Archive for the ‘health care’ Category

Pilot Promises! Are They True?

Monday, August 17th, 2015

August 17, 2015

Pilot Promises! Are They True?

There was an editorial in the CA August 16th about Pilots and attached tax breaks. This is a subject that is up for discussion and debate. On one side is EDGE (economic development growth engine) led by Reid Dulberger. On the other side is many of the local unions and other groups who wonder where is the promised benefits of EDGE’s website.

If you look at EDGE’s website you will see $711 million dollars in projected new tax revenue. WOW!! Boy do we need that. No future pension and retiree health care problems. We are on easy street.

But looking back on City and County revenues for many years I don’t see any such massive flow. Revenue just seems flat but with some inflation increases.

What we have here is a lack of facts. Here are some problems and suggestions that I would suggest could shine some light on the PILOT discussion.

If you look at Shelby County Trustee website (currently under David Lenoir) you will see a list of annual County Pilot reports. In those reports is a section entitled Contracts Aged by Expiration Date.  This section shows how much the property should pay in Shelby County property taxes and how much they are in fact paying under the Pilot reduction.

In order for the public to have some basis for confidence in the pilot program, some entity should look back at the expiration date of each pilot and determine if after the pilot expired, did the property pay the full amount in the future or did they get an extension, a reduction, or did they leave town or whatever.  This does not sound too hard but it is beyond my resources.

Another problem is that the City Treasurer (the City equivalent of the County Trustee) does not publish a similar report. We are talking millions and millions of dollars in abated taxes. Once the pilot expires, are we getting the full amount or not? I say Prove it.

Joe Saino 901-7540699

Let’s Take a Look At OPEB, Retiree Health Care Costs!

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Let’s Take a Look At OPEB, Retiree Health Care Costs!

July 28, 2015

Yesterday there was an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Relief for Cities’ Budget-Busting Health-Care Costs”. It talked about new accounting rules for retiree health care plans. Nationwide the total unfunded liability is close to $1 trillion dollars.

For the first time the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) will require local government to report their obligations to retirees as liabilities on their balance sheet. (Side Note: The Federal Government wants cities to report this but the federal government continues to ignore their multiple front unfunded liability.)

So I decided to take a look at Memphis, Shelby County, Shelby County Schools and Nashville.

Unfunded Liability for OPEB, 7/1/2014

Memphis                                          $716 million

Shelby County                                 $243 million

Shelby County Schools                 $1.43 billion

Nashville Metro                              $2.03 billion (including metro schools)

The striking thing about this is that the only adult in the above group is the Shelby County government. There was a warning back in 2007 from the GASB about unfunded OPEB liability and Shelby County took action and forced retirees over 65 who were eligible (or their spouse was eligible) to use Medicare as the primary payer with a County supplementary plan as the backup. They required those retirees under the age of 65 without a Medicare eligible spouse to pay a higher health care premium based on years of service. The City and apparently Nashville did nothing. This led to the above huge numbers.

The City of Memphis finally took action which has led to the current turmoil among the retirees and the unions. The school system and Nashville are finally facing their fate and will be required to make hard choices. I call on the City of Memphis to not go back on their late hard choices on retiree health care costs and go forward with their adopted but late difficult decision.

FEW (family/education/work) IS THE SOLUTION

Monday, July 20th, 2015

July 20, 2015

FEW (family/education/work) IS THE SOLUTION

 

There have been lots of articles last week, both locally and nationally, about income inequality, middle class wages, poverty percentages and solutions. It must be the upcoming elections, locally this year and nationally next year, that has politicians spouting out their solutions.

One local article cited a study that pegged Memphis as a national leader in both income gap and economic distress. The four local leading candidates for mayor were asked the question “How do we fix that?”

Here is a recap of what the four said.

HAROLD COLLINS

Collins, a City Council member, said the city needs better-paying jobs before it can reverse poverty trends and close the income gap, and took incumbent A C Wharton to task for not doing more to get those jobs. Collins said he also plans to “force” the Greater Memphis Chamber to recruit businesses in technology, engineering, finance and other industries with higher average salaries. For instance, he said, the city should be targeting companies fleeing California because of the drought there.

JIM STRICKLAND

Strickland, also a council member, said wage gap and poverty issues “run hand-in-hand” with population loss. Keeping people and jobs in Memphis is the best way, he said, and the city needs a mayor who “has the strength to fix things.”

