Is TriMet Better Off Than Greece?
Syndicated financial writer Malcolm Berko recently advised a small investor to stay away from Greek bonds or securities. He wrote, “Greece has morphed into a bureaucratic five-star welfare state; but in reality, Greece is a one-star economy. The pensions and entitlements consume 52 percent of government income.”
Well, TriMet’s most recent audited financial statement was released in September, and last year TriMet’s “income” – money earned from customers buying rides, advertising, or services – totaled $153.4 million. The cost of fringe benefits such as pensions and health insurance equaled $166.8 million, or 109% of income.
But the actual problem at TriMet is far worse, because most of the obligations for pensions and other benefits don’t show up as current-year expenses. They appear in financial statements as accrued liabilities that have to be paid off sometime in the future.
Taking into account all liabilities for fringe benefits, TriMet has $711 million in health care obligations, $18 million in pension liabilities for management, and $159 million in pension costs for the union. This sums to $888 million in actuarial accrued unfunded liabilities, or 579% of operating income.
Greece is an international financial disaster; but compared with TriMet, it’s a model of fiscal restraint.