Illinois is running out of time to fix its public sector pension problem. A new report from Moody’s Investors Service identified the Prairie State as one of the two most likely to suffer during an economic downturn. Illinois towns and cities are already paring back government services to pay for generous benefits packages for retirees, and Chicago’s pension debt alone is larger than that of 41 states. That arrangement can’t last forever.
“The worst-case scenario is there’s another national recession, which would cause our pension funds to lose a bunch of their assets again,” says Adam Schuster of the Illinois Policy Institute. “As the assets shrink, the pension funds go into a financial death spiral. We might end up with some kind of Puerto Rico–style pseudo-bankruptcy or federal bailout. Everybody in the nation is now on the hook for Illinois politicians’ irresponsible decisions.”
The best-case scenario would involve repealing an automatic 3 percent raise that pensioners receive each year of their retirement and requiring workers to pay more into their own plans. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker would prefer to scrap Illinois’ flat income tax and replace it with a progressive tax scheme, which could cause even more people to flee the state. In May, Schuster spoke to Reason’s Mike Riggs about the pension conundrum.