Getting into the specifics of his plan, Strickland said he would focus on the “basics of government,” which he said are “not being done.” That includes “drastically” reducing crime and cleaning up the city, he said. “We must have a city government that is run effectively to create a safe and clean community where businesses and people want to be,” he said.

A C WHARTON

Wharton, the incumbent, said his administration has worked on reducing unemployment and income inequality in a number of ways as part of his Blueprint for Prosperity plan and with the recently announced Jobs Plus grant.

“If we are successful in getting Choice Neighborhood Implementation grants, this will provide significant support for my strategic priority of prosperity and economic opportunity for all citizens,” he said.

Wharton said the city already has some of the best workforce-readiness programs in the country at the Workforce Investment Network and through the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, which equip people with the skills needed for current and future jobs so they can “become more marketable and command higher salaries as businesses compete for top talent.”

“The Choice Neighborhood grant funds would help us leverage and maximize all of these efforts to address poverty, unemployment, income inequality and depressed neighborhoods,” he said.

MIKE WILLIAMS

Williams, the president of the Memphis Police Association, said the key was to invest in quality of life and public services instead of giving property-tax breaks to businesses.

“The profits are not being shared,” he said. “That’s why you have the (Greater Memphis Chamber) raping the city coffers. And that has to stop. Until it stops, we’re going to continue to generate poverty in this city.”

Drawing a distinction between himself and Wharton, Williams said he is opposed to “putting a clamp on excessive spending” — which, under Wharton, has translated into health care and pension changes that resulted in city retirees protesting at City Hall.

Instead, Williams said, the government should increase spending on services to make Memphis more attractive to both employers and employees.

So here is what I get out of these answers.

Collins-Get high tech companies from California but we do not have a skilled high tech workforce.

Strickland- Reduce crime, clean the city and reduce taxes.

Wharton– Get federal grant money for short term training programs and neighborhood programs.

Williams– Stop Pilots, stop cutting expenses and employee benefits which translates into higher taxes and more people leaving Memphis.

The truth is that there is no immediate solution to the problems in Memphis. The only answer is FEW, (FAMILY, EDUCATION, WORK) and it is a long term solution. Since the end of the Second World War we have been digging this hole (family breakdown, poor education and welfare dependency). Look at Detroit, Baltimore and unfortunately Memphis. Raising the minimum wage, income redistribution, unsustainable pensions and health care benefits will not solve the problem. Politicians will tell you otherwise but there is no one year or even four year solution. Restore your family, educate your children and take any job to start up the hard economic ladder. Any other solution is a lie. What is your opinion of the candidates and their solutions?

Why OPEN RECORDS Is SO Important

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

June 22, 2015

Why OPEN RECORDS Is SO Important

You may have read a front page article last Saturday in the Commercial Appeal by education reporter Jane Roberts. The article announced the creation of an open records reading room (Room 121) in the SCS Coe building at 160 S. Hollywood St. here in Memphis.

I have been working to open local public records since 2004 and have been greatly aided by many local citizens, particularly John Malmo, Eddie and Eve Settles (backinrivercity.com) and Ken Welch. I want to thank these people and many others who have contributed to this effort.

As Ken Welch has said many times, all public records are technically open to the public unless specifically named and restricted by state law. Then why can’t we get all this information easily? The answer is that public bodies and the leaders (Presidents, appointees, Governors, Mayors, Superintendents, etc) can make life difficult and expensive if they want to. The Tennessee open records law clearly states the following. However the particular public organization can drag their feet, threaten big charges paid in advance, refuse you entrances to offices without an appointment and then refuse to make an appointment. What has happened at the SCS system offices is different and significant.

Therefore this is why our agreement with Supt. Hopson and Chris Caldwell is so important. They have shown that they are open to making all legally open records actually open to the public. After all, we (the taxpayers) paid for all this bureaucracy and we are the employers. We recognize that we need good education, good fire and police services, good roads, efficient water, gas and electric services and many other public facilities. However we paid for them and we expect answers to all our reasonable and legally available questions.

Open Records is so important because without transparency there is often corruption, favoritism, waste and inefficiency. The sunshine of OPEN RECORDS and vigilant citizen can prevent this. There are many details to work out and our open records group is willing to work with the Shelby County System to make access easy and convenient. If we can make this work efficiently, we would look forward to using this as a template for other public bodies. Any suggestions from the you, the public, would be welcomed. We need to join together for full open records access.

