Illinois debt crisis

Message For Chicago, Cook County, And Illinois Readers

Readers of Survival And Prosperity might get the wrong impression that I’m rooting for Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois to “fail” based on my routine blogging about their financial, crime, and political woes.

Actually, I do this because I care deeply about the region and its residents.

It’s been my experience that Chicagoans and Illinoisans are pretty decent people overall. I’ve found many of them to be down-to-earth and quick to lend a helping hand to neighbors and strangers alike.

It’s my personal opinion that these woes (interconnected in my mind) I speak of will only intensify in the coming years. The trend is not our friend here, and if anything, since many of the people who helped bring about this mess are still in charge, is it reasonable to expect they’ll be the ones to fix it?

In the meantime, I predict many Illinoisans will be subject to varying degrees of financial and physical pain while this debacle plays out.

As this is a plausible scenario, have local readers of Survival And Prosperity contemplated what’s at stake should conditions keep deteriorating? What would be your personal exposure if events play out the way I expect them to? Financial vulnerabilities? Personal safety shortcomings? Individual circumstances will undoubtedly vary.

Are the wheels turning in your head?

Good. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with such posts.

The intent is not to scare. Rather, it’s rooted in care.

It’s my hope that informing Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois residents of the precarious situation at hand and providing food for thought might aid successful navigation through what will likely be unfamiliar territory for most.

Wishing everyone all the best with that,

Christopher E. Hill
Editor

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Illinois Comptroller: State’s Unpaid Bill Backlog To Exceed $10 Billion By Year End

I’ve been following the State of Illinois’ unpaid bill backlog for some time now, and what State Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger shared yesterday should be of serious concern to Illinoisans. From her website:

CHICAGO- Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger on Thursday said the state’s bill backlog will grow throughout the fall and Illinois will enter the New Year with approximately $10 billion in unpaid invoices, resulting in payment delays of at least six months.

The announcement follows last month’s passage of a stopgap budget, which authorized payments that were being delayed due to the state’s year-long budget impasse.

“While the stopgap is a positive step forward, it does not address our larger fiscal challenges. When we look at the numbers we are facing, the realities are sobering,” said Munger, noting the state is on pace to spend $2.5 billion more than it takes in the next six months. “Those severe cash shortages mean my office will continue to perform triage to help those most in need and protect our most critical services.”

“The realities are sobering”

Indeed.

And I’m certain they will eventually result in- wait for it- higher/new fees, fines, and taxes in conjunction with reduced government services for Illinois residents.

There’s the real possibility of a big tax increase coming soon for Illinoisans. Consider the following from investment specialist and Illinois State Representative David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) on the website of the non-partisan, independent Reboot Illinois project on July 11:

The recent passage of a six-month unbalanced spending measure will worsen Illinois’ financial problems and likely lead to a massive tax increase.

The approval of a stopgap measure is nothing more than a continuation of the status quo that has made Illinois insolvent. The stopgap bill is a spending plan, not a real balanced budget. Consider this: About 91 percent of state government spending was on autopilot during the budget stalemate. The state has been spending money at levels that are higher than authorized during Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration. Spending continues to be out of control

With the adoption of the stopgap measure, we are ensuring the state’s financial problems will not be addressed anytime soon. Ultimately, we are guaranteeing that the state’s financial health will get much worse, which will make it easier for a tax increase to build momentum in Springfield

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

You can read that entire news release from the Illinois Comptroller on her website here.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

McSweeney, David. “Stopgap Budget Will Likely Result In A Massive Tax Hike.” RebootIllinois.com. 11 July 2016. (http://www.rebootillinois.com/2016/07/11/editors-picks/dmcsweeney/stopgap-budget-will-likely-result-in-a-massive-tax-hike/61341/). 15 July 2016.

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Chicago Pastor Calls On State Of Illinois To Declare ‘State Of Emergency’ Over Financial Woes

One Roman Catholic priest in Chicago is sounding the alarm over the financial health of both the City of Chicago and State of Illinois. Tom Schuba blogged on the NBC Chicago website Monday:

Father Michael Pfleger, the outspoken pastor at St. Sabina’s church in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, called on the state of Illinois to declare a state of emergency amid dire economic situations in Chicago and Illinois

The city’s broke, the state’s broke and dysfunctional and in downstate Illinois when a hurricane happens, a tornado happens, what do we do,” Pfleger asked. “We call a state of emergency and resources are brought in.”

Pfleger encouraged using federal resources to embolden communities and bolster the police force…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

While I don’t see eye-to-eye with Fr. Pfleger on gun “control” (a subject for which he routinely makes the local news headlines), I do agree with him that some sort of action is required to tackle both Chicago’s and the State of Illinois’ fiscal problems, and that “bolstering” of the Chicago Police Department is necessary.

You can read the entire piece on the NBC Chicago website here.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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SP Intel Report- October 26, 2015

Welcome to the inaugural post of the “SP Intel Report.” On October 15 I blogged big changes were coming to Survival And Prosperity starting October 19. I wrote:

Each day will begin with an “SP Intel Report” (if it’s warranted), where I’ll be focusing on current events locally (Chicagoland area), nationwide, and overseas which I think readers should be aware of…

As luck would have it, my computer crashed October 19, delaying the implementation of these changes.

One week later, I’ve managed to repair my laptop, and I’m back in the saddle again.

So off we go then…

Chicago

“If City Hall ‘loses’ downtown to the bad guys… you lose the tourists, their money, revenue… you get the point.”

Survival And Prosperity, May 4, 2011

The Chicago news media is reporting that two tourists from Minneapolis were robbed at knifepoint by three men near Oak Street Beach late Saturday evening. The male victim was stabbed during the holdup while trying to protect his girlfriend. Two of Chicago’s more upstanding residents have been charged with the crime (police are still looking for a third individual).

The last time I blogged about a tourist getting knifed downtown was back during the 2012 holiday season. Even though it’s been a while, I fear we’ll be hearing of similar incidents with increased regularity as the city’s financial health deteriorates and the Chicago Police Department keeps receiving lip service but not bodies (meaning manpower).

There will probably be plenty of the other based on recent trends.

Note to self. Study up on defense against knives.

Illinois

Speaking of deteriorating financial health, the State of Illinois was hammered by two of the major credit rating agencies in the past week. On October 19, Fitch Ratings announced in a press release:

Fitch Ratings has downgraded the rating on $26.8 billion in outstanding Illinois general obligation (GO) bonds to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘.

In addition, the ratings on bonds related to the state based on its appropriation have been downgraded to ‘BBB’ from ‘BBB+’…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Three days later, Moody’s Investors Service stated in a release:

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the State of Illinois’ $26.8 billion of general obligation bonds to Baa1 from A3, while also lowering ratings on the state’s sales-tax (Build Illinois) bonds to Baa1 from A3, and on the state’s subject to appropriation bonds (issued by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority and for the state’s Civic Center program) to Baa2 from Baa1. The outlook for all of these obligations remains negative…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Keep in mind the following observations by Karen Pierog over on the Reuters website on October 22:

Both general obligation bond ratings are now just three steps above the “junk” level… The downgrade by Moody’s marked the 17th by major credit rating agencies for Illinois since 2003… Even before this week’s downgrades, Illinois had the lowest credit ratings among the 50 U.S. states. Ratings histories from the three major credit rating agencies indicate few states have ever had their GO ratings fall below the A level…

Faced with a $105 billion unfunded public pension liability and a bill backlog of around $7 billion, I suspect Illinoisans will be on the hook for some sort of tax hike(s) in the near future.

International

Any Survival And Prosperity readers skeptical about the future existence of the Internet? Personally, I won’t be surprised if it goes kaput one day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m somewhat of a techie (driven by needs, not wants) and love the Internet. But I’m not sold on its staying power due to frailties with its infrastructure. A couple of years ago I remember reading about an elderly Georgian woman accidently cutting off neighboring Armenia’s access to the World Wide Web for up to five hours- using only a spade. And now there’s this from The New York Times website this past Sunday. David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt reported:

Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict.

The issue goes beyond old worries during the Cold War that the Russians would tap into the cables — a task American intelligence agencies also mastered decades ago. The alarm today is deeper: The ultimate Russian hack on the United States could involve severing the fiber-optic cables at some of their hardest-to-access locations to halt the instant communications on which the West’s governments, economies and citizens have grown dependent

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

So the Russians could switch off the Internet. Or a rogue Uncle Sam could do it and blame the Russkies.

I told my girlfriend her brilliant nephew should get into the BBS game. Wave of the future?


“Apple II on a BBS in 2014!”
YouTube Video

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Sobol, Rosemary Regina. “$500K, $950K bails set for 2 accused of robbery, stabbing near Oak Street Beach.” Chicago Tribune. 26 Oct. 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-police-2-held-following-armed-robbery-stabbing-near-oak-street-beach-20151026-story.html). 26 Oct. 2015.

Pierog, Karen. “UPDATE 2-Illinois bond rating cut again over budget impasse.” Reuters. 22 Oct. 2015. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/22/illinois-downgrade-moodys-idUSL1N12M2L120151022). 26 Oct. 2015.

Sanger, David E. and Schmitt, Eric. “Russian Ships Near Data Cables Are Too Close for U.S. Comfort.” The New York Times. 25 Oct. 2015. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/26/world/europe/russian-presence-near-undersea-cables-concerns-us.html?_r=1). 26 Oct. 2015.

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Illinois Experiences ‘Summer Of The Pink Slip’

On the heels of recent Survival And Prosperity posts (August 18 and 19) about Illinois not being as business-friendly as it could be comes this doozy from the Chicago Tribune website Saturday morning. Complete with headline:

Layoffs could spell more trouble for Illinois

This may be remembered as the Summer of the Pink Slip in Illinois, which already lags behind its Midwestern neighbors when it comes to job growth.

Thousands of layoffs across the Chicago area range from factory jobs at the Mondelez plant on Chicago’s Southwest Side to white-collar jobs at Walgreens’ Deerfield headquarters. The Mondelez layoffs reflect its efforts to cut costs by shifting positions to more efficient operations in Mexico, but most of the recent cuts have resulted from the elimination of redundant jobs following mergers.

It’s a boom year for mergers and acquisitions activity, commonly referred to as M&A, and the job cuts tend to benefit shareholders of the acquired companies. But the silver lining is harder to find for Illinois, which has been grappling with its own enormous fiscal problems…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

“Summer of the Pink Slip.” Nice.

Greg Trotter went on to talk more about the relationship between layoffs and M&A activity in the state, as well as Illinois appearing to have the worst job growth performance of any Midwest state (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago). You can read the entire piece on the Tribune website here (registration required to access).

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Monday, August 31st, 2015 Business, Employment No Comments

Illinois On Pace To Run $5 Billion Deficit

“Gaze upon the Illinois landscape today and things may seem OK. Schools opened last week, the roads are getting repaired, the state fair was held, the University of Illinois begins a new academic year tomorrow, the state government’s even paying its bills.

Enjoy this period of normality. It isn’t going to last much longer…”

-Tom Kacich, reporter/columnist at The News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana), August 23, 2015

More bad news about Illinois’ fiscal health. Natasha Korecki reported on the Chicago Sun-Times website Monday:

Illinois is paying its bills – by court mandate — since Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner were unable to reach a budget agreement. Rauner vetoed a Democrat-authored financial plan in June, saying it was out of balance by some $4 billion. The new fiscal year came and went July 1 without a new plan in place. Both sides say they’re willing to negotiate, but remain locked into their positions. Rauner wants a series of changes to benefit businesses and weaken unions in Illinois. Democrats oppose the proposals and say they shouldn’t be attached to a budget…

A recent analysis by Senate Democrats indicates that because of various contracts, decrees and court orders compelling spending, the state had already committed 90 percent of its revenues and was on pace to be $5 billion in the hole

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Kacich added from my old stomping grounds:

In May the Democrats who control the Legislature approved a budget that called for spending about $36.5 billion.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it, calling it “unconstitutional” and “unbalanced.”

You want to see unbalanced?

Even without a constitutional budget in place, the state is still spending money, and eventually it could rise to a level of spending greater than the budget the Democrats sent him in May.

During a Senate hearing last week on an additional appropriation of $373 million for MAP grants for low-income college students — it passed and will go to the House for near-certain approval — Democratic legislators admitted the state is operating at a “spend rate” of 90 percent on a $38 billion budget

Anticipated revenue for the year, meanwhile, is the range of $32 billion, or $33 billion if the economy takes off.

Ugh…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

$36.5 billion was the proposed budget. It was vetoed. The state is currently operating at a 90 percent “spend rate” of a $38 billion budget. And anticipated revenue for the year is only $32-$33 billion.

Not good.

Kacich thinks a tax increase, “that may or may not be bigger than the one that was phased out on Jan. 1.,” is headed our way.

