March 15, 2010
From today’s NYTimes comes another in their series of articles on water. Today’s piece discusses the crumbling infrastructure in Washington, D.C. The destruction of this system and others like it all over the country is the legacy of our misspent prosperity and our legislators’ inability to tackle even the (seemingly) simplest of problems that face us.
Today, a significant water line bursts on average every two minutes somewhere in the country, according to a New York Times analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data. In Washington alone there is a pipe break every day, on average, and this weekend’s intense rains overwhelmed the city’s system, causing untreated sewage to flow into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.
State and federal studies indicate that thousands of water and sewer systems may be too old to function properly.
For decades, these systems — some built around the time of the Civil War — have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.
This is what we will leave our children: a broken-down system incapable of delivering the water we need to survive because no one wants to pay for it. The unrealistic expectations of the masses with respect to their desire for low tax bills are sure to turn into outrage (or worse) when the taps run dry. It’s our own fault.
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Posted by Mark Wegener
March 1, 2010
The closer you look, the smaller it gets
This has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans or who is president.
Today’s Wall Street Journal shows that the effect of the financial crisis on states and municipalities (and taxpayers) is only starting to be felt. As state pension funds cut investment return forecasts (to reduce the need to take excess portfolio risks), the difference must be made up by taxpayers.
At Calpers, about 75% of payouts come from the pension fund’s investments, with the remaining 25% tied to contributions from California governments and employees. According to Pew, a hypothetical $100 billion pension fund that achieved a 7.75% return rate for 10 years would have about $211 billion. With a 6% rate, the same fund would grow to $179 billion—a difference of $32 billion.
That $32 billion will come on the backs of California taxpayers.
Note to IL residents: If Calpers is cutting from 7.75% to as low as 6%, consider that IL is still at 8.6% on an $8.7 billion asset pool. If IL cut to 6%, that’s about a $4bn addition to an existing $45bn unfunded pension liability gap.
We’ve made promises to workers that we can’t afford to keep. The Pew Center on the States reports that the total gap is about $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000). Those promises were made to people that are critical to our survival,both literally and figuratively (e.g., firemen, policemen, teachers), who are relatively low on the pay scale and who aren’t eligible for social security. It’s not as simple as cutting the payouts to the recipients. The whole social contract needs to be rethought.
As being known as something of a cynic, I was disappointed in myself that I was continue to be surprised and disappointed by the lack of vision and the unwillingness of our elected officials to tackle the tough problems we face, preferring instead to focus on those less difficult issues that will offend no one and help keep them in office. In the meantime, the problems created from when we were seemingly awash in money and nothing bad would ever happen to us, continue to get worse and the hole gets deeper.
The first rule of being in a hole is “stop digging”. As a nation, our elected officials always seem to have shovels in their hands. (And that’s not a crack at the very necessary stimulus plan.)
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Posted by Mark Wegener