Funding Retirement in California

The state of California and its citizens are being held hostage, by the funding of its public workers retirement plans. CalPERS, the city’s union that funds the worker’s pensions, is owed more than $200 billion dollars by the citizens of California. With the cities unable to pay up, many have filed for bankruptcy.

The controversy centers around two laws that were passed over 20 years ago, that CalPERS has used to create beneficial retirement plans for their employees. In the recent case of Stockton, California, a judge upheld a bankruptcy recovery plan that maintained the current public pensions. With the overturn of those two laws, the judge could have legally required them to cut pension, but didn’t.

Attention has now shifted to the town of San Bernardino, California, where two companies are claiming that they are owed money related to government pensions.

The Financial State of California

Financially, California is not in a good place right now, and much of it relates to the issues they are having with funding pensions. The two laws in play have helped CalPERS demand high amounts from cities; the first saying that no city could leave CalPERS if bankruptcy was filed, the second allowed CalPERS to seize city property until the debt was repaid. The debt to Stockton was $1.6 billion. But why is there so much trouble with paying?

The answer is because the amount due for the pensions of California workers is astronomically high. The plans many times include retirement ages of 50-55, payments that almost equal a full salary, and free health care. The benefits of government workers rise high above what many in the private sector receive. The city of Stockton pays an amount to CalPERS that is equal to 46% of their payroll; that number will rise eventually to 60%. These massive amounts of money demanded by CalPERS are pushing cities into bankruptcy at a high rate, and are also affecting other parts of the cities’ finances and that of the citizens.

In addition to affecting the ability of the government to pay CalPERS, the rising costs of pensions are also affecting their ability to build new roads, schools, buildings, and repair old ones. The citizens are also feeling the heat as the number of bankruptcies are rising all over the state. Some of the most successful law firms in California deal directly with bankruptcy cases; Doan Law Firm alone filed over 400 cases in just the third quarter of 2014. The good news however, is that there is a committee of 24 public unions that would be on board with giving up healthcare, which could save over $500 million.

The Situation in San Bernardino

The current law suit taking place in San Bernardino is different, but stems from the same issues that other cities are having. Like Stockton CalPERS has requested huge amounts of money to fund pensions. Also, like Stockton they were unable to pay and filed for bankruptcy. As part of paying the debt, the city borrowed $50 million dollars from two companies (one based in Luxembourg, and Ambac Assurance Corp.) to help pay it. Now those companies want their money back.

The argument of the two companies is basically that the debt owed to them is legally no different than the debt owed to CalPERS, and is suing the city for the amount owed. They feel they are entitled to payment of the debt, considering the city still pays CalPERS on the debt owed to them.

Both the City Manager and CalPERS have denied the claims of the two companies, and have asked the judge to dismiss the case. However, with the removal of two major laws that gave CalPERS its teeth it is not yet seen how the court will rule on this case.

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

This Crook Had No Idea What He Was Dealing With

I work in an office area that’s fairly open. We have half walls and the cube layouts are broken out into areas where three of us sit in a shared area.  Each of us has a corner with one corner open to enter and exit.   I like the two people I share space with a lot, but it’s often easy to overhear conversations given the layout.

I couldn’t help but hear bits and pieces of a conversation from JV, who was looking into a charge that he didn’t recognize.  It was for a pizza place in Ann Arbor, about an hour and a half away from our area. The charge was for $53.00.

First, he contacted his wife, then I heard him talking to the bank.  I wasn’t eavesdropping, but it was unavoidable to hear that he had gotten it worked out to get the charge removed, and to get a new card issued and the old card disabled.

The fun really started the next day.

I heard him on the phone again, and I couldn’t let the words waft past after I heard the word ‘Police Report’.

After that, I heard him going over in great detail personal information about the person who had stolen his identity.  He was offering up name, address, description, and phone number.

After he was done, I couldn’t help but spin around in my chair and ask for the story.  He went over that the charge had appeared, that he had been nowhere near, and that he’d gotten the info and contacted both his bank and the police.

I couldn’t help but wonder how he got the persons information.

He explained that it was through solid research and dealing with helpful people as well as a moronic thief:

  • He contacted the pizza place, asked to speak to a manager, and explained the
    The crook in the story might be getting heartburn from his pizza

    The crook in the story might be getting heartburn from his pizza

    situation.

  • The manager was very helpful and offered to verify the charge against the receipts.
  • Sure enough, there was a receipt that matched the exact amount.
  • The manager noted that the order had been placed…and it was called in as a delivery order.  The address that the pizza went to was right there on file.
  • The manager gave JV the address, which he maybe shouldn’t have done, but he did anyway.
  • JV asked the manager if he could talk to the person that made the delivery to get a description of the guy.  The manager agreed and said he would call back.
  • In the meantime, JV went online and looked up the address.  After Google searching and looking through public records, he found the name associated with the address.
  • He ran a Google search on the name and found that the guy had a YouTube account where he was on film.
  • The manager called back and said that he’d talked to the driver, and provided the description. JV noted that it exactly matched the info on YouTube.
  • He ran the name and address through a few more searches and came up with a couple of potential phone numbers.

At that point, he had everything he needed.  He had the name of the person, the address, the description, and the phone number.

The police took it all down, and he sent them over some of the search info, and they said they’d be paying the address a visit.

JV went out of town, so I haven’t been able to follow up on whether he heard anything back or looked up any arrest records (also public info), but I was very impressed.

It’s Not About The Money

JV is a cool guy.  He’s in his mid-to-late 20’s and recently got married and has a young baby girl.  From the time I’ve known him, I can tell that he’s driven by strong morals.  While we were talking, without even being prompted, he said that he knows that he put an awful lot of time into this, but he did so because it wasn’t about how much the person ‘stole’, but it was about the fact that they tried to steal at all.

He pointed out, and he was probably very correct, that a lot of people might have not even noticed the charge, or if they did, they simply would have called the bank and left it at that, figuring going through the rest of the process wasn’t worth the trouble.

But in his mind, not only was it the right option, for him it was the only option.  He knew that if he ‘let the guy off the hook’ by not following through to the next step, the guy would go right on with it.  Whether he would  have tried using JVs account again or used other accounts is hard to say, but it’s pretty clear he would have continued, and JV could not stand by and let that happen.

I admire JV for not only taking care of his own personal situation in this circumstance, but also for addressing the situation from a broader perspective, by trying to help other people from this happening to them by taking the opportunity to steal away.

That’s pretty awesome.

Readers, have you ever had to deal with this type of situation?  To what lengths did you go through to not only get yourself straightened out, but also to try to catch the bad guy?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

2015 Is One-Third Over Already

It’s hard to believe that today marks four months gone out of the calendar year of 2015.  Time has been flying, and hopefully you are meeting and beating your goals, and setting new ones.  If you are, then congrats to you!  If you’re not, then I have good news for you: The year is only 1/3 over, which means you still have 2/3 the year to go, and that’s still a lot of time to get things moving.

Let’s do a check on how things are going on our end.  These aren’t necessarily all tied to goals, but just really checking on things that have really been on the radar in our home:

