Lost in the annual white noise of the Illinois General Assembly adjourning for the summer is one of most daunting, money-consuming problems facing any state government on planet Earth: the pension crisis.
We understand why. Trying to even explain what's happening is like dissecting quantum mechanics theory.
Our state’s five retirement systems are so poorly financed that the funding shortfall last June hit a crushing $137 billion, up $17.8 billion from 2015, thanks to inadequate annual contributions.
It sure adds up. The nonpartisan Truth in Accounting group this month estimated each Illinois resident owes $50,000 to state workers and pensioners for retirement and health care costs.
On top of that, the state has more than 660 separate municipal public safety funds, each with different financial health. This spring, the state began withholding tax money from Harvey near Chicago because it fell behind on its pension payments. More will likely follow.
The mind-numbing scope of this issue is one reason it's not totally understood by most voters – and more than likely, more than a few lawmakers. We know there's a problem, but putting it in perspective is really, really hard.
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The media shares some of the blame. Stories about pension costs and missed obligations are incredibly dense. That allows lawmakers to dodge dealing with the problem. We would guess some can't even explain what's happening.
There have been some solutions floating around, including a 1 percent statewide property tax. Another option is to shift teacher pension costs back to local school districts. Yet another is to consolidate public safety funds or create downstate firefighter and police pension funds, plus various combinations.
Lawmakers on Wednesday, the day before the session ends, took some steps to address the issue, including establishing voluntary buyout programs for people eligible for state pensions.
We also are hopeful our candidates for governor, Democrat J.B. Pritzker and incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner, finally begin talking about this issue in detail as the race heats up this summer.
We also hope that talk is blunt and underscores that there is no one-size-fits-all option here. The only viable solution starts with having the political will to do something.