If Illinois is going to embrace another public-pension-contribution holiday, shouldn't the public be informed of what the financial consequences will be?
There's no reason anyone should have thought that new Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker would propose some kind of magic-bullet budget proposal as part of his 2019-20 plan.
After all, Pritzker is confronting the same problem that Illinois governors have encountered going back to the early 2000s — he and legislators are determined to spend more than the state has.
That's why he proposed, as a big part of his $39 billion spending plan, diverting $838 million that was to be used for public-pension contributions to support other spending plans.
That approach is, foolishly, called a "pension holiday."
What a misnomer. It's really a pension nightmare because a pension dollar not contributed today requires many more pension dollars to be paid down the road to make up the spending gap.
Illinois' five public pensions are currently 40 percent funded, roughly $133 billion underfunded. That's largely because of years of underfunding and overpromising.
Nonetheless, and despite Pritzker's campaign promises to embrace his pension payment responsibilities, the governor decided the best approach to take for the next fiscal year's budget is to take another pension holiday/nightmare.
He promised, as have past governors, to make up in the future for failures in the past.
Well, OK, what's new about that in Illinois?
But what's this going to cost taxpayers? How much deeper in the pension hole is the state going to go?
Pritzker acknowledged that not making the $838 million in pension payments will push back the current legislative deadline for properly funding the pensions from 2045 to 2052. In other words, what was supposed to be completed in 26 years now will take 33 years.
That's assuming governors and legislators make the required pension contributions in the future, something they have not done in the past.
While the delayed deadline is revealing, it doesn't provide the necessary details.
The real question is how much more Pritzker's pension holiday/nightmare is going to cost.
The governor's office either couldn't or won't say. That's pretty much the same approach the governor's office took when it announced it would pay a salary step increase to state employees, something former Gov. Bruce Rauner refused to do because the state doesn't have the money and the Legislature hasn't appropriated the funds.
So for the time being, taxpayers are left to speculate about how many more billions of dollars it's going to take to make up for the funding gap created by the deferral of $838 million in required payments.
Suffice it to say, some groups are freaking out over Pritzker's decision.
The Illinois Retired Teachers Association, which is apoplectic on the subject, estimated it will "generate nearly $150 billion in increased costs to Illinois taxpayers" for the Teachers' Retirement System.
It said the organization does "not believe that the solution to the poorly funded pension systems is to make them more poorly funded."
Analysts at Wirepoints assert the retired teachers' mind-boggling estimate is "too high," but that "we're still talking about a huge cost" to taxpayers.
Much as some people might like, there's no hiding from the consequences of the pension funding time bomb. As it now stands, the problem is bad enough.
Making the problem worse while not explaining how much worse it will get in terms of future costs only complicates this unprecedented mess.