Chicago is in line for casino gaming soon, but its success is dwindling as video gaming machines and sports betting rise.
The casino industry for decades has been a significant contributor to the Illinois economy, but from 2012 to 2022 its seen a $200 million decline, according to data from the Illinois Gaming Board.
One of the reasons for the decline is the emergence of other forms of gaming which weren’t available to Illinoisans in 2012. Video gaming terminals, for example, have nearly doubled from $395 million in revenue during 2019 to $762 million in 2022.
They allow players to place bets on video poker and slot machines in local bars and restaurants, providing a more accessible and convenient experience than casinos.
The Biden administration promised nearly $36 billion to stabilize pension plans for Teamsters nationwide after forecasts predicted the system’s default by 2026. Union members would have seen their retirement benefits slashed by 60% if the system defaulted.
President Joe Biden announced Dec. 8 the federal government will use nearly $36 billion to stabilize failing Teamsters union pension plans nationwide, preventing severe benefits cuts for more than 350,000 union workers.
Illinois is home to more than 20 Teamster’s chapters and the nation’s worst pension debt, estimated at nearly $140 billion by state authorities in 2022. Private investor services projected that debt as high as $313 billion, using more realistic assumptions on returns.
In September these state pension funds had just 47 cents for every dollar in promised pension benefits.
Springfield lawmakers cannot routinely rely on federal authorities to bail out overly generous and underfunded state and local pensions. Illinois public servants deserve to receive the retirements they’ve been promised in full – not the 40% that would remain after default.
Illinois’ five statewide pensions system saw their debt increase by nearly $10 billion to a grand total of $140 billion in fiscal year 2022. Pensions will cost the state nearly $11 billion next year, but that’s still $4.4 billion too little.
Illinois’ state pension debt now stands at $139.7 billion, according to a new report from the Illinois General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
That is up $9.8 billion from 2021, when state pensions were benefitting from healthy investment returns. After markets cooled substantially, state pension debt in the fiscal year that ended July 1 continued to grow, increasing for the 11th time in 15 years.
Pension obligation bonds, like payday loans, are a sign of mismanaged finances. Illinois not only leads the nation for using that risky debt, it owes the bulk of it.
It is bad Illinois has the nation’s worst pension crisis, but state politicians have made it worse by using risky debt to delay the day of reckoning, and done so to the point that Illinois now owes 30% of the nation’s pension obligation bonds.
In 2013, Illinois took a significant step towards addressing the pension crisis by passing Public Act 98-0599. This bill protected any benefits that had already been earned by employees while it amended future benefits. The bill increased the retirement age, replaced 3% compounding annual raises with cost-of-living adjustments tied to inflation and capped maximum pensionable salaries. While not a solution, this bill provided a responsible roadmap addressing the financial issues in the pension system while preserving already earned benefits.
Unfortunately, the bill was declared unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2015 because it was interpreted as changing promised future benefits for pension recipients, even though this could potentially result in financial ruin for Illinois. As a result, a constitutional amendment is needed to allow changes to future pension benefits.
At the top of the Nov. 8 ballot is a proposal to change the Illinois Constitution called Amendment 1, which union backers are calling the “Workers’ Rights Amendment.” Just like the controversial decision to include rigid rules about pensions in the 1970 state constitution, Amendment 1 proposes rigid rules regarding how government unions are treated and makes their powers virtually untouchable.
State lawmakers cannot control soaring pension costs without changing the state constitution. Amendment 1 would similarly make it impossible for them to curb government union negotiating powers, and unchecked union power means an unchecked ability to make demands that taxpayers would have no choice but to fund. The cost of those demands is conservatively estimated at $2,100 for the typical Illinois family during the next four years if voters pass Amendment 1, but the tax damage could be far worse.
Looking back, the adoption of the pension protection clause in the 1970 Illinois Constitution started many of the problems Illinois faces today. Illinois’ pension protection clause has been interpreted to be more rigid than any similar provision in any state constitution. With no ability to rein in the cost of public pensions, payments have crowded out spending on education and public services even as Illinoisans bear some of the highest tax burdens in the country.
Instead, state lawmakers went in the opposite direction and handed voters Amendment 1. Instead of giving Illinois more flexibility to handle its money problems, the proposal takes away options and is potentially more restrictive than even the 1970 constitution’s pension protection clause.
Amendment 1 would grant government unions unprecedented bargaining powers as a “fundamental right,” including the power to override voters and state lawmakers. Proponents are selling it as a constitutional ban on passing right-to-work laws – laws that protect employees’ rights to keep their jobs without having to pay fees to a union. Illinois is not among the 28 states that currently have right-to-work laws, so that aspect has little meaning.