What’s another $13.5 million among friends or taxpayers?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

March 4, 2015

 

In a recent CA article, it was pointed out that the cash strapped City of Memphis will have to come up with another $13.5 million to cover the underestimated cost of City of Memphis retirees OPEB cost. This is because of the City’s liberal policy differences versus the County concerning what health care policies are available to retirees.

I have attached a resolution dated June 18, 2007 entitled “RESOLUTION TO PROVIDE FOR OPEB BENEFITS AND APPROVE CHANGES TO HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFITS PROVIDED TO EMPLOYEES AND RETIREES”

It is signed by none other than A C Wharton, then County Mayor.

The main difference is that County retirees over age 65 that are eligible for Medicare (either the retiree or spouse) will only be eligible for a Medicare supplemental plan, not the regular county plan. Also the retiree’s share of the premium will be based on years of service. This saved the county millions of dollars since 2007.

Meanwhile the City of Memphis did none of this even after County Mayor Wharton became City Mayor Wharton. It took a city pension and OPEB financial crisis to get the City to change and then they got the numbers wrong to the tune of $13.5 million. Then add to that the millions they could have saved between 2007 and 2015 had they followed the County example, but they did nothing.

Insure Tennessee! Let Us Have A Discussion

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

February 11, 2015

Insure Tennessee! Let Us Have A Discussion

 

Recently I heard a talk given by Dr. Scott Morris, founder of the Church Health Center. He talked about the Sears Tower planned renovation and it was fascinating. If it comes off successfully, it could lead to great benefits for midtown and for Shelby County.

 

Before he got into the Sears Tower presentation, he talked about the recently defeated proposal for Insure Tennessee. This is Governor Bill Haslan’s proposal to take federal money from the government to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act to people who do not qualify either for existing Medicaid programs or to buy coverage on an exchange.

 

Haslam unveiled Insure Tennessee in December after nearly two years of negotiating with the federal government because Insure Tennessee was not a straight expansion of Medicaid. It required a waiver approval by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because Haslam opted to craft a state-specific program that modeled many aspects of commercial health insurance using funds from a tax that Tennesseans are already paying under the ACA.

 

Dr. Morris stated that this was a no brainer as the money was sitting there and there were people who needed the medical services and after all it was our Tennessee tax money and additionally tax money from other states.

 

(more…)

There Are Promises And Then There Are Promises

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

September 18, 2014

There Are Promises And Then There Are Promises

 

Promises are only as good as the character of the promiser and laws to back up the promise. The City of Memphis made promises in the past about pension benefits and also about retiree health care benefits. The pension benefits were backed up by law and generally could only be changed by bankruptcy (look at Detroit). However retiree health care benefits are not protected by law and are subject to change by the governing body.

 

Recently certain publications have pointed to Nashville as the model that Memphis should emulate. Therefore I decided to look at Nashville (Metro Davidson) and see what their numbers look like.

 

The first thing that struck me was that the Nashville Metropolitan Council consisted of 41 members. Our 13 is bad enough. Imagine a meeting where all 41 want to get their opinion on the record.

 

Then I looked at the pension and OPEB numbers. Their pension liability was funded to 84.6% as compared to 72.6% for Memphis. However their OPEB unfunded liability is $1.88 billion compared to $1.29 billion for Memphis. Therefore the state of Tennessee looked at Memphis and said that you are low on gas for the pension fund and also the OPEB fund and therefore you have to do something. However Nashville gets a pass because they can always cancel the OPEB promise in the future if they get in a pension contribution bind. Would you want 41 metro council members rather than the 26 we now have (13 City and 13 County) representing the City and County especially when the County has been doing a good job compared to the City.

 

Nashville is certainly vibrant and has grown whereas Memphis has been basically stagnant. However, you should be careful about claiming that the difference between Memphis and Nashville is the result of a metro government versus two separate governments in Shelby County.

Confusion At City Hall

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

September 8, 2014

Confusion At City Hall

 

It was interesting to watch the confusion at the committee discussions Tuesday (a week ago)  about the budget. The following was in the budget document.

