Tuesday, May 26, 2015

pensions and politics in illinois


NYTimes |  Illinois is facing one of the worst fiscal crises of any state in recent decades, largely because it has mismanaged its pension system.

The shortfalls could potentially mean sharply higher taxes and cuts in spending. And even though the state’s highest court just this month threw out a landmark plan to cut worker and retiree benefits, some lawmakers say they may have to find another way to make those reductions as well.

Illinois’s problems resonate well beyond its borders. Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Kentucky are among the states confronting similar problems, and to them, Illinois is a model of what can go wrong — with political intransigence, mounting costs and a complicated legal terrain.

The state faces a range of problems. Illinois has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the nation. Chicago also has a pension crisis, leading Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade its credit rating to junk status on May 12, potentially threatening the city’s ability to borrow.

And the state faces an expected budget deficit of $6 billion, which it needs to address quickly. With just days before a legislative deadline, the new Republican governor, who ran on cutting costs and holding down taxes, is at odds with Democrats who hold a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature.

“Really, it’s not a clear road map at this point,” the governor, Bruce Rauner, said of solving the pension crisis.

“We have to make big decisions,” Mr. Rauner told reporters. “The state is in dire financial straits. Chicago is in big, big challenges. And everybody’s a little bit on edge.”

Courts in other states, including Colorado and Minnesota, have sometimes approved measured pension cuts for public workers, especially for the benefits that current workers have not yet earned. And in Detroit and Stockton, Calif., federal judges have said pensions could be cut in a bankruptcy.