I think he’s right about that tax hike. And it’s something Illinoisans may want to take into account concerning their personal finances in the near future.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Kacich, Tom. “Tom Kacich: Enjoy the calm; the storm is on the way.” The News-Gazette. 23 Aug. 2015. (http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-08-23/tom-kacich-enjoy-calm-storm-way.html). 26 Aug. 2015.

Korecki, Natasha. “Comptroller: Illinois facing ‘severe cash shortage.’ Chicago Sun-Times. 24 Aug. 2015. (http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/903797/comptroller-illinois-facing-severe-cash-shortage). 26 Aug. 2015.

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Tax Hikes Coming As Illinois Public Pension Crisis ‘Fix’ Shot Down By State Supreme Court?

This weekend Illinoisans heard about the Friday ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court on a law that was celebrated by many as a big step in resolving the state’s well-publicized public pension crisis. Rick Pearson and Kim Geiger reported on the Chicago Tribune website Friday:

The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday unanimously ruled unconstitutional a landmark state pension law that aimed to scale back government worker benefits to erase a massive $105 billion retirement system debt…

At issue was a December 2013 state law signed by then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn that stopped automatic, compounded yearly cost-of-living increases for retirees, extended retirement ages for current state workers and limited the amount of salary used to calculate pension benefits.

Employee unions sued, arguing that the state constitution holds that pension benefits amount to a contractual agreement and once they’re bestowed, they cannot be “diminished or impaired.” A circuit court judge in Springfield agreed with that assessment in November. State government appealed that decision to the Illinois Supreme Court, arguing that economic necessity forced curbing retirement benefits.

On Friday the justices rejected that argument, saying the law clearly violated what’s known as the pension protection clause in the 1970 Illinois Constitution…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Can’t say I was too surprised to hear that ruling handed down.

As for the ramifications on Main Street? Pearson and Geiger added:

The ruling means Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly will have to come up with a new solution after justices appeared to offer little in the way of wiggle room beyond paying what’s owed, which likely would require a tax increase. Coming up with a way to bridge a budget gap of more than $6 billion already was going to be difficult with little more than three weeks before a scheduled May 31 adjournment, and now the pension mess has been added to the mix.

Rauner, who argued during last year’s campaign that the law was unconstitutional and didn’t go far enough to reduce the pension debt, said the court ruling only reinforces his approach of getting voters to approve a constitutional amendment that “would allow the state to move forward on common-sense pension reforms.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

“A constitutional amendment”

I’m not so sure how that would work out. Consider what Natasha Korecki reported over on the Chicago Sun-Times website Friday:

But it was unclear how such an amendment would help solve the crisis. It arguably could not bring savings because, according to the court ruling, a new law cannot retroactively affect those who are already in the system, said Charles N. Wheeler III, Director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield…

“Likely would require a tax increase”

I suspect- as Survival And Prosperity has been warning for some time now- that Illinoisans will soon be hit with significantly-higher taxes as a consequence of those $6 billion state budget and $105 public pension gaps. Korecki added:

An Illinois Supreme Court ruling that struck down a pension reform law on Friday could have just opened the door even wider to the prospect of deep cuts to services and new taxes for Illinois residents.

With only three weeks left until lawmakers have to pass a balanced budget, legislators now have even more political cover to raise taxes and cut spending following the high court’s decision that it was unconstitutional for the state to pare back promised pension benefits for state employees…

“This ensures that however we resolve this, the citizens of Illinois will be paying more for less service from the state of Illinois,” Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of the University of Illinois at Springfield, said of Friday’s ruling. “I think that’s an inevitable outcome from this.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

“Less government services. Higher fees, fines, and taxes.”

Something I’ve kept warning about on this blog, with regular observers of Springfield now talking it about these days (if they weren’t already).

I wonder to what extent Illinoisans have prepared/are preparing for such a scenario? I’ll be talking more about this later.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Pearson, Rick and Geiger, Kim. “Illinois Supreme Court rules landmark pension law unconstitutional.” Chicago Tribune. 8 May 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-illinois-pension-law-court-ruling-20150508-story.html#page=1). 11 May 2015.

Korecki, Natasha. “State Supreme Court pension ruling provides political cover to cut more, tax more.” Chicago Sun-Times. 8 May 2015. (http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/7/71/590030/state-supreme-court-pension-ruling-provides-political-cover-cut-tax). 11 May 2015.

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Christopher E. Hill, Editor

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