pension crisis

Civic Federation: Funding Continues To Decline For Chicago-Area Public Employee Pension Funds

The Chicago-based Civic Federation is out with a new report about the health of Chicago-area public employee pension funds. The independent, non-partisan government research organization that provides analysis and recommendations on government finance issues for the Chicago region and State of Illinois put out the following news release this morning:

Aggregate Unfunded Liability for Chicago-area Public Pension Funds Increased by $4.6 Billion in FY2011

(CHICAGO) A Civic Federation report released today examines the continued funding decline of Chicago-area public employee pension funds. Unfunded liabilities for the ten funds analyzed in the report increased to $32.0 billion in fiscal year 2011 from $27.4 billion in fiscal year 2010, an increase of 16.7% according to the most recent audited data available. For all pension funds supported by the taxes of Chicago residents, including statewide funds, the total unfunded liabilities reached $16,914 per Chicago resident in FY2011.

“Without comprehensive reforms, this staggering level of pension obligations will soon mean dramatic tax increases, significant service cuts or both for Chicago residents,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “Illinois and local lawmakers owe it to taxpayers and public employees to agree on reforms that will significantly reduce pension costs for our state and local governments and ensure that the funds remain solvent for current and future public employees.” In the report, the Federation urges local governments to develop pension reform frameworks suited to their own employee population, statutory provisions and funding levels. The report cites Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer’s OpenPensions.org site as an example of transparently advocating for changes tailored to the needs of the County’s pension fund.

Each of the ten funds analyzed in the report experienced sharp funding declines in the last decade. On average, the ten funds had an actuarial funding level of 50.8% in FY2011, down from 80.3% in FY2002. All ten funds are now funded below 65%, ranging from a low of 28.3% for the Fire Fund to a high of 64.9% for the Laborers’ Fund.

The declining health of Chicago-area public pension funds is due in large part to inadequate employer contributions over a sustained period and recent investment losses. All of the local funds analyzed received their statutorily required employer contributions in FY2011. However, the employer contribution level set by State statute was approximately $1.6 billion short of the $2.5 billion level necessary to cover current costs for the funds and reduce their unfunded liabilities over a 30-year timeframe.

Adequate funding levels are likely to be even more difficult to attain in the future because the funds have fewer employees to support a rising number of beneficiaries. In FY2011 the ten funds had 1.16 active employees for every beneficiary, down from 1.65 actives per beneficiary in FY2002. Six of the ten funds – the Police, Laborers’, MWRD, Forest Preserve, CTA and Park District Funds – had more beneficiaries than active employees in FY2011.

The Federation’s analysis reviews the FY2011 actuarial valuation reports and financial statements for the City of Chicago’s Police, Fire, Municipal and Laborers’ Funds, the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund and the pension funds of Cook County, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Chicago Park District, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the Chicago Transit Authority. FY2011 data is the most recent audited data available for all ten funds.

The full 79-page report, available at www.civicfed.org, is intended to provide policymakers, pension trustees, pension fund members and taxpayers with the resources to make informed decisions regarding public employee retirement benefits.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Even though I’ll be moving out of Chicago very soon, I’ll still be living in Cook County. As such, I won’t be surprised to get hit with more fees and taxes, in conjunction with less government services, as financial challenges grow at the county and state level.

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

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VP Biden Says Chicago-Area Democratic Primary Result Sends ‘Clear Unequivocal Signal’ To NRA And Politicians

Before I move away from the topic of firearms and gun rights, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden decided to weigh-in on the victory of pro-gun “control” candidate Robin Kelly in the U.S. Congressional 2nd District (Chicago south suburbs plus more) Democratic primary this past Tuesday. According to Reuters’ Roberta Rampton yesterday, Biden told a group of state attorney generals:

For the first time since Newtown, voters sent a clear unequivocal signal… The voters sent a message last night, not just to the NRA, but to the politicians all around the country. There will be a moral price as well as a political price to be paid for inaction.

I’m going to disagree with the VP here. I’d guess that many observers familiar with “The Chicago Way” interpreted the primary as once again demonstrating that race, gobs of money, and having the blessing of “The Machine” wins elections here in the Chicagoland area. And local politicians screaming about the need for more gun “control” is just one more attempt to distract the masses from the crappy economy and huge financial mess these guys have gotten us into ($9 billion in unpaid bills and a $96 billion pension funding gap in Illinois from what I read yesterday).

By the way, going back to that post I published last week about the Vice President answering gun “control” questions at a Parents magazine event and telling one Facebook user they didn’t need an AR-15 for self-defense, get a shotgun instead…


“Buy A Shotgun Joe Biden Lying AR-15”
YouTube Video

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

Source:

Rampton, Roberta. “Biden says Chicago vote a sign that voters want action on guns.” Reuters. 27 Feb. 2013. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/27/us-usa-guns-biden-idUSBRE91Q11N20130227). 27 Feb. 2013.

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Illinois Could Have Nearly $22 Billion In Unpaid Bills By FY 2018

It’s been a while since I last blogged about the Civic Federation, an independent, non-partisan government research organization that provides analysis and recommendations on government finance issues for the Chicago region and State of Illinois. In late September 2011, the Chicago-based organization had just released its analysis of the enacted FY 2012 State of Illinois budget, and noted the financially-challenged state was expected to end the year with over $8 billion in unpaid bills from vendors, local governments, and others (related to business tax refunds, employee and retiree health care and Medicaid).

Over $8 billion in unpaid bills.

Fast forward to today. From a Civic Federation press release Monday:

Illinois’ Unpaid Bill Backlog Projected to Reach $22 Billion by FY2018

State urgently needs long-term plan to address rising pension and Medicaid costs, loss of income tax revenues

(CHICAGO) – An analysis released today by the Civic Federation’s Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability shows the State of Illinois is on track to accumulate nearly $22 billion in unpaid bills by FY2018 unless action is taken to curb rising pension costs and plan for increases in the Medicaid program…

“Nearly $22 billion in unpaid bills.”

Illinois residents, get ready to bust out your wallets.

You can read the entire Civic Federation press release here.

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

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Chicago Sees ‘Most Violent January In More Than A Decade’

I have a pretty good idea what a number of you will be thinking as you read this post:

How’s that gun “control” working out for you, Chicago?

From John Byrne, David Heinzmann, and Bob Secter on the Chicago Tribune website late last night:

Following the most violent January in more than a decade and the high-profile slaying of a 15-year-old high school band majorette, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his police chief moved closer than ever Thursday to reintroducing the very police strategy they dumped when they took over in 2011.

Emanuel said he would move 200 officers off desk duty to bolster the size of roving teams aimed at suppressing outbreaks of murderous violence that have been on the rise in the city for more than a year.

“The most violent January in more than a decade.”

According to the Crime in Chicago blog yesterday, 44 people were murdered and 160 were shot in the city last month.

Now, back on New Year’s Eve, I noted that at the end of a year in which Chicago surpassed 500 murders (534 according to CIC), the number of beat cops was less than before Rahm Emanuel became mayor.

So, why not just hire more police officers then?

Byrne, Heinzmann, and Secter (sounds like a law firm) added:

The head of the police union said retirements and a lack of new hiring amid tight budget years has reduced the size of the force well below what is needed to keep the streets safe.

“No matter how City Hall slices the numbers or spins this issue, the fact remains we have less officers on the street now than when the mayor was elected,” said Mike Shields, head of the Fraternal Order of Police.

At the news conference announcing his new plans, Emanuel said “you don’t ask the taxpayers to pay for additional cops until you make sure you’re using every cop on the payroll today effectively.”

Personally, I think City Hall is well-aware of the significant, fast-approaching fiscal challenges that are in store for Chicago, so basically “what you see is what you get” could be the case for Chicago Police Department manpower. As things stand, taxes will be going up- significantly- but one has to wonder how much of it will be earmarked for the following, which I blogged about back on August 1:

The “Windy City” has a $25 billion pension crisis that will require property taxes to be doubled by 2015 (from an anticipated $476 million this year to $1.2 billion in 2015) if no changes are made to both retirement benefits and City of Chicago employee contributions.

Remember that $2.98 billion the city received when the Chicago Skyway and parking meters were privatized under former Mayor Richard M. Daley? Only $623 million remains.

The analysis comes on the heels of year-end audit findings that show Chicago is in the midst of a debt crisis, adding $465 million of debt in 2011 to a total long-term debt that’s sitting at just over $27 billion.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Chicagoans- be prepared to bust out those wallets very shortly.

To wrap things up, one sentence in that Tribune piece really stood out for me. Byrne, Heinzmann, and Secter wrote:

But the events of this week show that tragedy can strike anywhere, and calibrating how and where to stretch those resources is difficult in a city with a deeply entrenched culture of violence.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

“Culture of violence?”

Sounds like Second City Cop wasn’t too far off the mark with that “Culture of Death” comment the other day.

Watch your six, Chicago.

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

Source:

Byrne, John, Heinzmann, David and Secter, Bob. “Street violence spurs shift in police strategy.” Chicago Tribune. 31 Jan. 2013. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-emanuel-mccarthy-officers-reassigned-20130201,0,7276684,full.story). 1 Feb. 2013.

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Illinois Bond Issue Halted Due To Credit Concerns

Today, residents of the state of Illinois saw the repercussions of having $8 billion of unpaid bills, a $96.8 billion pension funding gap, and falling credit ratings. Karen Pierog reported on the Reuters website:

Illinois yanked a $500 million general obligation bond issue slated for Wednesday because of credit concerns that could boost its borrowing costs, in the latest financial blow to the state, which has failed to fix its bloated public pensions.

Investment banks that planned to bid on the debt indicated investors would demand higher yields on the 25-year bonds, said John Sinsheimer, Illinois’ capital markets director.

“We were getting indications of higher spreads than we were anticipating,” said Sinsheimer, who declined to discuss specific spread levels. “We felt it was prudent to pull the deal for the time being.”

(Editor’s notes: Italics added for emphasis)

Pierog pointed out:

Illinois is already faced with the highest spreads – 137 basis points in the latest week – over Municipal Market Data’s benchmark triple-A scale among states and cities tracked by MMD, a unit of Thomson Reuters.

Over the weekend, I noted Standard & Poor’s downgraded the State of Illinois on Friday to an “A-” rating with a negative outlook- last among all 50 states. I added that among other major credit rating agencies, Moody’s also ranks Illinois last of all the U.S. states and Fitch ranks it 49th but on watch for a possible downgrade.

As for Illinois taxpayers? They may have to pay tens of millions of dollars more in interest when the state looks to borrow more money- like what almost happened today.

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

Source:

Pierog, Karen. “UPDATE 2-Illinois pulls $500 mln bond sale amid credit concerns.” Reuters. 30 Jan 2013. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/30/illinois-bonds-idUSL1N0AZ6TQ20130130). 30 Jan. 2013.

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S&P Downgrades Illinois Credit Rating To Worst In Nation

When I heard a major credit rating agency had downgraded Illinois Friday, the term “death spiral state” quickly came to mind.

And then my thoughts turned to the tens of millions of dollars Illinois taxpayers might be on the hook for down the road.

Ray Long and Monique Garcia reported on the Chicago Tribune website Friday:

Illinois fell to the bottom of all 50 states in the rankings of a major credit ratings agency Friday following the failure of Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers to fix the state’s hemorrhaging pension system during this month’s lame-duck session.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service downgraded Illinois in what is the latest fallout over the $96.8 billion debt to five state pension systems. The New York rating firm’s ranking signaled taxpayers may pay tens of millions of dollars more in interest when the state borrows money for roads and other projects.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Illinois now has an “A-” rating with a negative outlook from S&P. Among other major credit rating agencies, Moody’s ranks Illinois last among the 50 states and Fitch ranks it 49th but on watch for a possible downgrade.

Regarding the state’s huge pension funding gap, Mark Peters wrote on the Wall Street Journal website Friday:

S&P estimates the pension system in the coming year will see assets fall to 39% of future obligations.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Hardly any talk about the crisis in the local mainstream media outlets this weekend. Amazing. I can’t understand why more Illinois residents aren’t up in arms over this humongous financial mess the state is in.

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

Sources:

Garcia, Monique and Long, Ray. “Illinois credit rating sinks to worst in nation.” Chicago Tribune. 25 Jan. 2013. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-25/news/chi-illinois-credit-rating-sinks-to-worst-in-nation-20130125_1_action-on-pension-reform-robin-prunty-illinois-credit). 27 Jan. 2013.

Peters, Mark. “S&P Cuts Illinois Credit Rating.” Wall Street Journal. 25 Jan. 2013. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324539304578264293106044944.html). 27 Jan. 2013.

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Project Prepper, Part 6: Buying A Home In A ‘Death Spiral State’

Last time out with the “Project Prepper” series of posts, after deciding that I’ll be moving out of Chicago and into the suburbs in the spring, I took a little bit of a detour and blogged about the “Mayan Apocalypse” that was supposed to arrive on December 21, 2012. Getting back on track today, approximately 4.5 months remain before my girlfriend and I plan to move, we still haven’t decided whether we’re going to buy or rent the suburban property in which we intend to reside in for the next few years (Wisconsin being selected as our ultimate destination).

Truth be told, I’m starting to lean towards renting- unless we can get our hands on a great deal. Even more so after reading a recent Forbes piece about “death spiral states” (hat tip Second City Cop). Back on November 25, 2012, former Forbes editor William Baldwin wrote on the website:

Don’t buy a house in a state where private sector workers are outnumbered by folks dependent on government.

Thinking about buying a house? Or a municipal bond? Be careful where you put your capital. Don’t put it in a state at high risk of a fiscal tailspin.

Eleven states make our list of danger spots for investors. They can look forward to a rising tax burden, deteriorating state finances and an exodus of employers. The list includes California, New York, Illinois and Ohio, along with some smaller states like New Mexico and Hawaii.

If your career takes you to Los Angeles or Chicago, don’t buy a house. Rent.

“If your career takes you to Los Angeles or Chicago, don’t buy a house. Rent.”

Point taken.

I didn’t insert those italics in the first sentence, in case you’re wondering.

Baldwin elaborated on the problems he sees with the “Land of Lincoln.” From the piece:

Illinois is especially known for its dishonesty, whether among officeholders (future license plate motto: Land of Corruption) or in the habit of under-accounting for promises to government employees. The Rauh study counted $66 billion in the till to cover pension obligations of $233 billion.

To lend money to California, Illinois or the other nine states perched on the precipice requires a leap of faith. So does buying a house in those locales. Don’t count on a property tax limit to protect your home’s value. If other taxes are high enough, there won’t be any buyers.

Definitely something for my girlfriend and I to chew on as we ramp up our housing search in the coming weeks. Although it doesn’t seem wise to purchase a home in a “death spriral state,” does it?

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

Source:

Baldwin, William. “Do You Live In A Death Spiral State?” Forbes. 25 Nov. 2012. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/baldwin/2012/11/25/do-you-live-in-a-death-spiral-state/). 18 Jan. 2013.

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Survival And Prosperity
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Christopher E. Hill, Editor

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