 

The proposed FY 2015 Operating Budget includes an increase of approximately $15 million to help fund our pension system. Combined with a FY14 contribution of $20 million, pension payments will be approximately $35 million. Since 2008, financial constraints have prevented us from paying the full Actuarially Required Contribution (ARC) needed to maintain solvency long-term. The current ARC is approximately $95 million.

 

Under newly enacted Tennessee law, the City will be required to ramp up our annual contributions until we reach 100%, no later than 2020.

 

The FY 2015 Operating Budget includes fundamental changes to medical benefits provided to current and former employees. First, the FY 2015 Budget assumes that the city will no longer pay 70% of the health care premium of retired, Medicare-eligible employees, their spouses and dependents. These retirees will have options: remain on the City’s plan; join plans offered by either their current employers or their spouses’ employers; purchase Medicare supplement plans; or join the new Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges or private exchanges. This change will save approximately $27 million in FY 2015. Also, it will be the first step toward eliminating the $1.3 billion unfunded OPEB (Other Post Employee Benefits Programs) liability. Second, the Budget assumes that we implement long overdue changes to the base health plan that will result in an additional $4 million savings in FY 2015.

 

The City Council and the Administration are looking for ways to save money to increase the pension fund contribution. The easy target was the health insurance costs for active employees and retirees. However the real problem is the pension structure itself. We have too many retirees  from the City when compared to the County. The ratio of retirees to active employees at the City of Memphis is 79 per 100 versus 57 per 100 at the County. This of course means more retirees on the City health care plan. Then consider that the average City pension is $31,000 versus $19,000 at the County. Also the average health care cost for retirees at the City is $10,900 versus $7,100 at the county. The whole pension fund at the City needs an independent study to determine why more people proportionally are retired at the City than the County. This and the past refusal to take needed reforms is the root cause of the current problem.

Property Developer With Other People’s Money

Monday, August 18th, 2014

August 18, 2014

Property Developer With Other People’s Money

A recent CA article stated the following “After a delay of several months, Robert Lipscomb said recently that his team is ready to move forward with a long-standing plan to redevelop the Mid-South Fairgrounds into a sports complex and retail center.”

What a remarkable statement. Most professional property developers risk their own money or gather together other investors based on their good track record. However Mr. Lipscomb uses government programs such as TDZs (Tourist Development Zones), TIFs (Tax Incremental Financing) and various State and Federal programs paid for by the general taxpayers. Bonds are issued with the promise of payment from a fund of incremental taxes over and above a predevelopment base tax rate. If the incremental taxes are there to pay off the bonds then everything works out fine. If they are not there, then the local taxpayers pick up the load.

My question is who appointed Robert Lipscomb as chief Memphis property developer? If the City of Memphis is his property development company, then we need to study the financial records of his company. The State of Tennessee through the office of (more…)

A Smoking Gun

Monday, August 4th, 2014

August 4, 2014

A Smoking Gun

I have a reluctance to throw out old files that I have from 2001. So I decided to start cleaning out and throwing away old files. The first one I came across was an open records reply from 2007. It was a Mercer Health and Benefits report dated July 24, 2006. The title was “City of Memphis Retiree Medical Landscape 2006 and Beyond”.

Take a look at this report. It was a warning of what was coming from GASB (Government Accounting Standards Board 43 and 45) concerning OPEB reporting, Medicare Coordination, Service Based Contributions and Future Hires.

Why was this report Important?

  • It will be a required part of the annual audit statement
  • This will impact bond rating
  • Unfunded liability is potentially 50 times current retiree health-claim cash flow

The report recommended plan changes such as

  • Coordination of benefits on medical and surgical coverage with Medicare (Parts A & B) for all post 65 retirees.
  • Adopting an age and service based contribution rate structure.
  • Plan design changes to the retiree medical plan that will reduce costs to some reasonable level and help manage the liability.
  • Medicare coordination will mean the City of Memphis will provide coverage for post-65 retirees only on a secondary basis and all post 65 retirees will be required to buy Medicare coverage.
  • The City of Memphis will adopt separate rates for pre-65 and post-65 retirees.
  • Retirees will contribute different amounts depending upon their length of service in active employment.

Is it any surprise that the City of Memphis ignored these recommendations and the County took the warnings to heart and adopted a similar recommended plan? This lack of action by the City in 2006 explains the current crisis we have at the City of Memphis.