Thu, Mar

LA Watchdog

LA WATCHDOG - Standard & Poor’s, one of the major bond rating companies, cut its outlook for US Treasury paper to “negative” from “stable” because of Washington’s mounting budget deficits.  There is a 1-in-3 chance that Government will lose its AAA (Triple A) credit rating.

This potential downgrading of the credit of the US Treasury will impact the City of Los Angeles, its credit rating, and the maturity and interest rate of any offerings, including the June offering of Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes that are needed to fund the City’s operations for the first half of the fiscal year.

As a result, investors are going to be focused on credit quality, and that is not good for the City.

While the Los Angeles’ credit rating is a AA- (Double A minus), the Mayor’s proposed 2011-12 Budget financials would indicate a credit rating approaching junk (non investment grade) status.

The Mayor’s new budget is projecting to cure a budget deficit of $463 million.  But this is based on numerous one time gimmicks and fails to make few, if any, structural changes to address the chronic budget deficits related to out of control employee costs.

This year, The Major Who Broke LA and his crack financial staff propose to “balance” the budget by extracting $151 million from the notoriously obstinate LAPD and LAFD and $115 million of furloughs yet to be negotiated from Coalition and other Civilian employees. 

An additional $101 million comes from the elimination of positions and the consolidations of departments. 

Another $40 million of savings is from dumping unfunded mandates onto special revenue departments and another $44 million is from fishy financial engineering related to the Convention Center and Early Retirement Incentive Plan.

Finally, the Mayor proposes to defer $48 million of necessary capital expenditures.

But the Mayor’s “non budget” does not address the $281 million deficit for the next fiscal year (2012-13), the result of the $296 million increase in employee related costs (compensation, pensions, health, and workmen’s compensation).

Nor does the Mayor’s “non budget” address the failure to fund the repair and maintenance of our lunar cratered streets, our sidewalks, street lamps, and parks despite claims to the contrary in his budget message. 

Nor does the Mayor’s “non budget” address the proper funding of the $11.7 billion unfunded pension liabilities associated with the Los Angeles City Employee Retirement System and the Fire and Police Pension Plans.

Overall, the City has a budget deficit north of $1 billion before the smoke and mirror savings and unspecified reductions in City services.

A key component to City’s financial plan is the offering of Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes to finance the operations of the City prior to the December and January receipt of real estate taxes.  The last offering of these short term notes are scheduled to be outstanding for 357 days compared to 314 days in the previous year.  This allows the City to roll over the previous year’s deficit. 

The City is also playing the “float.” To use Wall Street lingo, the average life of the current offering of notes is about 10.5 months (there are four repayments at the end of March, April, May, and June) compared to 5.5 months if the notes were amortized based on the receipt of the real estate taxes in December and January and the amortization of the pension payments over a 12 month period.

But there is little that the Citizens of Los Angeles can do to force the City to truly balance the budget.  Our Elected Elite, led by the Little Three (Villaraigosa, Greuel, and Garcetti), have not even developed a long term solvency plan.  Nor are The Little Three willing to address the necessary structural changes in the City’s operations because of the fear of offending their campaign funding Partners in Labor and the City Family.

The only way that The Little Three will adopt a truly balanced budget and develop and implement a long term solvency plan is that they are required to by the investors, not dissimilar to what happened in New York City in 1975.

This will require the bond rating companies (S & P, Moody’s, and Fitch) to open their eyes to the financial shenanigans at City Hall and downgrade the City’s credit rating.  And investors also need to do their homework, not only with regards to the junk status of the City’s notes, but the risks associated with buying paper with maturities in April, May and June.

Even if the City is able to sell the Notes, the yield hogs will demand substantially higher rates than last year to compensate for the increased risk.

Of course, this assumes that the City is able to come up with $316 million at the end of May and almost $300 million at the end of June to pay off the outstanding Notes.

If S & P is willing take the political heat from President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner when they lowered the outlook for credit rating of the United States to “negative,” then the rating agencies should not have any problem taking on the fiscally irresponsible Little Three and the other City Hall politicians who are willing to ignore the best interests of the Citizens of Los Angeles to further their own political careers.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:   [email protected])             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 34
Pub: Apr 29, 2011

DODGER STEW - Holy cow, did you see that move! Selig picked off McCourt, preventing Frank from stealing another $100 million from the Dodgers and their loyal but beleaguered fans.

On Wednesday, Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball, announced that he will appoint a representative to “oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations” of the Dodgers.  The Commissioner’s Office will also “continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt’s ownership.”

This move was finally precipitated by Frank McCourt’s flagrant breach of trust when he personally borrowed $30 million from Fox Sports to help the Dodgers meet payroll (and probably a few personal obligations) without consulting with the Commissioner. That is a real No-No.

While unprecedented, this drastic action is warranted given the systematic looting of the Dodgers by Frank McCourt to support his family’s billionaire life style. Now the Dodgers have an unsupportable amount of debt and lack the financial flexibility to properly fund the team’s operations and payroll. 

The need for cash to service the increasing mountain of debt and fund the family’s over the top life style resulted in business decisions that led to the increase in sales of beer and booze and the cut back in the presence of uniformed LAPD officers and overall security, creating an attractive venue for gangbangers and abusive, foul mouthed drunks. 

This alcohol and drug infested environment finally resulted in the highly publicized unprovoked assault on Opening Day of Byran Stow, a 42 year old Giants fan from Santa Cruz, in the parking lot after the game.  The resultant adverse publicity has caused a 27% decrease in paid attendance for the last seven home games, resulting in a loss of about $3.4 million in highly profitable, incremental admission, parking, and concession revenue.

No wonder the Dodgers are having problems meeting payroll.

Of course, Frank is baffled by Selig’s action since he believes he is in compliance with Major League Baseball’s financial guidelines. Even his new best friend, Steve Soboroff, launched a spirited defense of the Boston Parking Lot Attendant, saying that the Commissioner’s actions were “irresponsible” and that Frank was “financially fine.” 

Of course, that is inconsistent with the fact that Dodgers are in default on their banks loans.  And Frank is on the hook for those loans because of his personal guarantee.

It also seems inconsistent with the fact that all Frank had to pledge as collateral for the Fox Sports $30 million personal loan was the anticipated proceeds from his potential lawsuit against Bingham McCutchen, the Boston based law firm that bungled the ownership agreement between Frank and his ex wife, Jamie. However, the Bingham law firm launched a lawsuit against Frank in Massachusetts seeking to bar him from suing the firm for malpractice, claiming that Frank was responsible for his own problems.

Unfortunately for Frank, there are other interested parties in addition to Major League Baseball that do not trust Frank and his Boston malarkey.

Jamie McCourt, his ex wife, for example, issued the following comment.  "As the 50% owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I welcome and support the Commissioner's actions to provide the necessary transparency, guidance and direction for the franchise and for Dodgers fans everywhere."

And you can bet the banks that own the Dodgers defaulted loans are none too pleased with the shenanigans at Dodger Stadium.  If attendance is off 25% this year, that is a $35 million hit to revenue, resulting in a situation where the Dodgers financials would be covered with red ink.  The Dodgers would be hard pressed to make their cash interest payments.

One of the consequences of the Commissioner’s action to control the Dodgers and its cash is that it may accelerate the collapse of Frank’s house of cards.

With the Commissioner and the banks controlling the cash, Frank will not have adequate resources to meet his other obligations, such as alimony, upkeep of his multiple estates (including real estate taxes and mortgage payments), personal loans, and his and her legal bills. This will result in other creditors surfacing, filing claims and heading to the courthouse to protect their interests.

Frank’s life is further complicated by the interest of the Internal Revenue Service and the California Board of Equalization in his tax returns, his aggressive tax strategies, the personal use of over $100 million of Dodger funds, and the no show jobs for his sons. 

The Boston Parking Lot Attendant will not give up without a fight. However, unlike his shenanigans back in Boston, he is battling with adversaries that have significantly more resources than the cash constrained McCourt who will not be able to rely on the Dodgers cash flow to pay high priced lawyers, tax accountants, and the other costs of litigation.

More than likely, Frank will have to file for personal bankruptcy to protect the value of his assets and give him time to rearrange his affairs in an orderly manner that respects all of his creditors.

But fortunately, the bold and proper actions of Commissioner Bud Selig to “protect the best interests of the Club, its great fans, and all of Major League Baseball” will separate the daily operations of the Dodgers from the meddling of Frank and Jamie McCourt and their financial demands.

Commissioner Bud Selig also has the power to force the sale of the Dodgers (and their related assets such as the Stadium and parking lots), an event that would be welcomed by Dodger fans, the players, the Dodger organization and all of its employees, and all Angelenos.

This Bud is for you, the true Blue Dodger fans.  Thank you.

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(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at: [email protected]ail.com.)             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 32
Pub: Apr 22, 2011

LA WATCHDOG - It is Budget Season.  And surprise, surprise, we have another budget crisis.

This year, the newly announced budget gap is $463 million, up from $350 million just a month ago.

But as we go through the theatre of balancing the budget, ask yourself the following two questions.

Do you trust Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Controller Wendy Greuel, and City Council President Eric Garcetti (the “Little Three”) to do what is in the best interests of the Citizens of Los Angeles?

Or do think that Villaraigosa, Greuel, and Garcetti have sold out to their campaign funding Partners in Labor to protect the City Family to the detriment of the Citizens of Los Angeles?

Unfortunately, the Little Three have yet to develop a long term solvency plan, despite the fact that former Mayor Riordan and Alex Rubalcava stated in a widely read Wall Street Journal opinion piece said the City would be bankrupt in 2014.

Nor have the Little Three made any concerted attempt to eliminate the “Structural Deficit” by addressing the ever escalating costs associated with payroll, benefits, and pensions, despite constructive suggestions by the City Administrative Officer, which included those of the Little Hoover Commission relating to reduction of current retirement benefits.

Once again, the Mayor has elected to “kick the can down the street” by relying on one time budget solutions and gimmicks to balance the budget.

The projected budget deficit is $463 million.  However, the major components of the increase from the $350 million deficit projection of last month have been known for months: the return to cash based over time for the police ($80 million) and the elimination of “rolling brownouts” for the Fire Department ($41.2 million). There is also a revenue reduction of $40 million due to the slow economy and lower telephone tax receipts. (Link)

While this implies a budget deficit of $511 million, the Mayor’s financial wizards have deferred $48 million related to the Capital Improvement Expenditure Program, calling it an expenditure reduction, not part of the solution.

Hence, we have a budget deficit of $463 million, but lower than the $492.4 million that we had a year ago.

The Mayor, his budget team, and his sound bite specialists have devised many one time “solutions” to close the budget gap, but few, if any, address the Structural Deficit.

The “solutions” include yet to be negotiated concessions of $51 million and $100 million respectively from the always cooperative Fire and Police Departments as well as “savings” of $115 million from Coalition and Civilian furloughs.  There is another $101 million of unspecified “savings” from “Reductions, Efficiencies & Other.”

There are $40 million in Special Fund Swaps where the City transfers responsibilities of the General Fund to a Special Revenue Fund.  For example, the responsibility for cleaning our 800 miles of alleys will be offloaded from the General Fund’s Bureau of Street Services to the Bureau of Sanitation, a special revenue department that is funded by our ever increasing trash tax.

There are also $40 million of one-time savings related to the refinancing at very favorable rates the obligations of the Convention Center and the Early Retirement Incentive Plan. ( link)

Conspicuously absent is any funding to repair and maintain our infrastructure, such as our lunar crater streets, crumbling sidewalks, and our deteriorating parks.  Nor is there any conversation about properly funding of the City’s two pension plans that are $11.7 billion underwater (64% funded).

In reality, our budget deficit is north of $1 billion.

On Wednesday, April 20, the Mayor will present his budget to the City which will reveal the details of the various “solutions.” But no doubt, they will be convoluted and difficult to understand, even if you are familiar with the City’s less than transparent accounting policies and antiquated management information systems.

And needless to say, there will be politics underlying every decision, many of which may not be in the best interests of all Angelenos.

The Mayor and his gang will no doubt discuss all the hard choices they have made over the years. 

The spinmeisters will discuss how they have reduced the work force by 4,000 positions.  However, 2,400 were the result of the Early Retirement Incentive Plan where participating senior employees were incented with over $150,000 extra in retirement benefits, burdening the already underfunded Los Angeles City Employee Retirement System with over $200 million in increased liabilities after counting higher employee contributions.

And a number of City employees were transferred to special revenue or the three proprietary departments.  The net is that less the 500 employees were laid off.

Or the Mayor and Eric Garcetti may tout the recent “pension reform” where employees contribute an additional 4% to fund their retirement healthcare benefits. Unfortunately, this plan is not actuarially sound, severely restricts the City’s operational and financial flexibility, provides the Coalition of Unions even more leverage in the renegotiation of their MOU, and extends the contract so that union wages and benefits will not become a hot button issue in the 2013 mayoral election. 

After considering the two questions of whether you trust the Little Three and whether they have sold out to the highest bidder, you will realize that they are not acting in the best interests of all Angelenos, but working to protect their campaign funding Partners in Labor, the City Family, and their own political ambitions. .

That is why we need an independent, well funded, and empowered CITIZENS ADVOCATE to oversee the operations and finances of the City and to help develop and implement solutions to eliminate the Structural Deficit, to repair and maintain our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, and to insure that our pension plans are actuarially sound.