The amendment does include three other provisions that together would severely weaken taxpayers’ voices in state government and make it easier for government union bosses to make unaffordable demands in collective bargaining contracts. First, virtually anyone would have a fundamental right to collective bargaining if they could be considered an employee in any context, including even prisoners. Second, bargaining would be expanded beyond just wages, hours and working conditions to include broad new subjects covering public policy decisions or how to run a businesses. Third, the amendment prevents lawmakers from ever limiting or scaling back on these rights in any way.
Even without these provisions, powerful government unions helped public sector wages grow 60% faster than the private sector in Illinois from 1998 to 2019.
Peer-reviewed research shows stronger government worker unions cause the cost of government to increase, with powerful unions putting even more upward pressure on benefits than on wages. Government worker retirement benefits, which flow mostly to government union workers, have left Illinois local governments with $75 billion in pension debt and are already the primary cause of rising property taxes. Government unions helped Illinois politicians build the state and local pension crisis by supporting both unaffordable benefits as well as irresponsible funding games that pushed costs into the future.
Nationwide data from 2010 to 2019 show a significant statistical association between the percentage of government workers who are members of a government worker union and each state’s average effective property tax rate.
Unrealistic assumptions and missed investment returns have meant Illinois taxpayers paid $13.7 billion more for public pensions than state leaders projected five years earlier. Unless the estimates improve, taxpayers will pay an extra $21.3 billion during the next decade.
Illinois does a particularly poor job of figuring out how much money is needed to pay its public pensions: The past decade has seen the projections miss by 16%, which meant taxpayers needed to give $13.7 billion more than was estimated.
The Chicago City Council approved a casino development in the River West neighborhood. The generated revenue will exclusively pay for pension debt, but only an estimated 9% of what the city needs.
The Chicago City Council approved a $1.7 billion casino in a 41-7 vote May 25. The River West development is being touted as a pension solution, but even the highest projections show only a drop in the bucket.
“This one casino project will pay for approximately 9% of our $2.3 billion pension contribution and reduce the likelihood that the city will need to raise property taxes in the future for pensions,” said Jennie Huang Bennet, chief financial officer for the city.
Chicago residential property tax collections across all units of government in the city were up 164% from 2000 to 2019.
Property taxes paid by homeowners within the city grew nearly 30% faster than property taxes in suburban Cook County during those 20 years. Suburban residential property taxes grew 116% while total residential property tax collections county-wide grew 133%.
While some of Chicago’s increase was driven by new property or growth in existing property tax values, the average homeowner still saw an 85% increase in their bill from 2000 to 2019. Since the record-setting 2015 property tax hike to pay for pension debt, the average Chicago bill has risen 27%. Prior to that hike, property taxes were on a lower trend from 2011 to 2014.
Chicago once again earned a failing grade from Truth in Accounting in their latest Financial State of the Citiesreport thanks to over $38 billion in debt – $43,100 for each taxpayer.
Every Chicagoan would have to send the city that amount just for Chicago to pay the bills it owes. Chicago has just $9.9 billion available to pay $48.6 billion in bills. The Windy City came in 74th out of 75 cities studied in the report, only besting New York City’s massive $204 billion debt with a per-taxpayer burden of $71,400.
The city’s financial failings stem from pension promises the city cannot afford to keep. “Chicago’s financial problems stem mostly from unfunded retirement obligations that have accumulated over the years. The city had set aside only 23 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and no money for promised retiree health care benefits,” the report notes.
Essentially, all pension debt stems from Tier 1 benefits promised to state employees hired before 2011, like Crenshaw. Tier 2 employees hired after 2011 will likely pay more than their benefits will be worth to subsidize Tier 1 benefits.
Implementing optional Tier 3 plans is one of the solutions to Illinois’ woes set out in the Illinois Policy Institute’s Illinois Forward 2023. The General Assembly passed Tier 3 plans during the fiscal year 2018 budget process. A technical error left an implementation date out of the language, and it hasn’t been corrected since. Lawmakers could fix this oversight for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1, 2022.
“A lot of times we’re not given the intricacies of how a Tier 3 or alternative pension plan could benefit us,” Crenshaw said.
Spending in the state budget actually has increased – significantly – under Gov. J.B. Pritzker relative to baseline expectations in the state budget. Even if lawmakers and the governor make no further increases to spending in the fiscal year 2023 budget, which is unlikely given that Pritzker has proposed spending increases in each February budget address of his term, then total spending during Pritzker’s first term will be up nearly $5 billion, or 3% higher than when he took office.