Citizens must be accurately informed for government to work



An example of questionable disclosure practices is found in the Illinois budgeting and financial reporting process, specifically regarding pension contributions. In 1994, then-Gov. Jim Edgar led an effort to pass a bipartisan bill to solve the state’s $15 billion pension deficit. The plan would resolve the deficit within 50 years. The plan was structured to pay down the debt very slowly in the first 15 years and accelerate at the end. This ensured that sitting politicians in the early days of the plan would not be required to make the necessary tax increases or budget cuts to pay down the debt in a meaningful way.

This program is shown in charts to look like a skateboard ramp, appropriately named the “Edgar Ramp.” The problem is, the plan doesn’t work.

It is so unsuccessful that the Illinois pension deficit has grown from $15 billion to $317 billion as of June 30, 2020, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The state’s latest bond offering document emphasizes, “The state’s contributions to the retirement systems, while in conformity with state law, have been less than the contributions necessary to fully fund the retirement systems as calculated by the actuaries of the retirement systems.”

The latest Illinois Annual Comprehensive Financial Report discloses cash-flow problems, significantly underfunded pension obligations, other post-retirement benefit deficits and multiple references to debt-obligation bonds.

Author(s): Shiela Weinberg

Publication Date: 7 Aug 2022

Publication Site: News Gazette

Ken Griffin talks the pension crisis, a once-secret meeting with Pritzker



Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel, spoke in his Chicago office to Editorial Page Editor Chris Jones on Aug. 2. This transcript has been edited for length.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said you and he met privately and that you agreed to drop your opposition to his graduated tax proposal if he took on pension reform in Illinois. True?

The Illinois pension crisis is rooted in the issue that politicians of the moment are able to make promises to the public sector workers, where the cost of those promises are borne by taxpayers, far into the future. So we have an intrinsic lack of accountability within the state when it comes to that dynamic between the leaders in Springfield and the public sector unions. (Former Gov.) Bruce Rauner and I actually would speak about this problem from time to time because it’s pretty well known that Bruce felt the state should move to a defined contribution program for the state employees.

And there are elements of that I think are attractive, but because the state employees do not participate in Social Security, a strictly defined contribution proposal leaves the state employee, in my opinion, at undue risk of adverse events if they do not invest their money successfully. … And there’s another issue, which is that the costs of the promises made by cities and counties are not borne by the cities and counties directly, they’re socialized across the entire taxpayer base of the state. So it’s pretty easy for the behavior of a number of Illinois cities to offer incredible increases in pay in final years to boost pension benefits, and that cost comes back to all Illinois taxpayers.

So these are some of the areas in which the average man in the street is really being handed a very significant bill. And the most tragic part of this whole story is that when the state hires people early in their careers, they’re not even placing that much value on these pension plans.

Twenty-two-year-olds don’t make lifetime career decisions on pension benefits. So, from my perspective, as a state we’re much better off having higher starting salaries to attract really good people to serve in the public sector. And, as with Bruce, my advice to the governor was consistently that either the state should mirror the benefits of Social Security as a baseline or, even better, go back to the federal government and get into Social Security again. We should reverse our opt-out from decades ago. And then to the extent that a city wants to offer benefits in excess of the Social Security baseline amount, that’s pay-as-you-go through a 401(k)-equivalent program. …

The proposal that I gave to J.B. to solve the state’s pension problems is exactly what I just shared with you. … It would, in all likelihood, require us to amend the constitution for the state to head in this direction. It might be for new employees only. I’m very sensitive to a promise made and earned. That’s your benefit. That’s a very different talking point than you’re 22 years old and it’s your first day working for the state.

But, big picture, we get the state into a program that looks like what I just described. And it’s gonna accelerate, in all likelihood, the costs of the current system. It may require revenue increases.

And like many of the business leaders in this city, I was very direct. I said, “If you’re willing to engage in pension reform, I’m willing to publicly support you in a tax increase.” It wasn’t graduated versus not graduated. It was just a tax increase.

I would’ve assumed that this meeting would’ve been private for the rest of my life until J.B. decided to open the door and talk about this. What he did talk about in terms of fiscal reform for the state was to restructure the state’s (information technology) budget.

