A proposed mandate to shutter the $5 billion Prairie State coal energy campus and a Springfield, Illinois? plant by 2035 would hit local ratepayers with the double burden of funding new energy sources while still paying down project bonds, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers warn.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker backs a state mandate to end coal generation by 2035 to meet de-carbonation targets included in pending energy legislation. The package stalled during the General Assembly?s spring session that ended last week, but Pritzker said he expects lawmakers will return in the coming weeks for a vote.
Retiring Prairie State early would mark the latest headache for some of the nine public utilities in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio that issued $4.5 billion of debt, some it under the federal Build America Bond program, to finance their ownership in project.
Peabody Energy Inc. initially sponsored the project in Washington County promoting it as an affordable source of energy with an adjacent mine and a cleaner one given its state-of-the-art technology at the time. Bechtel Power Corp. built it. It initially carried a $2 billion price tag that rose to a $4 billion fixed cost under the 2010 contract with utilities but cost overruns drove the price tag up to $5 billion.
The Chicago Park District pension funding overhaul approved by lawmakers moves the fund off a path to insolvency to a full funding target in 35 years, with bonding authority.
State lawmakers approved the statutory changes laid out in House Bill 0417 on Memorial Day before adjourning their spring session and Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign it. It puts the district?s contributions on a ramp to an actuarially based payment, shifting from a formula based on a multiplier of employee contributions. The statutory multiplier formula is blamed for the city and state?s underfunded pension quagmires.
“There are number of things here that are really, really good,? Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, told fellow lawmakers during a recent Senate Pension Committee hearing. Martwick is a co-sponsor of the legislation and also heads the committee.
?This is a measure that puts the district on to a path to full funding over the course of 35 years,” he said. “It is responsible. There is no opposition to it. This is exactly more of what we should be doing.”
The district will ramp up to an actuarially based contribution beginning this year when 25% of the actuarially determined contribution is owed, then half in 2022, and three-quarters in 2023 before full funding is required in 2024. To help keep the fund from sliding backwards during the ramp period the district will deposit an upfront $40 million supplemental contribution.
The 35-year clock will start last December 31 to reach the 100% funded target by 2055.
Spending plans that “fully fund” pension obligations by making statutorily required contributions — amounts required by legislators, by law — do not necessarily fully fund pensions. In fact, Illinois has a sad history of passing laws with funding that falls far short of actuarial requirements — the amounts necessary to keep pension (and related retirement health care) debt from rising over time.
For an example, take a peek at the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS). Their annual report for 2020 is available here. The table on pdf page 2 shows that the system has accumulated more than $50 billion in invested assets, but this massive amount actually falls far short of the nearly $140 billion in present value obligation for future pension payments, leading to a nearly $90 billion unfunded liability.
The practice of distributing unfunded promises to pay money in the future has been a key of the tool chest that politicians have employed in misleading the citizenry that Illinois has lived up to constitutional balanced budget requirements, when in truth it has done anything but.
The federal government will soon give the cash-strapped state of Illinois $8.1 billion to cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, but next year state officials plan to use less than a third of the windfall.
That means that some $5.5 billion in unspent federal cash will remain in state accounts until lawmakers figure out how they want to use it. The state treasurer’s office will invest the money, along with the $38 billion it is already responsible for investing.
Ironically, Illinois is supposed to get its money faster than many other states because of its urgent need. Most states will get their money from the American Rescue Plan Act in two payments, a year apart. But Illinois is expected to get its full share all at once in the coming months, because it has a high unemployment rate.
The fact that Illinois is letting so much money sit in the bank, even when it has a long list of pressing financial needs, has a lot to do with the rules the federal government wrote for how states can use the Rescue Act money.
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza said the state’s financial condition is moving in the right direction despite a structural deficit, multi-billion dollar backlog of bills and one of the highest unfunded pension liabilities in the nation.
During a virtual conversation Friday with Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Mendoza said that wasn’t the case last year when things looked dire when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay in tax collections.
“That is why we had to rely on borrowing from the Federal Reserve at a lower rate just to get us through April and May, which typically would be our best months,” Mendoza said.
