California: Bankruptcy Upon the Union Altar

Mike Shedlock
Posted: Feb 26, 2012 12:01 AM

Bondholders of Stockton, California debt are about to be punished as City Manager Takes Steps Toward Bankruptcy.

Stockton, California, may take the first steps toward becoming the most populous U.S. city to file for bankruptcy next week because of burdensome employee costs, excessive debt and bookkeeping errors that misrepresented accounts, city officials said today.

The Stockton City Council will meet Feb. 28 to consider a type of mediation that allows creditors to participate, the first move toward a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing under a new state law. The council will also weigh suspending some payments on long-term debt of about $702 million, according to a 2010 financial statement.

“Somebody has to suffer and in this case the city manager has decided it should be the bondholders who suffer,” Marc Levinson of the Sacramento-based law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, which represents the city, said at a news briefing at Stockton’s City Hall today.

Stockton, a farming center about 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of San Francisco, has fought to avert bankruptcy by shrinking its payroll, including a quarter of the roughly 425- member police force. At 292,000, the city has more than twice as many residents as Vallejo, California, which became a national symbol for distressed municipal finance in 2008 when it sought protection from creditors.

Stockton’s council will be asked to reduce the current budget by $15 million because of newly uncovered accounting errors and fiscal mismanagement that have left the city almost broke, City Manager Bob Deis told reporters. To keep the city solvent through the end of the fiscal year June 30, the City Council will be asked to default on $2 million of debt payments owned to bond holders.

“Our employees and the citizens of Stockton who receive city services have borne the entire brunt of our restructuring efforts so far and now it’s time for others to do the same,” Deis said in a report to the council. “We can’t ‘grow our way’ out of the problem and no amount of forward looking financial planning will properly fix it.”

Deis said the city is facing a $20 million deficit in the next fiscal year. Expanded retiree health insurance commitments in the 1990s have left the city with a looming $450 million unfunded liability.

“Next year, we expect to pay more for retiree health insurance than for our current employees,” Deis said, likening the promises to a “Ponzi scheme.”

A state law backed by unions and passed last year in response to Vallejo’s bankruptcy requires cities to work with a “neutral evaluator” for at least 60 days before seeking bankruptcy court protection. The process is similar to mediation and gives creditors a right to participate. It can be bypassed if the city declares a fiscal emergency, according to the law.

Entering the 60-day mediation process could cause a “run on the general fund” by vendors, bankruptcy attorney Lee R. Bogdanoff of Klee, Tuchin, Bogdanoff & Stern LLP, the firm that filed the biggest municipal U.S. bankruptcy on behalf of Jefferson County, Alabama, said today in a telephone interview.

Once again we see fraud and untenable union benefits at the heart of the problem. The bondholders should suffer, and so should the unions. Those contracts should be wiped out in bankruptcy.

I commend the actions of the city manager to not tax its citizens to death to meet ridiculous, probably fraudulent, union benefits that should never have been granted.

Chapter 9 bankruptcy was established to deal with these situations. Unions better get used to it, because more actions like this are coming.

Bill to Destroy California Businesses Introduced in Senate; Bill Mandates Employers with 5 or More Employees to Create "Personal Defined Benefit Plan" Managed by CALPers

The gall, arrogance, and stupidity of public union pandering has reached new heights. A senate bill sponsored by written by Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles seeks to force businesses with five or more employees to create personal defined benefit plans, managed by CALPers.

The Sacramento Bee reports California Democrats push pension plan for nongovernment workers

Senate Bill 1234, written by Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, would require businesses with five or more employees to enroll them in a new "Personal Pension" defined benefit program or to offer an alternative employer-sponsored plan.

The new system's investments would be professionally managed by CalPERS or another contracted organization. Employees would contribute about 3 percent of their wages through a payroll deduction, although they could opt out of the plan.

The fund would assume much lower investment returns than the 7.75 percent that the California Public Employees' Retirement System says its investments will generate, de León said.

Steinberg rejected suggestions that Democrats are pushing de León's bill to fend off pressure to enact substantial public pension changes.

"Absolutely not. We're not running away from it," Steinberg said, calling de León's bill the private sector "bookend" to public pension reform measures he expects lawmakers will send to Brown before the current session ends.

Pure Insanity

There is no polite way to put this so I won't. Sen. Kevin de León is clearly a certifiable nutcase.

Stoctkon and Vallejo California are both bankrupt over insane promises made to public union employees. So is Detroit Michigan, Central Falls Rhode Island, Providence Rhode Island, and Harrisburg Pennsylvania.

Numerous other cities will eventually be forced to seek bankruptcy. Los Angeles and Oakland and at the top of the list.

Numerous airlines and GM went bankrupt over defined benefit pension plans.

De León's bill would bankrupt countless small businesses trapped in its wake.

Things That Would Happen If Passed

  1. Immediate large-scale firings by small businesses. No small business owner in his right mind would have over four employees. 
  2. Any business that could, would leave the state. 
  3. Many businesses that do stay would be destined to go bankrupt.
  4. California would end up like Detroit or Greece

States on the Right Path

The road to reform is 180 degrees opposite. Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Governor John Kasich in Ohio, and Governor Mitch Daniels are on the right path.

Five Point Road to Reform

  1. End collective bargaining of public unions
  2. Scrap Davis-Bacon and all prevailing wage laws
  3. Scale back existing pension benefit promises via bankruptcy if necessary
  4. Eliminate defined benefit pension plans
  5. Institute national right-to-work laws

Corruption of America

The gall, arrogance, and stupidity of Senate bill 1234 sponsored by Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, is absolutely stunning.

Here are a few particularly relevant paragraphs from my post Fatally Flawed Approaches to the Budget Deficit and Taxes; Debt Will Swell Under 3 of 4 Republican Hopefuls' Tax Plans 

Porter Stansbury wrote a tremendous article on The Corruption of America and how public unions are at the center of it.

Golden State on road to Greece, by way of Detroit

Stansbury touched on Detroit in his article and so did the Orange County Register in an editorial
Golden State on road to Greece, by way of Detroit

The Chicago Tribune reported Chicago teachers asking for 30% raises over next 2 years.

Is that insane or is that insane? The only way to stop such insanity is by ending collective bargaining of public unions, scrapping Davis Bacon and all prevailing wage laws, and instituting national right to work laws.

Legal Bribery

As long as public unions, corporations, and lobbyists can bribe legislators with campaign contributions, then bills are going to be written by public unions, corporations, and lobbyists.

Tax reform alone cannot and will not work. In addition to a balance budget amendment, something must be done to rein in the power of public unions and corporate lobbyists at the center of this mess.

Ending collective bargaining rights of public unions and passing right-to-work legislation would be a wonderful first step.


I missed the words "Employers could make voluntary contributions into the fund." Sorry, but I still don't buy it. This would be the first step towards mandated involuntary contributions. Moreover, maintenance of the plan would cause headaches, and giving money over to CALpers to manage is inane.

If people want to enter such programs on their own, let them. Mandating businesses offer such plans is another ridiculous burden on all businesses, especially small businesses. Nothing at all stops private companies from offering such plans.

Who is going to guarantee these benefits anyway, and who will be at risk when the plans fail to meet the goals? The answer today may be one thing, the answer down the road is sure to be taxpayers and businesses.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock