Newt Gingrich Pushing Bill To Allow States To File Bankruptcy Allowing Them To Renege On Pension And Benefit Obligations

Some unpleasant news for pensioned workers who believe that their insolvent state will be able to afford ridiculous legacy pensions in perpetuity. According to Pensions and Investment magazines, Newt Gingrich is pushing for legislation that will allow insolvent states to be taken off bailout support and file bankruptcy, in the process allowing them to renege on pension and other benefit obligations promises to state workers. And if there is anything that will get government workers' blood pressure to critical levels, it is the threat that money they had taken for granted is about to be lifted, courtesy of living in an insolvent state (pretty much all of them). And obviously what this means for equity investors in assorted muni investments is that a complete wipe out is becoming a possibility, as Meredith Whitney's prediction, which everyone was quick to mock and ridicule, is about to come back with a vengeance.

From P&I:

Proponents of the measure — which include Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington lobby group that fights tax increases — said the legislation is desperately needed to clear the way for struggling states to slash costs before they go belly up, and should be regarded as a preemptive move that could preclude the need for massive federal bailouts.

“It's in the short-term and long-term interests of government workers and taxpayers to start those reforms now, rather than having to pick up the pieces after a crash landing,” ATR President Grover Nor-quist said in an interview.

“We are working with people inside and outside of Congress on this issue,” said Joe DeSantis, a spokes-man for Mr. Gingrich, whom Mr. DeSantis said is considering a bid to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012.

Sur enough, the response has been fast, furious, and very vocal:

State and union officials vow to fight the bankruptcy initiative, which they fear would undermine state autonomy and be used to reduce promised benefits to government workers.

“I am unaware of any public pension plan that is requesting federal assistance,” said Keith Brainard, NASRA research director.

“Exaggerated reports on the financial condition of public pension plans are being used as a scare tactic to justify federal intervention,” Mr. Brainard added.

Said Mark McCullough, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, Washington: “This is another right-wing attack on behalf of their (the GOP's) anti-middle class, big-business donor base.

“It would amount to not just another attack on working families, but an attack on everyone from investors to retirees who would see the economy reel from the ripple effects of state bankruptcy as they pursue the goal of making American workers expect no better pay or benefits than workers in the developing world.”

So far, proponents of the legislation said they have not yet recruited a congressional sponsor for the proposed measure. “We're still shopping for the guy who is going to carry it,” Mr. Norquist said.

Nonetheless, union executives are concerned that the proposal — which has been promoted on conservative websites recently — is part of a well-orchestrated and hitherto underground campaign now surfacing as Republicans settle into leadership positions in the new Congress.

“This idea carries major negative financial implications for the states, their creditors and the companies that do business with them,” said Charles Loveless, director of legislation for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Washington. “A state going into bankruptcy would send shock waves through the states and could very well undermine our fragile national economic recovery,” he said.

“It is incredible to me that proponents of this portray themselves as advocates of state rights when what they're really doing is driving states into the ground,” Mr. Loveless added. “It's clearly in an effort to renege on public employee collective bargaining contracts.”

The good news: not all states will file for bankruptcy if this proposal becomes law. Just most.

But Mr. Norquist said that, assuming the proposal becomes law, not every state would file for bankruptcy — a right that municipal governments already have under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

“If you don't have this (a state bankruptcy process), you have New York, Illinois and California running off the rails because there's no way to fix their problems ... They've got these contracts with government workers that you can't alter,” Mr. Norquist said.

He said restructuring benefit obligations doesn't necessarily mean cutting the amount of money a retiree gets; it could involve freezing a public defined benefit plan and enrolling new employees in a defined contribution plan.

Look for some more serious outflows from muni funds, and notable volatility in muni bonds, as this latest challenge to the state bailout "certainty" is digested.

courtesy of @Biz_Reporter