the top folks at community banks and credit unions, as well as other lenders that will be hurt if the USPS expands into banking. And it is certainly more that that made by the average taxpayer, who will almost certainly be even further on the hook for the USPS’s woes.

  • CEI Experts on the State of the Union

    January 28, 2014 11:10 AM

    ECONOMIC MOBILITY
    Iain Murray, Vice President for Strategy:
    “The fact is: Today’s America is divided between those who work for government and those who don’t. Those who work for government have a job for life, guaranteed retirement and other benefits, and financial security,” said Murray. “Those who don’t, have uncertain prospects. They are at the mercy of an administration that is making their benefits more expensive and restricting their access to credit with more and more regulations. That is the true inequality in President Obama’s America.”

    Ryan Young, Fellow:
    “Given what reports suggest will appear in the president’s State of the Union address, we need to keep in mind three things. First: A higher minimum wage is not a free lunch, and will force some employers to reduce hours or fire workers. And, second, extending unemployment benefits will keep unemployment unnaturally high,” said Young. “The third thing is: If the president is truly concerned about the poor, he should support policies that would make the poor better off instead of focusing on income inequality. One of these policies could be a deregulatory stimulus that would make it easier to start a business and hire workers.”

  • CEI Podcast for January 23, 2014: CEI Appeals Affordable Care Act Lawsuit Verdict

    January 23, 2014 11:26 AM

    General Counsel Sam Kazman explains the case's importance not just for health care, but for the rule of law.

  • The Great Italian Auto Bailout -- Courtesy of U.S. Taxpayers

    January 1, 2014 7:09 PM

    At the beginning of 2014, Detroit may be bankrupt, but they're cheering the five-year-old U.S. auto bailout in Italy. That's because after being the beneficiary of billions in U.S. taxpayer largesse, Fiat, the leading Italian auto company, is going to buy its final stake in Chrysler from that other big bailout recipient, the United Auto Workers (UAW).

    "Chrysler's Now Fully an Italian Auto Company," reads the Time magazine online headline. But wait a minute! Wasn't the bailout supposed to be about saving the American auto industry?

    As Mark Beatty and wrote in The Daily Caller in November 2012, after presidential candidate Mitt Romney made the controversial claim that Fiat would be expanding production of Chrysler's Jeep in China (a claim that turned out to be correct),

    The real outrage arising from the 2009 Chrysler bailout is not that its parent company, Fiat, is planning to build plants in China. It’s that the politicized bankruptcy process limited Chrysler’s growth potential by tying it to an Italian dinosaur in the midst of the European fiscal crisis. The Obama administration literally gave away ownership of one of the Big Three American auto manufacturers to an Italian car maker struggling with labor and productivity issues worse than those that drove Chrysler to near-liquidation.

    As we noted in the piece, much of Chrysler’s profits from its overhauled line are going to prop up Fiat’s failing, money-losing Italian business, rather than to expanding production and jobs in the U.S. Moody’s had downgraded Fiat’s credit rating to “junk” even before the Obama administration arranged for it to acquire a Chrysler stake, and in Autumn 2012, Moody’s gave Fiat another downgrade that the Financial Times described as even “further into ‘junk’ territory.”

    Around this time, Barron’s put it like this in a headline, “This time, Chrysler could bail out Fiat.” Actually, the Barron’s headline is slightly misleading in one respect — Fiat didn’t contribute much of anything to the Chrysler’s bailout.

  • The Volcker Winter Storm -- Bad Rule, Worse Implementation

    December 11, 2013 9:35 AM

    On a snowy day in Washington, several federal agencies packed some mean regulatory snowballs that will most likely overshoot their supposed destination of Wall Street and crash-land with a thud on the businesses and investors of Main Street. Rather than postpone the planned vote on Tuesday, when the federal government was officially closed, agencies sheltered themselves from public view and pushed through the rules.

    According to USA Today, "CFTC spokesman Steven Adamske said his agency will not hold a public meeting, but commissioners will approve the rules in writing." This lack of transparency on voting on the rule was symptomatic of a series of last-minute changes from the rule the agencies had initially proposed two years ago. The agencies never submitted these changes for public comment, and thus according to a Reuters analysis, may be vulnerable to lawsuits for violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

    Beyond that, nothing good ever comes when the government utilizes an opaque process to force "transparency" on the private sector. For all the supposed "toughness" of the new rule, there is nothing specific that would prevent something like J.P. Morgan's much-despised "London whale" trade.

  • Volcker Rule Curbs Useful, Profitable Proprietary Trading, Not Risky Lending

    December 11, 2013 9:00 AM

    The government just approved a regulation called the Volcker Rule to curb proprietary trading by banks -- even though such trading did not cause the financial crisis, or lead to massive financial losses by banks and taxpayers the way other, much riskier practices by banks did (like risky mortgage loans, which the Obama administration has pressured banks to once again engage in, in the name of fair lending and affordable housing).

    The Wall Street Journal reports:

    All five regulatory agencies put to a vote and approved the Volcker rule on Tuesday, ushering in a new era of tough oversight that drills to the core of Wall Street's profitable markets and trading businesses.

    The rule will put in place new hurdles for banks that buy and sell securities on behalf of clients, known as market making . . . The Federal Reserve also approved an extension to give banks until July 2015 to comply with the rule.

    (The above report is from the Journal's liberal-leaning news staff, not its conservative editorial page, which has questioned the Volcker Rule.)

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