PBS’s The News Hour had a fascinating story yesterday about how the financial calamity is threatening dozens of transit agencies around the country with extreme financial problems.
The short version is that, with the blessing and encouragement of the federal government, many agencies engaged in what are called “buy-leaseback” arrangements with banks. Since public agencies can’t depreciate purchases of say, rail cars, since public agencies don’t pay taxes, they would sell them to banks. The banks would then get the tax shelter, while the agencies got extra funds, part of which were used to lease the rails cars or whatever from the banks.
But guess what? They needed insurance to do these kinds of deals. And who was the main insurer? None other than global behemoth AIG, and since their ratings are in the toilet, a lot of transit agencies are considered to be in “technical default” on these deals. These kinds of deals eventually were outlawed, but lots of them are still coming due around the country.
Pretty cool how neo-liberals worked things, huh? They insisted the public sector be starved of funds, then they found a way to profit from it by using the tax code and financial shenanigans, and now some of the transit agencies may fail (or at the very least be forced to massively defer maintenance and capital investment,) which will “prove” once again that the public sector is wasteful.
It’s a very funny tale to tell over cocktails for some Banksters. Not so fun for a physically challenged worker in D.C. who depends on transit to get to work, as portrayed in the PBS story.
Damn, I think these people wrecked everything. You kind of expect to go outside every morning and find a banker and a Congress-critter loosening the lug nuts on your wheels.