Pension system underfunding; Another corruption charge

Latest pension report shows continued unfunded balances

One of the biggest fiscal challenges Illinois faces is our large unfunded pension liability. The state has five pension funds, and combined they are billions of dollars short of what their expected costs will be. Each year the General Assembly sets aside money in the budget to pay pensions, and still the amount needed to fully fund them gets larger. This means that pension costs take up a larger share of the budget each year, crowding out other important priorities.

These challenges go back for decades. In the 1990s the state set the pension funds off on a “ramp” of ever-increasing contributions from the General Assembly, aimed at one day reaching the goal of a fully-funded system. But by the early 2000s state leaders failed to put in enough funds to keep up with the compounding costs. As the state fell further behind, it became harder come up with enough funds to meet obligations.

This month the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) reported that as of the end of last fiscal year, the state’s projected unfunded pension liability stood at $137.7 billion. This number comes even after significant investment gains in recent months as worldwide equity markets increased in value. COGFA warns that even with heavy continued contributions by taxpayers, the projected unfunded liabilities of the five pension systems will still be billions of dollars in the red in 2045.

The General Assembly has taken actions in recent years to help meet this funding crisis, but more work is going to be needed in the future.

Yet another state legislator charged with corruption

Over the past ten years, ten Illinois state legislators or former legislators have been charged, convicted or plead guilty to corruption charges. This week the state added an eleventh with prosecutors filing charges against state Senator Emil Jones III (D-Chicago).

The charges, announced by federal prosecutors on Tuesday, allege that Senator Jones lied to the FBI during its investigation of a red-light camera company. The federal investigation of the SafeSpeed company has also led to charges against a former state senator, two former mayors and a former township supervisor. Senator Jones is the chairman of the Senate Licensed Activities Committee, vice chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee and a Deputy Majority Leader.

These charges are once again renewing the calls for real, meaningful ethics reform. Similar calls followed the March indictment of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, and the many other political corruption indictments and convictions which have hit Illinois state government.

Click here to read the House Republican ethics reform plan. This news just adds more to the mountain of proof that the time for reform is long overdue.

Slight increase in Illinois unemployment

The August unemployment report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security showed a small increase in Illinois’ unemployment rate, rising to 4.5% from 4.4% in July. The state’s job creation figure for July was revised slightly downward as well. Some sectors of the economy gained jobs in August, while others declined. Among those with gains were the Construction sector and Trade, Transportation and Utilities. Those which saw declines last month included Manufacturing and Professional & Business Services.

Overall, Illinois’ unemployment rate is 0.8% above the national average, which also increased slightly last month. Illinois’ current unemployment rate is still better than it was one year ago when it stood at 6.0%.

Deadline approaching for tax rebates

Illinoisans have until October 17 to file tax forms to be eligible for income and property tax rebates. The Department of Revenue advises that if someone pays property taxes but does not file a tax return they should visit and file Form IL-1040-PTR. The form can be submitted either on paper or electronically through My Tax Illinois. Forms and instructions can be found on the Department of Revenue website.

Step Up celebrates five years of service

A big thank you to Deanna Wetzel and the entire Step Up team as they celebrate five years of service to Vermilion County! Over the last five years, they have partnered with local agencies, groups and individuals to focus on family, substance abuse and mental health issues. They are focused on finding ways to bring our community together. God bless you for all your efforts. 

I was grateful to help present with State Rep. Mike Marron and Sheriff Pat Hartshorn a certificate to Deanna from the General Assembly that recognizes this important milestone.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $1,400,838,630 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $4.3 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $137 billion.

Did You Know?

The first Illinois license plates were authorized by the 1907 Motor Vehicle Act. All motorists were required to register with the Secretary of State and pay a $2 fee for a plate, which was an aluminum disk with their registration number on it. Rather than being mounted on the bumper as we see so frequently today, the disks were placed on the dashboard where they would be visible through the front window.

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