Tri States Public Radio Staff
Largest Deficit in US
Sun July 8, 2012
Illinois Pension Debt Hurts Other State Services
15% of the state budget in Illinois this year is going toward pensions. That means there's less to spend on other needs.
The gap between what has Illinois promised employees they will get when they retire and what the state has set aside to pay those pensions is $83 billion. State government would have to completely shut down for two-and-a-half years, and use all of that operating budget money on pensions, to pay off that debt.
The figure is expected to grow higher once new, recently approved federal Governmental Accounting Standards Board rules are put in place.
Under the new requirements Illinois' pension funds will no longer be allowed to use rosy projections, such as guaranteed eight-and-a-half and a half percent investment returns.
Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said there is plenty of blame to go around.
"Both parties have been there. They've allowed perks to get into the system. They've cut little deals for themselves and for their friends. They've gotten into spending that we should not have gotten into," Topinka said.
The threat that Illinois could cut current workers' and retirees' benefits has led to an exodus of state and public university employees. Like Illinois teachers, public university workers have only their pensions to rely on. They won't receive Social Security.
Democratic Governor Pat Quinn says it cost Illinois $12.6 million every day it does nothing to address its pension crisis.
Illinois' prisons are overcrowded but the budget Quinn just signed into law closes two correctional facilities. Schools are receiving less money and the budget cuts the state's child welfare agency. But in the past five years, Illinois has tripled its pension payment.
"We cannot continue on a path toward having more and more of our budget devoted to pensions and less to human causes that people all believe in," Quinn said.
Quinn insists Illinois needs a fix this summer. But he said the same thing this spring and it didn't happen.
Quinn and top legislators are at a standstill because of a dispute over whether the state should continue to pay most public school teachers' pensions, or whether those costs should be shifted to local school districts.
That rift has delayed pension talks until the end of July, but many suspect it's a stalling tactic so legislators don't have to take a controversial vote until after the November election.
Thanks to Illinois Public Radio