Otherwise, we will continue to be mushrooms in the dark with manure piled on top of us. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:     [email protected]            -cw

Vol 9 Issue 31
Pub: Apr 19, 2011

DODGER BOOS - It was not so long ago that Frank McCourt was running with the Big Dogs: a billionaire life style, private jets, and estates in Bel Air, Malibu, and Cape Cod.  And in 2009, he was the toast of town as the Dodgers won the division title and the first round of the playoffs and led all teams in attendance as 3.76 million fans (an average of 46,440 per game) came to Chavez Ravine.

But today, the Dodgers have a losing record and attendance for the first eight home games is off 13.3%. And the general feeling is that the Dodgers will be lucky to have a winning season.

Frank’s finances are becoming increasingly desperate. The highly leveraged Dodgers are in default on their bank loans, denying him cash to pay his alimony, his multiple mortgage payments, the upkeep and taxes on his many houses, and even his high priced lawyers.  The Commissioner of Baseball rightfully rejected his $200 million loan deal with Fox Sports because it would not benefit the team. 

But the very clever Boston Parking Attendant pulled an end run around the Commissioner and personally borrowed $30 million from Fox Sports, supposedly to help meet payroll on April 30.  More than likely, Frank will skim a few dollars off the top for his personal obligations.  

But the coup de grace may have been the unprovoked Opening Day beating of Byran Stow, a 42 year old Giants fan from Santa Cruz, by two out of control gang bangers in the parking lot after the game.  As Stow, a paramedic and the father of two lies in a coma, the police have a high profile dragnet looking for these hoods. 

The financial consequences of this violence and the resulting adverse publicity will be enormous.

Without doubt, the Dodgers will need to beef up security.  As part of his public relations campaign, Frank even hired Billy Bratton, a Boston native, who just happened to be LA’s former Chief of Police. But the added security at Dodger Stadium will more than likely cost an additional $2 million a year.

Then there is the cost of litigation. While the Dodgers may have adequate insurance, the insurance companies will no doubt investigate the level of security at Dodger Stadium to see if the Dodgers were doing a proper job.  And what they will find is what fans have known for a long while: Dodger Stadium is no longer a safe family environment and that security is so lax that the joint, especially the right field bleachers, has been overrun with gang bangers and drunken, foul mouthed jerks. 

This will give rise to the question as to whether the Dodgers, its management, and its owners were grossly negligent, which may negate any coverage.

In any event, the Dodgers’ insurance premiums will increase significantly.

However, the impact of the adverse publicity on this losing team will be devastating, causing many fickle fans to stay at home rather than risk their lives at Dodger Stadium.

If attendance for the year is down 13.3% for all 81 home games, there would be 475,000 fewer admissions (about 5,900 per game), resulting in a revenue loss of about $19 million in admissions, concessions, and parking.

However, the drop in attendance might be even greater.  In the four game series against the hot hitting Cardinals, the average per game head count was 28.6% lower than last year’s three games against St. Louis.  If that trend were to continue throughout the year, then revenues would be off $40 million.

This compares to operating profits after MLB Revenue Sharing and interest payments of only $10 million in 2009.

Needless to say, the lenders to both the Dodgers and McCourt are very concerned about the impact of significantly lower attendance and higher security expenses, both of which come off the bottom line. 

But of greater concern is that the Commissioner of Baseball and the other owners do not trust the Boston Parking Lot Attendant, especially after he pulled a “fast one” by borrowing $30 million personally from Fox Sports.  A reliable source indicated that the Commissioner is more than a little upset at this breach of trust.

But then again, this is nothing new to the people who did business with Frank back in Boston.

To compound Frank’s difficulties, Bingham McCutchen, the Boston based law firm that bungled the agreement that may have given Frank sole ownership of the Dodgers, filed a preemptive law suit in Massachusetts State Court that would effectively bar Frank from suing the firm for malpractice. 

In the law suit, Bingham alleges that “any injury, loss or expense he [Frank McCourt] has sustained or will sustain were caused not by Bingham's conduct, but by his own widely publicized financial problems, huge withdrawals of cash from the Dodgers, and strained relations with Major League Baseball.  None of this is attributable to Bingham's work."

Of course, Frank may not have the cash to fund a defense!

Frank appears to be down and out in Holmby Hills and Chavez Ravine.  He is running out of cash.  His lenders do not trust him.  The Commissioner and the other owners do not trust him.  And most important, the fans do not trust the Bum.

The Boston Parking Lot Attendant is not running with the Big Dogs any more.  Rather, the Big Dogs are trying to chase his sorry ass out of town and out of Major League Baseball.

Let’s hope they are successful. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at: [email protected]  )  -cw

Vol 9 Issue 31
Pub: Apr 19, 2011

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