Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It has been my honor...

I submitted my resignation to the Mt. Lebanon School Board early on Thursday morning.

Please read on at my new blog,

I will have every post from this site archived. With the move you will see some changes and also a broadening of topics covered in the new blog.

As always, thanks for reading. There will be no more posts on this blog.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Joy of Stats

I love to share great finds on statistics and especially free markets.

Check out this video from Hans Rosling. Hat tip CoyoteBlog.

Every one of Hans Rosling's videos is a must watch and the best source for them is

His focus is on any statistic that has to do with world population, poverty, and health.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, November 19, 2010

More PSERS Hope and Hype

You may have heard recently that the Pennsylvania Senate passed HB2497. The PSBA recommended passage of the bill due to it reamortizing the liabilities of the PSERS system.

I linked to a great post on this bill back in June.

However, what you may have missed was why some of the opponents suggested voting against this bill.

Here is a snippet from The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry's John Callahan, Director of Government Relations:
Legislation to re-amortize both the Pennsylvania State Employee Retirement System’s (PSERS) and State Employee Retirement System’s (SERS) unfunded liability, allow for the smoothing of assets from 5 years to 10 years (PSERS only) and institute arbitrary collars on contribution rates was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on June 7, 2010. The PA Chamber believes this “reform” legislation would continue to defer already unaffordable costs and further underfund these plans leading to increased unfunded liabilities. According to a the Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC) analysis this type of deferral will result in a $40 billion cost for PSERS and a $12 billion cost for SERS in order to ramp up the employer contributions over 10 years rather than over 3 years. This $52 billion burden on future generations and would do nothing to provide cost control, affordability or predictability to PSERS or SERS. Of significant note, these funding estimates are based upon the attainment of an 8% annual investment assumption.
The document with the above quote is worth a read. It makes some realistic, pragmatic suggestions for an actual fix to the current system. This house bill allows our government to continue to underfund liabilities therefore blowing a bigger bubble down the road that will be even more difficult to tackle. The frustrating thing is that in the near term, this will feel like somewhat of a fix to local taxpayers as the contribution rates to employers in the near term will be less than they need to be to fully fund the pension. This is "accomplished" at a significant cost, however. It's akin to putting a bandaid over a bullet hole.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Quantitative Easing II and School Budgets

As you may know, the Federal Reserve announced yesterday another round of Quantitative Easing (QE2). The point of this QE2 is to make another attempt at "fixing" the economy.

As I posted in September 2008, this was the path that the Fed knew it was going to take even back then. Ben Bernanke has used every tool in his shed to fight deflation. The only thing more he can do is MORE of whatever he has done.

Be clear that the purpose of the QE1 and QE2 has been to stimulate asset prices, more specifically, to stimulate the stock market. One should ask whether the Federal Reserve's job is to stimulate stock prices. Here is the relevant quote from Bernanke yesterday:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said resuming large-scale asset purchases should boost economic growth through lower borrowing costs and higher stock prices and that concerns about the strategy are “overstated.”

That statement should concern everyone. Gaming stock prices is something that is far outside of the Federal Reserve's mandate.

Before I go too far off on a tangent, I want to bring this back to school budgeting. QE2 is supposed to have the effect of lowering interest rates to the point that businesses will want to go out and get a loan and expand business and hire employees.

School districts, and most other government entities, only invest their money in very safe government bonds. This means that our budget will take a hit on the revenue side since our revenues generated from our investments will go down (as it did last year).

However, if QE2 has the added effect of goosing stock prices, this could have a beneficial effect on PSERS. PSERS is counting on 8% returns in its portfolio. Any gains over 8% could have the effect of lowering future PSERS contribution rates.

It is important to note that there are a number of economists out there that are suggesting QE1 and QE2 simply are an attempt by the FED to blow another asset bubble. In this case, the bubble appears to be in commodity prices (not good for HS construction costs) and stocks (good for PSERS). The FED again is forcing people to choose between no return on safe assets or mild yield on risky assets. This necessarily punishes savers, retired folks on fixed income, and the middle-class. And when the asset-bubble bursts (think NASDAQ 2001, home prices 2007-2008) the consequences far outweigh the short-sighted, short-term benefits. As Ludvig Von Mises said:

Inflation and credit expansion, the preferred methods of present day government openhandedness, do not add anything to the amount of resources available. They make some people more prosperous, but only to the extent that they make others poorer

My educated guess is that QE2 will have no impact on unemployment or business activity. Money is already quite cheap. Businesses that wanted a loan, already got a loan.

Impacts on school district budgets will be difficult to judge in the near term. There will be some short term benefits (if stock prices remain elevated and that translates to lower PSERS contribution rates) but there will also be near term input price increases on raw materials (hurting us on the HS project).

The bigger problem here is the stubbornly high unemployment rate. The Federal Reserve has shot all its bullets and has not been able to make a dent in it. Until we can get people back to work, this economy will struggle through a quagmire for some time.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pittsburgh Pension Mess Makes Wall Street Journal

PSERS is not the only pension system that is seeking solutions. The Wall Street Journal has this article about the mess that is the Pittsburgh City pension.

From the article:
Pittsburgh's city council nixed a deal this week to lease its parking assets to a consortium led by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Instead, the council is proposing that the city's parking authority issue a 30-year bond and pay it off with parking-rate increases. Part of the proceeds would go to the pension plan.
Taxpayers in Pittsburgh should be absolutely outraged at the possibility of this unsustainable plan. This would mean the City of Pittsburgh would be borrowing money to pay its pension obligations. In the short term this might seem like a solution, but in the long term it will bankrupt Pittsburgh, if Pittsburgh is not bankrupt already. Floating 30-year bonds to fund liabilities without addressing the true problem of actual pension obligations is fiscal insanity. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl thankfully seems to have his head screwed on straight on this issue as he has announced that he does not support this plan.

Thanks for reading.

James Fraasch