  • Net Worth – Through four months of the year, we’re basically right on track with our hopeful net worth growth, which is good.  Obviously, I’d prefer a cushion so that we can weather any down months or beat our goals, but I’ll take being on track over the unfavorable alternative.
  • Fitness – I’ve set some fitness goals that include regular running, where I’ve seen improved results and have shown consistency.  I’ve also added in some strength training.  This is going great!
  • Kids Learning – Watching kids learn is so much fun.  Our oldest is in kindergarten and he is doing great.  He’s really coming along on the big three: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic!   Our youngest knows how to write her name, can count, and has letter recognition, so she’s doing great too.
  • Kids Activities – Our son loves LEGO and he can build some amazing things.  I never want to pigeonhole a child that early, but I will say that if he’s an engineer or designer at some point in life, it would not surprise me in the least. He has had some struggles riding his bike and doing some outdoor stuff, but he’s making big improvements there.  Our daughter is taking swim lessons and is really kicking butt compared to where she started just a few months ago.  I foresee some fun summer days at the beach!mb-2015-02-disney
  • Disney Trip – We have a trip planned to Disney World in the fall.  Since the beginning of the year, we’ve gone from having a rough idea of what we want to actually planning it, setting dates, booking tickets, making reservations and then changing them (more on that in a future post).
  • Camping Trips and Readiness – We haven’t taken any trips yet, but it’s less than a month until our first one.  We’ve got all of our trips booked already (we have to for the sake of getting the campgrounds and sites that we want, as well as lining up my time off), and it’ll be time to get the camper ready soon  This year, during the winter, one of the rubber seals into the storage area failed and I discovered that some water had gone in.   The wood subfloor got wet but it looks like it isn’t bad, and there was some linoleum that I had to remove and will have to replace, but the good news is that it was all confined to the storage compartment where I keep our tarps and other supplies.
  • Jobs and Side Income – Our company issued a standard across-the-board 2% raise, which wasn’t life changing but it’s certainly nice.  Side hustle income was pretty nice, and my wife has now been in business on her Etsy design shop for two years now!
  • Interior painting – We pulled out the paintbrushes again as my wife and I decided to re-paint the kitchen.  When we moved in, a bright color (reddish orange) seemed to fit the bill, but the thing about bold is that your appreication for it can change quickly.  We’ve now painted it a more muted light gray/tan color, which has provided a very nice change for us.

It’s been a very busy first few months of the year, and now that the mornings and nights are longer, more fun things will certainly come.  We’re looking forward to what the next few months will bring.

Readers, how has your first third of 2015 gone?  Do you feel you’re ahead, behind, or right on target for where you want to be, no matter what the goal?  Thanks for reading!

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Panama City Beach: Short Term Pain For Long Term Gain

The number of years since I’ve last been to Panama City Beach is growing, but it still holds lots of fond memories and is somewhere I would like to go back to.  I did a six month assignment for a former employee where I worked at a hospital doing IT strategic and project management, and had a blast.

I was down there back in 2004, which seems so long ago!  I arrived in April and stayed through October, so to whatever degree of luck you’d consider, I missed Spring Break.

Spring Break has been a staple of many Florida coastal towns for decades, and Panama City Beach has been one of the top destinations for several decades, and has really taken off over the last decade.

Unfortunately, this last decade has really seen it take off the wrong way, along the lines of a swirling toilet flush.

It’s bad.  Last year, Fox News (I know many don’t trust the source, but this story didn’t have a whole lot of political angle involved) did a story about a lot of debauchery that goes on down there.  People talked openly about drinking and drugs out on the beach, often by underage college kids.  They joked about it on camera.  Crime skyrockets.  Hotels get trashed.  People fall off balconies.  And, young people go on camera fully admitting that things get out of control.

After getting nationally embarrassed by this report, the local government put in a series of measures for this year designed to better control and get a handle on Spring Break.  I follow the local newspaper online and I was less than impressed.  Closing bars a couple of hours early was the ‘big’ win, and it was fought for but the City Council talked about how they really tightened things up.

So how did it go this year?

Worse.  Much worse.

This year, there were multiple shootings.

There was a gang rape that happened right out on the beach that was recorded on cell phone video, and it showed hundreds of people just standing around watching the whole thing, laughing.

Officials and partigoers admit that this happened all the time.  Let me repeat.  People get sexually violated out in the middle of the beach all the time and people stand around laughing about it.   Before this was reported, police released a picture of a girl who looked very underage, yet the full photo apparently included her fully naked holding a beer and surrounded by multiple college guys.

There was more crime than ever.  The number of drug related arrests goes up.  They put every cop on the street and beach and there’s no keeping up.  It just goes on and on.

