Pension problems a pandemic

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It’s not just the state of Illinois as a whole that’s dealing with a huge, pension problem.

Municipal pension systems are also in rough shape.  A new audit by a conservative think-tank says pensions are wreaking havoc with municipal budgets.   But we talked to village trustees in Chicagoland who are also concerned.

“An average compounded annual increase of almost 10% over 16 years,” says Wilmette Village Trustee, Mike Basil.  “That’s unsustainable.”

Basil says it’s crowding out the types of government services we’ve come to expect from our village hall.   And vital services like road repair, sewer upgrades, garbage collection and schools are getting harder to deliver.

Taxpayer advocates say swelling municipal pensions to local government workers, like firefighters and police, are causing chaos with municipal budgets.

 

“If you wonder why you’re having more potholes than ever, it’s not just the weather,” says John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute.  “It’s the pension crisis in your own community.”

 

Tillman says a new audit of 114 Illinois cities and towns reveals an alarming problem.   “It doesn’t matter if you’re a low income community or a high end community,” he says.  “All these towns are having trouble keeping up with their pension obligations because the amount of the obligation is growing way too fast.”

 

And it’s the taxpayers footing the bill, Tillman says, especially homeowners with their property taxes.  And there’s no relief in sight from Springfield.  The Illinois Policy Institute looked at Illinois’ 20 largest cities, outside Chicago, where they say unfunded pension liabilities doubled over the past decade.  And taxpayer contributions to fund municipal pensions jumping 157%, creating about a $4,000 tax burden per house, on average, and perhaps the most concerning issue of all  – police and fire pensions that the institute says are effectively bankrupt.

 

“And what’s really sad is that a lot of local workers , police and fire, don’t know this is happening,” