Are local and state governments strapped with severe budgetary
constraints? Far from it, according to public investment expert Walter
Burien. Credited with discovering the existence of an elusive
government document called the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,
Burien provides a fascinating peek inside the true financial worth of
governments today. Thousands of these reports nationwide document the
trillions of dollars of assets held by everything from the local water
district to large state governments. WorldNetDaily
columnist Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed Burien about his work in educating the taxpaying public.
Metcalf’s daily radio show can be heard on
TalkNetDaily weekdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time.
Question: For those who do not already know the story, how did you ever find out about these Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports?
Answer: About 10 years ago, I had been a commodities broker on Wall Street for 15 years. I was one of the first tenants in the World Trade Center. I did an international newsline coast to coast on commodities. I thought I knew what was going on; I thought I was one of those sharp little crackers. I always thought government was maybe hiding 5 to 10 percent maximum of the revenue and not reporting it to the public.
There was a governor who got elected named Jim Florio in New Jersey back in 1990 on a new tax platform. As soon as he got into office, there was a $2.8 billion tax increase — the largest in the state’s history. The public was not too happy, and a couple of DJs, John and Ken out in Los Angeles, they started doing some rabble-rousing and taking calls from listeners on examples of waste and misspending in government. I heard small figures — $15,000, $25,000. The highest figure I heard was $85,000.
Q: Chump change.
A: Right. Being a commodity-trading adviser, I pulled out the Budget Report, which was the only thing I was aware of at the time. They had $11 billion on-budget, $6 billion off-budget, so the total service budget was $17 billion for the year. Net available: $25.6 billion.
So I called into the radio show and said, “Come on guys; you’re missing the whole point. The state is dealing with billions of dollars. The highest figure I heard was $85,000.” I said if there is fraud, waste and misspending taking place, it’s taking place on the order of tens of billions if not hundreds of billions. The DJs challenged us to start an organization.
So, the next day, I got together with nine other people and incorporated a group called “Hands Across New Jersey.” John and Ken rabble-roused and, when we had our first rally, 115,000 people converged on Trenton and shut the Capitol down. I decided to start looking at the budget revenue and finance so if I were approached with questions, I’d know what I was talking about.
Q: So where did you look?
A: When I looked at the budget, which was all I knew about, I noticed large, cash-cow investment agencies of state government were not on the report, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — no large returns from investment funds. Now they gave mention of the different agencies on the report but not the revenue.
Q: Don’t state treasurers have to report this stuff when they are investing on Wall Street?
A: Here’s where it broke down. I knew the director of the budget was on vacation until the following Tuesday of the next week. I called his office and found out who his two lower assistants were.
I said, “Hi. This is Walter Burien. I’m working on a report for Richard and I have to have it done by Tuesday when he gets back from vacation. I need all the figures on all the autonomous agency accounts and trust accounts and investment accounts.”
And he said, “Oh, you want the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.”
I said, “Could I have a copy?” He said I’d better ask Mark (the next one down the line from the budget director).
Q: Notwithstanding your 15 years on Wall Street, you had never heard of this animal before?
A: First time. But I played the cards as they were dealt. I knew it was the most important thing I needed to get my hands on. So, I called Mark and said, “Hi Mark, this is Walter Burien. I just got off the phone with Jim. I’m working on a report for Richard and I have to have it done by Tuesday. I need a copy of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.”
He said, “Oh, where do you want it sent to?”
I got it that Friday and started crunching numbers. Here’s a state with a declared service budget of $17 billion showing a net available on their budget report of $24 billion. The year’s totals on the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report: $188 billion.
Q: $188 billion!?
A: Correct. Investment funds, assets and so forth. The income I started looking for was total cash gross receipts — the number one item the IRS asks you for in an audit.
Q: Would this be interest on investments?
A: Total income. Whether it be cash collected by state agencies, federal grants, the whole nine yards — total income. I found it on page 174 of the 1989 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report under cash additions. Here’s a state with a declared service budget of $17 billion that was bringing in, “in cash,” $86,799,000,000. I learned the definition of syndicated organized crime on the spot and the principle of operation. Anything that was a cost and an expense, an outright cost on a budgetary basis, the public footed 100 percent of the bill for 100 percent of the services. Anything that was a substantial profit center was totally restricted by statute from inclusion whatsoever with the budgetary basis.
Q: This is above and beyond the off-budget stuff.
A: Whenever you hear the word “off-budget,” that is something that is inclusive in the budget. When you look at the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, you will see complete separate areas totally restricted by statute for inclusion with the budgetary basis. A lot of people would refer to it as “two sets of books,” although it’s not exactly two sets of books. The budget report is in one book, and the Consolidated Annual Financial Report is THE book, the showing of the complete pizza pie.
Q: There are two things I want us to make real clear. You conducted your investigation in New Jersey. But this is not unique to New Jersey.
A: I’m going back 10 years. When I found out about New Jersey, especially when I found out they had approximately $80 billion in common-stock ownership, as a commodity trading adviser …
Q: You wanted them as a client.
A: That was actually true to a certain extent. But I was mad more than I was greedy. I said, “How could I have not heard of this?” Here’s New Jersey holding $80 billion in common stock. I was a commodity-trading adviser. I dealt with a lot of the CEOs of some of the major investment firms and I never heard it mentioned — in any circles. I found out when I called the mailroom of the Department of Treasury for New Jersey. It was sent out to every editor of every paper up and down the East Coast. It was sent to the directors and CEOs of ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN. And now I’m getting mad. I was seeing a cooperative effort at non-disclosure and it wasn’t as if it was just created that year and the word hadn’t gotten around.
Q: This Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, is it just a stack of numbers or is it something that has an executive summary and can actually be read and understood?
A: The CAFR is set up to be a simple, quick evaluation book to show: total income, total assets, total investments, total net worth. What’s been going on in this country for the last 65 years is government will always focus the public’s attention — intentionally so — on the budgetary basis of the budget report. And the only thing the budget report is, is their annual operating expenses.
Q: Give me an example.
A: Say it cost us $30,000 a year to maintain our house. Say our salary or income was $100,000 a year and we had a million dollars in investments, and say our total net worth was $3 million. What if we talked about our $30,000 budget as being our net worth? It would be ludicrous.
Q: So this is an intentional scam?
A: You’ve had a shell game played on the public where governments are constantly talking their budget, their budget, their budget. They just happen to leave out the decades and decades and decades of investment wealth that has been building up, the decades and decades and decades of enterprise and venture projects they have created separate from the budgetary basis.
Q: Just how ubiquitous are these Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports?
A: The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report was created by a group called Government Financial Officers Association in 1946. It was a program created to standardize accounting in all local governments so the federal government could easily see what the true picture was. In 1981, the federal government mandated that all local governments prepare a CAFR or, in the alternative, a combined financial statement. To qualify this, there are over 54,000 separate corporations within local government.
Q: What kind of corporations are you talking about?
A: A city is a corporation; a state is a corporation; a school district is a corporation. Each is filing their own separate report, each with their own investments. I’ve had a lot of people looking at their state reports. They see the tens of billions of dollars they never knew existed — and they are floored. Then I bring to their attention: “You’re just looking at the state report.”
Q: Give us an example.
A: I’ll use the state of Washington as an example. It lists $64 billion in liquid investment funds. Now the state of Washington has 2,300 separate local government corporations filing their own separate reports: cities, counties, school districts, authorities. You have 2,300 other reports.
Q: And still no one does anything about this?
A: Recently, a person was running for city council in Corona, Calif., with a population of about 10,000. He saw a video I put out called “The Biggest Game in Town.” This individual is an attorney. He’d been pressing the county on different issues concerning financial fraud. He saw the video and said, “Naw. This can’t be.” But he saw it on the weekend and it motivated him to check. He discovered the city had a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
He got a copy of it. He didn’t see any large numbers in the combined financial columns, but he observed in the notes of the report that it directed you to four other areas outside the report. The first area he looked into, he found $144 million in U.S. Treasury Bonds sitting there. Now divide that by a population of 10,000. That’s $14,000 for every man, woman and child.
Q: How do they report the income?
A: On the CAFR. That’s why it’s noted to refer to other reports for an accounting.
Q: So there is no way this money gets applied to the general fund for expenses?
A: When you look at the general-purpose funds, they have very stringent rules on managing taxpayer dollars. For example, you can only invest in Treasury bills, triple rated bonds, 4.5, 5 percent max. The game has been over the past 25 years in whatever way, shape or form, to shift revenue outside of the general-purpose operating fund. Whether it be through a local-government investment pool, bond refinancing accounts, insurance company equity participation — anything that will be outside the general-purpose operating fund, which is very restrictive.
Q: Two questions I’ve always wanted to ask you and never gotten around to: 1) Is there anyone providing oversight for all these things, and 2) if there is, do they get a piece of the action?
A: I get a lot of phone calls, and folks ask, “Where’s all the money sitting? What account is it in? And who’s managing it?” I would say, this is the principle of operation. There are over 54,000 separate corporations. The public left the vault door open.
I give the example: If you had 12 and 13-year-old boys and you gave them carte blanche to let them write their own allowance check every week, and you make $1,200 a week, within no time, they would be cutting a check for $1,000 a week. If you told them you were going to cut them back to $800 a week, they would scream, holler, kick and use any logic available to them to justify how 12 and a 13-year-old boys could not survive on just $800 per week. There’s no difference here — you just have bigger boys and sharper players.
People mention conspiracies and so forth. I say there is no conspiracy here. You just have the vault door wide open. The public allowed it. The bank left the doors open over the weekend with cash lying on the counter and no one guarding it.
Q: So who is the primary beneficiary of this vast wealth?
A: The investment revenue. There is $60 trillion in investment revenue. You have tens of thousands of little empires being built all over the country, people controlling those monies that are invested. You know when you go to the bank and you get a mortgage on your house, you think you are borrowing private funds. When I look at the [government] revenue flows, I see hundreds of billions in different pension funds, investment funds, invested with the local banks under their mortgage division. The banks are acting as the “in between” agent getting a half a point or two-thirds of a point for cutting the loan.
Q: Walter, there is a mountain of information you have that we won’t have time to get to. So please let our readers know how they can find more information on this chilling topic.
A: The e-mail address is
[email protected]. If anyone would like a copy of the video “The Biggest Game in Town,” just put in the subject line “requesting video” and I’ll send it out. I also include various links for getting assorted information.
Geoff’s note: I have interviewed Burien a few times over the past two or three years. His information is remarkable. The CAFR has been around for over half a century and, despite the vast money involved, this story has remained virtually ignored by the mainstream. Sarah Foster of WorldNetDaily wrote about this shortly after I first put Walter on the air in San Francisco. Read her stories: