(Update) Who is behind the initiative to bankrupt the City of Tucson?


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

I previously posted about Who is behind the initiative to bankrupt the City of Tucson? A Virginia-based advocacy organization
started by longtime ballot initiative activist Paul Jacob, the
Liberty Initiative Fund, is behind the initiative to bankrupt the City of Tucson.

In reviewing the financial disclosure filings with the City of Tucson, it turns out Paul Jacob has company, the National Taxpayers Union, an allegedly "nonpartisan" (for 501(c) tax status) right-wing anti-tax organization.

The Committee for Sustainable Retirement in support of the initiative ("The Committee") is the local group fronting for this out-of-state operation. The 6-12-13
Contribution and Expenditure Report listed contributions of $4,000 and $5,000 from the
Liberty Initiative Fund, and a contribution of $8,000 from the National Taxpayers Union. The Committee then filed a 6-14-13 "Correction" to that report, claiming that the Liberty Initiative Fund was its single source contributor.

On 6-17-13, The Committee filed a Contribution and Expenditure Report that listed a $15,000 contribution from the aforementioned National Taxpayers Union. On 6-21-13 The Committee filed another Contribution and Expenditure Report for an additional contribution of $11,000 from the
Liberty Initiative Fund.

The June 30, 2013 Campaign Finance Report was filed by the Committee on 6-26-13, and lo and behold, it filed a No Activity Report with a bunch of zeroes and a total of $25 cash on hand. The Pre-Primary Election Report is not due until August 23, 2013.

The only expenditures have been to Zimmerman Public Affairs, who hired the paid petition circulators. The story that I have heard is that these petition curculators were flown into Tucson from out-of-state. I got the guy who tried to get me to sign the petition in front of a Fry's grocery store to admit that he was not from Tucson, which leads me to believe this story. Information about the petition circulators should be available on the back of the petitions.

The Arizona Daily Star reported over the weekend about the deception that the Committee for Sustainable Retirement has engaged in. Group's remarks about Tucson pension system are disputed:

The Committee for Sustainable Retirement Benefits asserts that if nothing is done, the city faces financial ruin. It says its plan will preserve employee pensions while protecting taxpayers by forcing the city to pay off its approximately $340 million in unfunded pension liabilities and set up a pay-as-you-go pension for future hires.

City officials say the group has thrown out several distortions.

Below are some claims from the flier and responses from the city.

The Tucson Supplemental Retirement System is currently 63.5 percent funded because the city has not been making its required contributions.

Not true, said Doris Rentschler, city pension analyst and chair of the city's Pension Education Committee. The city has never missed a payment to the retirement system, Rentschler said. Under the Tucson charter, the city must fully fund the benefits paid out to retirees or their survivors each year, which is about $61 million. Every two weeks, the city must put away its and its employees' required contributions to ensure there's enough money to cover its annual obligations, she said.

The real reason for the ballooning unfunded liability is an underperforming stock market over the past decade. In 2000, the city had zero unfunded liability in its pension portfolio. Then the tech stock bubble burst in 2003, followed by the housing and financial collapse of 2008, and the city's investments never recovered.

In 2008 alone, the city's investments lost $180 million in value. The only way for the system to be fully funded over those years was for the city to cover those losses, which is unrealistic, Rentschler said.

"Was the city supposed to write a check for $180 million?" Rentschler asked.

Elected officials negotiated pension plans but did not adequately fund those promised benefits.

Elected officials do not negotiate the pension plan, Rentschler said. The City Council adopts changes to the plan from time to time. Changes stem from recommendations by the pension's board of trustees.

Since 2006, the board has increased contribution rates and reduced benefits for new employees and made other changes to decrease costs and make the plan more stable, Rentschler said.

Property taxes will go up and city services may be cut unless we solve this problem.

If the measure passes, this could happen almost immediately, Rentschler said. Closing a defined benefit plan would do nothing to eliminate the $340 million in unfunded liability, she said, but it would mean the city would have to pay it off much sooner, at least within the next 10 to 15 years.

City estimates show the first-year cost would add an additional $24 million to the city's expected $33 million pension fund contribution for next year. The city would also have to pay tens of millions more each year before it starts to experience savings from the changeover around 2028.

These increased costs would burden an already deficit-laden budget and likely force the city to consider cuts or higher taxes as a solution, Rentschler said.

So we have two out-of-state right-wing organizations, an anti-public employee/anti-pension organization
(Liberty Initiative Fund), and an anti-tax organization (National Taxpayers Union), who appear to be funding this initiative to bankrupt the City of Tucson, without any true local supporters. (I have heard speculation about a local yokel who may be involved, but I have not been able to confirm this).

I have also been told that the Liberty Initiative Fund intends to take its act on the road to other Arizona cities on their local ballots. Beware of this organization, and reject this carpetbagger attack on your home rule and local government control.