Finally, there is a voice of reason regarding the dire stress faced by state and local governments in the U.S. In crying that states are "Broke," governors fail to mention that state and local governments have been ignoring pension liabilities for years, and it isn't teachers’ individual pensions that are the primary culprits although they seem to be getting the lion's share of the blame. Remember—these pensions typically go to those with moderate- or lower-paying jobs; the pension was factored into the equation because of that.
That blame rightly belongs to cronies of state and local politicos who often get plum jobs and pull in pensions that are much larger than most teachers ever will. I am not saying every municipality is thus, but the fact that elections mean officials are temporary stewards of state and local funding tended to lead to an attitude of ‘Let the next (governor, mayor, council) fix the pension problem.’ And all the while pension liabilities, inadequately funded piled up.
An editorial, “The Hollow Cry of ‘Broke’,” in The New York Times on March 2 noted that, “Though it may disappoint many conservatives, there will be no federal or state bankruptcies.”
There won't be a cascade of state defaults. That makes sense to this former muni trader and underwriter. Here’s why: State and local municipalities sell their "general obligation" (GO) bonds at low yields favorable to taxpayers because the costs are low and to buyers because the interest is tax exempt. Under normal conditions GO bonds of states and municipalities that are investment grade are/were considered second only to U.S. Treasury securities in safety, and long-, medium- and short-term GO munis were scooped up by, well, institutional investors, insurance companies and very conservative individual investors. Back in the Stone Age before the repeal of Glass-Steagall, banks could only underwrite GO bonds.
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