The Illinois legislature ended its regular legislative session on May 31, in a flurry of legislation passed late into the night. One of those bills was a set of changes to the 30% funded pension plan of the Chicago Park District. Were these changes long-over due reforms, or just another in the long line of legislative failures? It’s time for another edition of “more that you ever wanted to know about an underfunded public pension plan,” because this plan illustrates a number of actuarial lessons.
80% is not OK. Governance – who gets to set the contributions? Funded status can collapse very quickly and be very difficult to rebuild. Need to use actuarial analysis not just legislator’s brainstorms
Wirepoints calculates that retirement costs will consume 26 percent of the 2022 budget. The state is set to contribute $9.4 billion in General Funds to pensions, pay $777 million in pension bond costs, and pay an estimated $1 billion in retiree health costs.
In total, that’s $11.2 billion of the $42.3 billion budget consumed by retirement expenditures.
On top of the payments from the General Fund, another $1.2 billion in pension payments will come from other budget funds, meaning the state’s total retirement costs will be an estimated $12.4 billion in 2022.
Wirepoints’ analysis uses national state-by-statemigration data compiled by the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS reviews tax returns annually to track when and where people move. It also aggregates the ages, income brackets and adjusted gross incomes of filers.
That data shows Illinois continued to be a national outlier in 2019 when it comes to losing people and the money they earn:
Illinois lost 81,770 net tax filers and their dependents in 2019. Illinois’ losses were the third worst in the country, with only California and New York losing more residents, 165,355 and 152,703, respectively.
On a per capita basis, Illinois also ranked 3rd-worst for out-migration, with net losses of 0.64 percent of its population. Only Alaska and New York fared worse, with losses of 1.02 percent and 0.78 percent of their populations, respectively.
Which is why every politician and every voter in Illinois ought to know how Arizona managed its 2016 reform of the 48% funded Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, which had a cost-of-living adjustment calculation that everyone agreed was broken, including the unions themselves. But Arizona shares with Illinois a constitutional protection against pension changes, specifically stating that “public retirement systems shall not be diminished or impaired.”
So how did they implement this change? In a two-step process, the legislature passed reform legislation and then placed on the ballot a constitutional amendment which inserted a new clause into the state constitution: “Public retirement systems shall not be diminished or impaired, except that certain adjustments to the public safety personnel retirement system may be made as provided in Senate Bill 1428, as enacted by the fifty-second legislature, second regular session.”
This meant that the citizens of Arizona could vote on this pension change without having to worry about whether they were authorizing any unknown future changes to pensions that they might not have wanted.
The Chicago Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund (PABF) —commonly referred to as the Chicago Police Pension Fund—is one of the worst funded public pension plans in the United States today, with a funding ratio of only 23 percent.
A group of retired and disabled officers, along with widows, has long questioned the trustees and management of the struggling pension. Dissatisfied with the responses they received, the group formed the CPD Pension Board Accountability Group.
Funds were raised to commission an independent forensic audit of the pension and an expert in pensions was retained recently to conduct the review. As Forbes readers will recall, in my recent book, Who Stole My Pension?, I encourage pension stakeholders to band together to fund independent forensic investigations by pension experts of their own choosing—to get a second opinion as to whether the pension fiduciaries and Wall Street “helpers” they have hired to manage investments are doing a good job.
Illinois will dip into its growing pot of tax revenues to pay off the remaining $2.175 billion of outstanding debt borrowed through the Federal Reserve?s Municipal Liquidity Facility to manage last year?s COVID-19 tax blows.
The Treasury Department?s interim guidance, released May 10, barring debt repayment as an eligible use of American Rescue Plan dollars threw a wrench ? at least temporarily ? into Chicago’s and Illinois? plans to pay down debt issued last year. Illinois borrowed through the MLF and Chicago issued notes ahead of a planned scoop-and-toss borrowing to stave off deep cuts and layoffs as tax revenues plummeted. Both planned to pay off the debt with ARP funds.
Both planned to lobby the Treasury Department for a guidance change during a 60-day comment period, but Illinois was under the gun to make repayment plans ahead of a May 31 deadline to pass a fiscal 2022 budget. The state is receiving $8.1 billion from the ARP.