Mortgage 'Settlement' Is a Bailout for California

Just over a week ago in an article I published here in Big Government: “New California Budget Crisis May Torpedo November Tax Increase Initiative.” The article illuminated how State Controller John Chaing had shocked California’s spendthrift politicians by announcing the State would be out of cash beginning March 8th and would miss up to $5.4 billion in vendor payments through May 1st. The timing of the Chaing announcement was disastrous for state politicians; because it destroyed any hope that Governor Jerry Brown’s $6 billion tax increase initiative on the ballot in November would pass.

Now it appears that Brown successfully lobbied for California to get $6 billion in cash and siphon off a total of $18 billion from the $25 billion mortgage settlement with the five largest U.S. banks, who were accused of fraud in the handling of foreclosures and loan modifications. But as Franklin Center Fellow, Steven Greenhut asks in a deliciously sarcastic article: “Why should a taxpayer in Houston or Wichita bail out irresponsible California homeowners, banks and the state’s public employees’ retirement fund?” Greenhut highlights that the mortgage settlement money is really just another accounting entry, because the real source of cash to fund the “Left Coast” is “implicitly via Federal Reserve/Government coffers.”

Most Americans still snarl about crony capitalism when they think of multinational banks taking $1 trillion slurp of taxpayer’s hard earned cash and then paying themselves record bonuses, while hiking fees and cutting off borrowers. But with the United States President and Congress solemnly telling Americans healthy banks were key to our future, most Americans gritted their teeth and came together to bail-out of banks, insurance companies, and other financial firms.

When the good people of the other 49 states learn the terms of this bail-out, I believe they also come together. But this time they will be showing their fangs and carrying pitch forks! With only 13% of the GDP of the United States, California gets 72% of the settlement proceeds. Undoubtedly, the five national banks will pass 100% of the cost of this settlement on to all their customers nationally. Consequently, 87% of the increased bank fees will be paid by other states increases to bail-out California’s insolvent budget.

Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General, claimed the settlement may help roughly 250,000 California borrowers by requiring the banks to cut mortgage debt amounts and extend $2,000 payments to homeowners who already suffered foreclosure. But Greenhut points out that powerful interest groups, like the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which had nothing to do with individual mortgage holders being unfairly foreclosed upon, carved off a piece of the settlement money to bail-out some of their investment losses on real estate speculation that resulted from bad advice.

According to the L.A., a 17-month investigation recently found that some of that bad advice came from Federico Buenrostro Jr., the former chief executive of the $250 billion California public employee pension fund. It seems that he and , and a couple of his pension Board buddies were recently accused of pressuring subordinates to invest billions of dollars of pension money with politically connected firms and strong-armed a for a $4 million in fee to be paid to consultant Alfred J.R. Villalobos, who later hired Buenrostro.

Most Californians refer to Jerry Brown as left wing, but I think he just proved he is more left brained. Left brain thinkers excel in math, language studies and logic problems. Since the banks that settled only control or own only 7.3% of all outstanding single-family mortgages, every time Brown wants to increase spending, he just needs to do another “settlement.” After all, California bank customers only pay 13% of the settlement costs, while the State gets 72% of the proceeds. Either Brown is a very smart or the other 49 governors and their Legislatures are really stupid.