Fox News went back this year and it was not pretty.

mb-2015-04-beachThe sad part about it is that apparently it took local officials by surprise.  They had their head in the spring break sand fully expecting that it was going to be better this year. The only voice of reason was the local sherriff who basically said that what the half measures weren’t going to work.

Spring Break 2.0 On The Way

After the news kept coming out and kept getting worse, local officials finally got together and dropped the hammer.  With a couple of weeks left in the Spring Break season, they banned alcohol on the beach.  Fully.  No more.

Prior to that, you were theoretically allowed to have it if you were 21.  Which I’m sure everybody claimed to be, and could the cops really check every ID.  No.

Now, it’s easy.  If you’re on the beach, you can’t have alcohol.  Period.

Apparently, this is set to expire as it was only a temporary measure, but the idea is that they’ll either make it all year around, or institute it during the weeks typically associated with Spring Break.  Personally, I think limiting it to Spring Break would suffice, as I can attest from my time down there that the beach is really cool and calm and very well under control for at least mid-April through October.

Who Wouldn’t Want This?

The people that might opposed to this are likely those who make their money from Spring Break.  There are clubs and hotels that cater to Spring Breakers, and I’m sure in their eyes, the more beer that’s consumed, the better.

Obviously they’re not going to like it.

Many residents claim that the tax dollars associated with the hotel stays are crucial to the local budget, and I’m sure that they’re right to some degree, but more and more people are realizing that it isn’t worth it.

And it might not all be lost.

Daytona Beach: Model Citizen For Panama City Beach?

In the mid-1990’s one of the more fascinating things on TV was when MTV showed a couple of weeks of Spring Break.  Although it was relatively tame compared to some of the widlness that gets reported now, it still seemed pretty wild.  Plus there’s a case to be made that it probably was more wild than we know now but that social media really brings it into the limelight that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Anyways, when MTV put the spotlight on Spring Break, things spiraled much out of control as Panama City Beach is seeing now.  Eventually, their local officials made many of the same choices.

What were the results?

Exactly as expected at first.  No more drinking on the beach meant that the college kids stopped coming.  Most of them, anyways.  Many still came.  They largely obeyed the rules.  They had fun.

And, very quickly, a different group started coming.

Families.

My wife and I recently talked about how we’d love to eventually go down to Florida during Spring Break.  She loves a place near Tampa Bay that she used to vacation with when her family went growing up, and I mentioned Panama City Beach.  Now, obviously we’d never take our kids down to the mess that has been going on there, but what if it was no longer a mess?  There would be a definite case to go down there.

That’s exactly what started happening in Daytona Beach. Spring Break there brings a lot of families.  Families who still rent rooms and pay the hotel tax.  Families who go to the restaurants and keep the local economy going.  Families who enjoy the beach and don’t trash it.  Families who have fun that don’t lead to arrests, rapes, deaths, and tragedy that has simply become all too common in today’s Panama City Beach.

Honestly, even though Spring Break is done, I would expect that many families might stay away otherwise.  Why give patronage to a town that actively or passively encourages this type of situation to happen and continues to stand by idly watching it spiral out of control?  I wouldn’t and I suspect that this could start providing a big negative impact on their tourism throughout the rest of the year.

I will continue to read and see what they do.  Now that Spring Break is over, the black on the city still remains.  For years the standard protocol was for officials to put lip service against all the crazy and bad behavior, making promises to crack down and get things under control, but the ‘sweeping changes’ of last year showed that this has to stop.  Lip service won’t cut it and I seriously hope that as time takes attention elsewhere, that the local government finally takes real measures to make Spring Break a fun, enjoyable, and safe destination.

Over and over again when I was down there, people talked with pride about how Panama City Beach had the most beautiful beaches in the world, and compared to the many beaches I’ve been, they were right up there.  However, that beauty has to go beyond the sand, sun and water, and it’s time for Panama City Beach to reclaim their beauty in full.

Readers, have you caught any of the growing media firestorm against Panama City Beach’s spring break?  What do you think needs to happen to control Spring Break?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.