MuniLand

Green shoots?

Green shoots?

Reuters reports on recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau that shows how tax revenues are improving:

State and local governments brought in record first-quarter revenues this year, according to a Census Bureau report released on Tuesday that offered a sign their budget crises may be abating.

Total state and local revenues for the first quarter reached $321 billion, a 4.7 percent rise from the first quarter of 2010 and the highest level on records going back to 1988. It marked “the sixth consecutive quarter of positive year-over-year growth,” the Census said.

Revenues fell from $381 billion in the fourth quarter. Typically, the fourth quarter shows the highest state and local tax revenues of the year.

States’ revenues alone totaled $179 billion, a separate Census report showed. That was 9 percent above the first quarter of 2010 and 13 percent above the first quarter of 2009, when state revenues hit their lowest point in the recession.

Greening the city

Greening the city

Many cities took a big step forward for clean air when they adopted buses fueled by natural gas. But there are other important projects that will make getting around easier, quieter and less polluting. New York City is getting ready to take a big step. From American City:

New York City has the potential to take those [bike sharing] concepts and scale them up to a size unseen on this side of the Atlantic. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a man the transportation community has a complicated relationship with, has been dangling a transformative bike sharing program in front of alternative transportation advocates since 2009 when New York’s city planners issued an “exhaustive proposal” that included a 10,000 strong fleet of safety-equipped, GPS-ready bikes.

Economically, the deal is a victory for innovative financing because it fully absorbs the burden of maintenance, damage, and —as this is a city— theft, vandalism, and “artistic destruction.” New Yorkers would buy their memberships on weekly, monthly, or yearly bases and get an unlimited number of free rides that take less than 30 minutes; ride a little longer, pay a little more. New York has decided that an initial burst of capital will serve their purposes the best not least because of their uniqueness among American cities in terms of density and population.

8 weakest U.S. states

According to the credit rating agencies and the bond markets, these are the 8 states with the weakest credit profiles. These states may be weak because their debts are too big, because their economy is flagging or because they haven’t adequately funded the retirement of their employees. If this were a school, these would be the students sitting in the back of the class. Maybe it’s time for these states to do a little more homework.

We start with the weakest Puerto Rico, a United States commonwealth. #1 – Puerto Rico

#2 – Illinois

#3 – California

#4 – Michigan

#5 – Nevada

#6 – New Jersey

#7 – District of Columbia

#8 – Rhode Island

The declining welfare rolls

The ever-shrinking welfare rolls

Stateline has done some very good reporting on the decline of the welfare rolls. Welfare funding was switched to block grants in 1996, and the funding level has remained the same since then. From Stateline:

Welfare is not a big budget item for most states, taking up less than 2 percent of all state spending, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO)…

…When Congress overhauled that system in 1996, it changed welfare from an “entitlement program” guaranteeing coverage to everyone who was eligible and instead created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant that hands out lump-sum payments for welfare. States are essentially given a set amount of money and allowed to use it as they wish. The amount has stayed level since 1996.

Save the $100,000 that Meredith Whitney charges for research

Just the numbers please

You can save the $100,000 that Meredith Whitney charges for her research. Reuters has the data on municipal bond issuers with the weakest profiles by bond-market standards. Puerto Rico leads the pack as the least credit-worthy issuer. Issuer Weekly Yearly Outstanding Unfunded S&P Moody's Spread* Average Tax-supported Debt Pension Rating Rating Puerto Rico 225 203.7 $40 bln $24 bln BBB A3 Illinois 174 175.5 $24 bln $62 bln A+ A1 California 95 106.3 $87 bln $50 bln A- A1 Michigan 80 81.2 $7 bln $12 bln AA- Aa2 Nevada 70 68.0 $2 bln $2 bln AA Aa2 New Jersey 65 54.7 $32 bln $37 bln AA- Aa3 D.C. 60 57.3 $6.4 bln $0 A+ Aa2 N.Y. City 47 55.7 $61 bln $76-122 bln AA Aa2 Rhode Isl. 47 45.9 $2 bln $4 bln AA Aa2 Ohio 38 31.9 $11 bln $2.9 bln AA+ Aa1 *In basis points for the week ended June 17, 2011, Sources: Municipal MarketData, Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, local government budget reports, official statements

The roots of delusion

Small snippet from an excellent piece in the New York Times on the roots of the unfunded pension mess (emphasis mine):

No allowance if you don’t do your homework

Photo: California State Controller John Chiang

No allowance if you don’t do your homework

California’s Legislature rushed through a budget last week that they thought was balanced. The State Comptroller has ruled otherwise, and now he is withholding lawmakers’ salaries, the New York Times reports today:

California lawmakers will lose at least a week’s pay and living expenses because the state budget they passed last week was not balanced, the state controller said Tuesday.

When the Legislature approved the budget, several lawmakers praised themselves for passing it on time for only the second time in two decades. And they assumed that meeting the deadline would allow them to collect their full paychecks.

Muni swaps moving higher

Lisa Pollack of Markit in London sent over some interesting charts of U.S. municipal swaps. I put up this one which shows the market perception that risk is increasing again for some states, particularly Illinois and California. It is important to remember that these markets are thinly traded and that there is a large block of muni CDS written on California that is coming to market from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

National Totals of State Tax Revenue, by Type of Tax

The U.S. Census brings us these figures for taxes collected at the state level for 2010. You can see the substantial reliance on individual income and sales taxes (I left off some categories to fit the table in. Click through to the Census document to see more data): Quarter Total tax Individual income Corporate income Property tax State sales tax 2010 4Q $ 177B $ 61B $ 9B $ 4B $ 57B 2010 3Q $ 168B $ 57B $ 7B $ 3B $ 56B 2010 2Q $ 204B $ 72B $ 14B $ 3B $ 54B 2010 1Q $ 163B $ 52B $ 8B $ 8B $ 54B

 

Muni sweeps: California’s first budget veto

Some thorny action in California on the state budget:

California Governor Jerry Brown, who failed to win Republican support of tax extensions in six months of negotiations, said he’d “move heaven and earth” in another attempt after vetoing a budget without the provision.

Brown, a Democrat who pledged to solve California’s fiscal malfunctions without gimmicks, didn’t say how he’d get the Republican backing needed to pass his plan. His budget veto was the first in state history.

Rocking back and forth

Chip Barnett of Reuters brings us the weekly numbers on muniland flows:

U.S. municipal bond funds posted $172 million of net outflows in the week ended June 15, according to Lipper data issued on Thursday.

Muni sweeps: Important deals for CA and NJ

New Jersey municipal employees to pay more for benefits

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the state Democratic leadership have reached agreement on reducing employee benefits:

In the face of heavy opposition from unions, the Democratic leadership of the New Jersey legislature and Gov. Chris Christie reached an agreement on major cuts to public-worker pensions and benefits…

…Democrats worked into Wednesday evening to get union support, offering weaker proposals, to no avail, a person familiar with the negotiations said. Instead, top lawmakers went ahead with a comprehensive bill submitted earlier this week that requires workers to pay more toward their pensions and new hires to work longer to reach retirement age, while eliminating annual cost-of-living increases for current and future retirees, among a slew of other changes.

Jobs or infrastructure?

America is a high-energy society — that is, we consume a lot of energy. According to Wikipedia the United States has long been the world’s largest producer and consumer of electricity, with a global share in 2005 of at least 25%. This consumption is a primary driver of growth. Energy is our economic blood.

The Energy Information Administration tracks and maps our current and potential energy sources. California is a big importer and converter of petroleum, which you can see in the excellent map above via the purple marks. Dependence on imported oil is something we need to phase out for a number of economic, political and environmental reasons.

The other thing that the map shows is a vast swath of California that is ideally suited for solar power (see the yellow shading in the southeastern area). It’s bloody hot out there, and that heat can create electricity.

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