Saturday, June 04, 2011

Malloy s GAAP Falls Through The Gap: Trouble In Paradise

Much fuss was made during the gubernatorial campaign by former Mayor of Stamford Dannel (then Dan) Malloy concerning the adoption of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the subject of Governor Malloy’s very first Executive Order.

The old way of accounting, which had given rise to budget finagling that allowed governors and legislators less scrupulous than Mr. Malloy to fudge budget figures, was supposed to give way to GAAP, an accounting process that would scrub politics of distasteful gimmickry.

“An implementer bill passed Tuesday by the House,” according to a story in CTNewsJunkie, “postpones the full implementation of GAAP until 2014 and eliminates the $1.5 billion deficit a transition to GAAP would create. But it also promises to spend about $100 million a year over the next 15 years starting in 2014 to pay down the $1.5 billion GAAP deficit and in order to ensure that deficit doesn’t grow it allocates about $75 million in fiscal year 2013 and $50 million in 2014.”

Zach Janowski, an investigative reporter for the Yankee Institute, has reported that if GAAP were operative right now, Mr. Malloy’s projected two year surplus would disappear altogether and be replaced by yet another wearisome deficit.

So, its rather a good thing – from the point of view of politicians less scrupulous than Mr. Malloy -- that GAAP has, so to speak, fallen through a legislative gap.

Ben Barns, Mr. Malloy’s budget director, adamantly denies that GAAP is being delayed: “We’re not delaying the implementation of GAAP, we’re beginning to amortize the cumulative unfunded GAAP liability starting in two years. We are moving as quickly as practical to implement GAAP. We’re intending our budget be balanced on a GAAP basis from inception through final audit starting with 2012. So I think the notion that we’re delaying GAAP is completely unfounded. It’s not the case.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero begs to differ. GAAP was Mr. Malloy’s “cause celeb” in January when he took office; he signed an executive order that said “I’ll try to do my best to implement GAAP”; in February, Mr. Malloy made GAAP a conspicuous part of his budget proposal, vowing that a portion of the surplus would be used to cover the cost of the transition to GAAP, Mr. Cafero said. Following the postponement of the transition until the next biennium, “All we know now,” Mr. Cafero said, “is that we have a governor who says one thing and does another.”

The General Assembly has put forward a 15-year plan to eliminate the accumulated GAAP deficit of $100 million. That reform is bound to collide with a General Assembly that has over the years grown comfortable with a smoke and mirrors budgeting that allows politicians to hide dying bodies under the rug.

And Connecticut itself may be a dying body, according to a report recently issued by the Institute for Truth in Accounting and the Comeback America Initiative.

The fundamental accounting difference between GAAP and Connecticut’s current modified cash accounting (MCA) is that revenue is recorded when earned in GAAP; Connecticut, utilizing MCA records revenue when cash is received.

“What they try to do under this political math,” said Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of the Institute for Truth in Accounting, is push any revenues into a current year budget and push any expenses out of it. “It’s just manipulation of the numbers. That’s what got the corporations in trouble. A lot of corporate leaders are sitting in jail just for games like this.”

The number fudging merely obscures but does not settle underlying problems.

“While Connecticut reported total assets of $29.7 billion,” Connecticut Budget Watch reported, “the Institute’s review of the state’s 2010 financial report revealed that there are $44 billion of off-balance sheet retirement obligations. More than $18.7 billion of the State’s assets cannot be easily converted to cash to pay state bills of $74.5 billion as they come due. These assets consist of capital assets, including infrastructure, buildings and land, and assets the use of which is restricted by law or contract. The State does not have the funds needed to pay for $63.5 billion of state obligations.

Each taxpayer’s share of this financial burden equals $49,000.

To put it in simple terms, Connecticut has spent far more than it has collected in tax revenue. As a result, every taxpayer in the state now owes the state $49,000. When state assets are sufficient to pay off the obligations – and not before – the Connecticut’s books will be in balance. In addition, one of the methods the Malloy administration has settled upon to partially redress the imbalance, retroactive tax collections, may be unconstitutional, according to former Comptroller General of the United States David Walker, the founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative.

“It is not normal or advisable to have retroactive tax increases,” Walker said. “Retroactive increases have been successfully challenged in court. If such an increase is challenged legally, there will be both budget and accounting implications.”

Mr. Malloy’s spokesman, Juliet Manalan, said, “The Governor is not concerned that the budget will be challenged on Constitutional grounds.”

The state’s asset shortfall and $63.5 billion in state obligations ought to be an issue of greater concern.
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