And he felt he could achieve $50 million in budget savings for the state of Illinois by taking an ax toward our IT budget for the state, and that was going to be his victory lap for fiscal discipline in the state of Illinois. Here we have a multibillion-dollar problem on the left and 50 million (dollars) on the right. I was like, “J.B., we’re not having the same conversation here.”

To be clear, that was a fracturing moment between the two of us. … He does not want to use his political capital for good. He wants to maintain that capital to maintain the certainty of staying in power.

Author(s): Chris Jones

Publication Date: 10 Aug 2022

Publication Site: Chicago Tribune

New Illinois Law Authorizes $1 Billion in Pension Obligation Bonds and Extends Buyout Option



Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker signed into law House Bill 4292 last Thursday [May 5]. The bill extends state employees’ ability to exercise pension buyout options to June 2026, as opposed to the previous deadline of 2024. Buyout options allow pension recipients to take a lump sum of money now as opposed to waiting to retirement to receive the pension. The hope is that doing so could decrease the state’s struggling pensions’ unfunded future liabilities.

Illinois’ state budget for fiscal year 2023 also authorized an additional $500 million in payments to the state pension fund and $1 billion in pension obligation bonds. 


Illinois’ pension funds are among the worst funded in the country. As of fiscal year 2021, the state’s pension plans were 46.5% funded, significantly lower than the national average of 72.8%, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators.

Author(s): Anna Gordon

Publication Date: 9 May 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Pritzker budget proposal to include extra $500 million in pension payments




Citing an improved economic outlook in the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s latest budget proposal will devote an extra $500 million to Illinois’ nearly insolvent pension funds, pump $200 million into a “rainy day” fund and tamp down the state’s unpaid bill backlog — all while providing $1 billion in tax cuts, freezes and rebates, administration officials said Wednesday.

Pritzker was scheduled to outline the ambitious $45.4 billion election-year spending plan during his “State of the State” speech at noon in Springfield, in a downsized event held at the Old State Capitol Building due to a massive winter storm sweeping the state.

In a media preview ahead of the speech, the governor’s top advisers claimed the new spending plan keeps the state on track to end in the black for back-to-back years for the first time in 25 years.

Author(s): Mitchell Armentrout

Publication Date: 2 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Chicago Sun-Times





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.

Author(s): Adam Schuster

Publication Date: accessed 2 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Illinois Policy Institute

What Illinois didn’t tell you about its celebrated early payment of federal loan – Wirepoints



In fact, the state originally did intend to pay off the Federal Reserve loan with other federal bailout money from ARPA, the American Rescue Plan Act, according to The Bond Buyer. But the “Treasury threw a wrench in repayment prospects” when the initial federal guidance barred the use of ARPA aid for debt repayment. “The state lobbied for a change in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. But as state tax collections turned rosier, state leaders opted instead to cover repayment with tax collections,” says The Bond Buyer.

The bottom line is that all of us, as federal taxpayers, will bear the cost of the federal bailout, for Illinois and other states, whether through higher taxes to repay the Treasury or inflation created by Federal Reserve money creation. And Illinois will be worse off because only Illinois borrowed extra and incurred interest costs.

So, no, Governor Pritzker, paying back this loan ahead of schedule doesn’t mean Illinois achieved a “level of fiscal prudence not seen in our state for decades.”

Author(s): Mark Glennon

Publication Date: 7 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Wirepoints

Illinois targets coal plant closures before all bonds retire



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.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 7 June 2021

Publication Site: Fidelity Fixed Income

Illinois Budget Leaves Billions in Federal Rescue Funds on the Table



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. 

Author(s): Daniel C. Vock

Publication Date: 6 June 2021

Publication Site: Center for Illinois Politics

Treasury Rescue Won’t Bail Out Chicago, New Jersey From Debt



(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Treasury Department is sending a message to states and cities that the billions in aid from the American Rescue Plan should provide relief to residents, not their governments’ debt burdens.

The department on Monday released guidance on how state and local governments can use $350 billion in funding from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion rescue package. The funds are intended to help states and local governments make up for lost revenue, curb the pandemic, bolster economic recoveries, and support industries hit by Covid-19 restrictions. In a surprise to some, these funds can’t be used for debt payments, a potential complication for fiscally stressed governments that had already etched out plans to pay off loans.


Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker had suggested using some of the state’s $8.1 billion in aid to repay the outstanding $3.2 billion in debt from the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending facility and to reduce unpaid bills. Illinois was the only state to borrow from the Fed last year, tapping it twice. On Tuesday, Jordan Abudayyeh, a Pritzker spokesperson, said the administration is “seeking clarification” from the Treasury on whether Illinois can use the aid to pay back the loan from the Fed.


The rule could also affect New Jersey, which sold nearly $3.7 billion of bonds last year to cover its shortfall during the pandemic. Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, a Republican, in April had called for Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, to use some of the federal aid to pay down the state’s debt.

Author(s): Shruti Date Singh, Amanda Albright

Publication Date: 11 May 2021

Publication Site: Yahoo Finance





Of course, no one can know the true extent to which Pritzker has been able to reduce his tax bills through loopholes and carve-outs over the years, because he refuses to release his full tax returns. In recent years it has been revealed Pritzker went to great lengths to avoid paying taxes, removing toilets from his Gold Coast mansion to skimp on his property tax bill by $331,000 and establishing shell corporations in the Bahamas in a likely attempt to avoid U.S. income taxes. The toilet ploy earned him a federal investigation.

The letter, which pushes for tax reforms that would almost exclusively benefit the wealthy, comes less than six months after Pritzker’s progressive income tax amendment was rejected by voters and is a significant departure from his previous stance on taxation.  In the letter, Pritzker claims the cap hurts middle-class taxpayers and is “untenable” during these dire economic times. Because the data is clear on who directly benefits from the SALT deduction, one can only assume the governor is implying higher taxes on the wealthy also hurt Americans with lower incomes.

That is precisely the argument opponents of the “fair tax” made after the governor first unveiled his tax-the-rich scheme in 2019.

Author(s): Orphe Divounguy, Bryce Hill

Publication Date: 23 April 2021

Publication Site: Illinois Policy Institute

Moody’s warns pension benefit increase for Chicago firefighters a ‘credit negative’ – Quicktake



Anybody who’s been following Chicago knows the last thing the city needs is more debt. Chicagoans are being swamped by pension debts, already the biggest per-capita burden of any major city in the country. By signing the new legislation into law, Pritzker has shoved more debt onto ordinary Chicagoans.

Not surprisingly, Moody’s has called the action “credit negative…because it will cause the city’s reported unfunded pension liabilities, and thus its annual contribution requirements, to rise.”


Two important facts to note about the city’s pension shortfalls. First, Chicago officially says its four city-run pension funds – police, fire, municipal and laborers – are short by some $31 billion. But Moody’s puts the number at nearly $47 billion using more realistic, market-based assumptions. 

Second, those debt numbers don’t include the Chicago Public Schools. When you add its $23 billion (Moody’s, 2018) pension shortfall, the total burden on Chicagoans for Chicago-only debts jumps to $70 billion. Divvy that between Chicago’s 1.04 million households and you’re talking about $67,000 in debt each. And that number far underestimates the real household burden considering nearly 20 percent of the city’s population don’t have the means to contribute a dime to that pension shortfall. 

Publication Date: 10 April 2021

Publication Site: Wirepoints

Pritzker digs Chicago financial hole deeper by increasing city firefighter pensions – Wirepoints



Chicago households are on the hook for a combined $63,000 in Chicago-only debt, based on Moody’s calculations. It’s why the city and the school district have been junk rated for years.

Pritzker’s COLA increase runs against what most of Illinois’ political elite already know – COLA cuts are necessary and inevitable at all levels of government. As Greg Hinz said in his review of Wirepoints’ Pension Solutions, “…that juicy perk over time has amounted to megabillions that state government just doesn’t have.”

The COLA hike will cause more financial headaches for Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the COLA increase will cost the city an additional $18 to $30 million a year in pension costs. In all, the perk will force taxpayers to pay an additional $850 million over time.

Author(s): Ted Dabrowski, John Klingner

Publication Date: 8 April 2021

Publication Site: Wirepoints