A recent report on the financially sick status of municipal pensions in Illinois made a big splash, but not as big as it should have.
As she surveys the financial wreckage that envelops state and local government in Illinois, Sheila Weinberg embraces grim reality.
“I do not, unfortunately, even though I live in Illinois, have hope for Illinois,” she recently was quoted as saying.
This is not just some pessimistic complainer with a permanent woe-is-me outlook on life.
Weinberg is chief executive officer of Truth-in-Accounting, a Chicago-based government financial watchdog that keeps tracks of state and municipal finances in the 50 states.
She hasn’t completely given up the ghost, but Weinberg is close — and for good reason.
Illinois’ elected officials simply have not — and will not, it appears — done anything serious about state and local financial problems, particularly as they relate to financially struggling state and local public pension funds.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s recent decision to sign legislation authorizing benefit improvements for Chicago firefighters is, shockingly, Exhibit A for the proposition that our elected officials are far more interested in making the problem worse than better.
Another more recent example comes to mind.
Last week, financial analysts at Wirepoints released — to the yawning disinterest of most Springfield politicos — a report outlining just how bad of shape municipal pensions are in.
The report said 102 of 175 Illinois cities received scores of “F” for the health of their fire, police and public works pensions. Another 64 — Champaign and Urbana included — received a “D.”
This is political and policy dynamite that’s just waiting to explode, and it eventually will.
The report, however, revealed much more than the pensions’ weak financial standing. It also addressed their rising costs — at the same time taxpayers are putting more money into the funds, their underfunded level increases.
Champaign property taxpayers contributed 3.1 times more to pensions in 2019 than they did in 2003. Urbana taxpayers contributed 1.4 times more in 2019 than they did in 2003.
These costs will continue to increase.
The county treasurer’s office recently mailed out local property-tax bills, and readers would be well advised to see what they’re paying for local government, including pensions. Then they should contemplate what those costs will be in another five or 10 years.
State and local pensions in Illinois are in a world of hurt. Yet, like the proverbial pink elephant in the corner of the room, our elected officials continue to ignore it. Embracing ignorance may be the safe political stance now, but the problem will only grow worse.