Author Archives: afscme

How Do Public Pensions Invest? A Primer

Source: Ronnie Jung, Nari Rhee, National Institute on Retirement Security, Issue Brief, January 2013

From the summary:
A new primer provides a comprehensive overview of the public pensions investment process, which has garnered increased attention in the wake of economic shocks that recently have impacted all investors.

This issue brief focuses on how public pensions allocate assets and set expected rates of return including:
– Distribution of investments across stocks, bonds, and other asset classes in order to maximize returns and minimize risk.
– Principles that guide how public pension funds invest and the institutionalized practices through which plan trustees set investment policies.
– Evaluation and management of investment related risk.
– Investment return assumptions among public pension funds in comparison to historical performance and the future outlook.
Press Release

Increasing the Social Security Payroll Tax Base: Options and Effects on Tax Burdens

Source: Thomas L. Hungerford, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress, RL33943, February 5, 2013

According to the Social Security Trustees, assets in the two Social Security trust funds will be exhausted by 2033, and, thereafter, Social Security payroll tax revenues will cover about three quarters of promised benefits. Over the past decade several proposals have been put forward which could help to close the Social Security program’s long-term financing gap. One proposal would increase the Social Security payroll tax base so that 90% of covered earnings are taxable—the same proportion as in 1982. This policy would increase the payroll taxes paid by higher earning workers and not affect workers earning less than the current Social Security maximum taxable limit, which is $113,700 in 2013.

Some analysts have proposed raising the Social Security payroll tax base and reducing the payroll tax rate. This policy would increase the taxes paid by higher-earning workers and reduce taxes paid by low- and middle-income workers. This policy proposal could raise revenue for the Social Security program or be revenue neutral….

… Four policy options, which raise the payroll tax base, are examined; two of the policies also provide tax relief to low- and middle-income workers. Each of the three policies reduces the regressivity of the payroll tax at the upper end of the income distribution. Currently, less than 10% of families contain a worker earning more than the maximum taxable limit. Consequently, over 90% of families would be unaffected by increasing the maximum taxable limit. And if this change were combined with a payroll tax rate reduction, over 90% of families would pay lower payroll taxes.

It has been argued that the revenue increases from raising the payroll tax base would be significantly less than expected because of indirect behavioral changes by workers. These predicted behavioral effects would reduce taxable earnings, the proportion of family income subject to payroll taxes, and tax revenue. But recent research raises doubts concerning this position and suggests these behavioral effects would likely be negligible….

Veterans and Homelessness

Source: Libby Perl, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress, RL34024, February 4, 2013

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought renewed attention to the needs of veterans, including the needs of homeless veterans. Researchers have found both male and female veterans to be overrepresented in the homeless population, and as the number of veterans increases due to these conflicts, there is concern that the number of homeless veterans could rise commensurately. The 2007-2009 recession and the subsequent slow economic recovery also raised concerns that homelessness could increase among all groups, including veterans….

Access to Government Information In the United States: A Primer

Source: Wendy Ginsberg, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress, 97-71, January 16, 2013

No provision in the U.S. Constitution expressly establishes a procedure for public access to government records or meetings. Congress, however, has legislated various public access laws.
Among these laws are two records access statutes,
• the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act or FOIA; 5 U.S.C. §552), and
• the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. §552a),
and two meetings access statutes,
• the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA; 5 U.S.C. App.), and
• the Government in the Sunshine Act (5 U.S.C. §552b).
These four laws provide the foundation for access to executive branch information in the American federal government.

While the four statutes provide the public with access to executive branch federal records and meetings, they do not apply to the legislative or judicial branches of the U.S. government. The American separation of powers model of government provides a collection of formal and informal methods that the branches can use to provide information to one another. Moreover, the separation of powers anticipates conflicts over the accessibility of information. These conflicts are neither unexpected nor necessarily destructive. Although there is considerable interbranch cooperation in the sharing of information and records, such conflicts over access may continue on occasion.

This report offers an introduction to the four access laws and provides citations to additional resources related to these statutes. This report includes statistics on the use of FOIA and FACA and on litigation related to FOIA. The 113th Congress may have an interest in overseeing the implementation of these laws or may consider amending the laws. In addition, this report provides some examples of the methods Congress, the President, and the courts have employed to provide or require the provision of information to one another. This report is a primer on information access in the U.S. federal government and provides a list of resources related to transparency, secrecy, access, and nondisclosure.

Four Big Threats to State Finances Could Undermine Future U.S. Prosperity

Source: Nicholas Johnson and Michael Leachman, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 14, 2013

From the summary:
Without adequate revenues, states and localities cannot continue providing public services like education, health care, and infrastructure that lay the groundwork for a prosperous future. But state revenue systems face four serious challenges.
– The most severe recession in seven decades blasted holes in state budgets from which they have yet to recover.
– States’ antiquated tax systems are ill-suited to raising adequate revenue in a 21st century economy.
– The federal government, which provides about one-quarter of state and local revenues, is on track to make deep spending cuts that could hit states hard.
– Some state policymakers are pushing for large tax cuts that would further undermine state revenues, with potentially dramatic consequences for public services.

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for Republican Dark Money Group

Source: Justin Elliott, ProPublica, February 14, 2013

Some of the nation’s biggest corporations donated more than a million dollars to launch a Republican nonprofit that went on to play a key role in recent political fights.

Like the nonprofit groups that poured money into last year’s elections, the decade-old State Government Leadership Foundation has been able to keep the identities of its funders secret. Until now.

A records request by ProPublica to the IRS turned up a list of the original funders of the group: Exxon, Pfizer, Time Warner, and other corporations put up at least 85 percent of the $1.3 million the foundation raised in the first year and a half of its existence, starting in 2003. …

The Out-of-Network Benefit: Problems and Policy Solutions

Source: Kelly A. Kyanko and Susan H. Busch, Inquiry, Vol. 49 No. 4, Winter 2012/2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Health insurance plans that include coverage for out-of-network providers are common and have the potential to reduce health care costs and even improve quality. Yet, consumers may be exposed to significant unexpected and unreasonable out-of-pocket costs due to lack of accurate information on network participation, nontransparent out-of-pocket costs, inadequate provider networks, involuntary use of out-of-network emergency care, and use of out-of-network providers at in-network hospitals. Although the Affordable Care Act and some states provide some consumer protections, these may not be adequate.

Findings from Massachusetts Health Reform: Lessons for Other States

Source: Inquiry, Volume 49, Issue 4, Winter 2012/2013
(subscription required)

Articles include:
Health Reform: Learning from Massachusetts
Helen Levy

Coverage, Access, and Affordability under Health Reform: Learning from the Massachusetts Model
Sharon K. Long, Karen Stockley and Kate Willrich Nordahl

The Effect of the Massachusetts Reform on Health Care Utilization
Sarah Miller

Designing and Regulating Health Insurance Exchanges: Lessons from Massachusetts
Keith M. Marzilli Ericson and Amanda Starc

Riding the Gravy Train: How Wall Street Is Bankrupting Our Public Transit Agencies by Profiteering off of Toxic Swap Deals

Source: Refund Transit Coalition, June 2012

Across the country, the state and local budget crises have hit public transit agencies very hard. As public officials try to cope with record revenue shortfalls caused by the economic crisis created by the banks, public transit is on the chopping block. In city after city, transit riders are facing fare hikes and service cuts. But while riders are forced to bear the costs of solving transit agencies’ budget problems, the big banks on Wall Street are gouging many of these same agencies and the governments that fund them for more than half a billion dollars each year through toxic deals known as interest rate swaps.

Wall Street banks sold these swap deals to state and local governments and transit agencies as a way to save money and lower borrowing costs. However, when the banks crashed the economy in 2008, the federal government aggressively drove down interest rates as part of the bank bailout. These artificially low interest rates have changed the math on these deals, and governments and agencies are now losing millions of dollars every year as a result. The banks are reaping a windfall at taxpayers’ and riders’ expense, and it is a direct result of the bailout-era interest rates.

We have identified a dozen places around the country where banks have entered into toxic swap deals directly with transit agencies or with the governments that provide substantial funding to them: Baton Rouge, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose, and Washington, DC. In these 12 places alone, banks are overcharging taxpayers and riders $529 million a year…

Food Fight: Small team of state examiners no match for schools that divert student meal funds

Source: Jim Sweeney, California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes, February 6, 2013

Squeezed by years of unrelenting budget cuts, some California school districts are illegally dipping into student meal funds, misappropriating millions of dollars intended to feed California’s poorest children.

In recent years, in cases that seldom receive any public attention, the California
Department of Education (CDE) has ordered eight districts to repay nearly $170 million to student meal programs. Perhaps more troubling, department officials candidly acknowledge they have no idea how big the problem may be and fear they may have uncovered only a hint of the ongoing abuse, an investigation by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes has found.

The uncertainty reflects a challenged oversight system designed by the federal government, but carried out by a small, overmatched team of state examiners who are mostly nutritionists and dietitians, not accountants. Nutritional standards are their top priority and the system is set up to be collaborative, with prearranged inspections of cafeterias and food service operations. Perhaps as a result, most of the recent investigations have been triggered by whistleblowers.

…Cost-saving shortcuts included serving processed rather than fresh foods, short lunch periods, rundown cafeterias and insufficient staff to properly plan and manage an optimum food service operations…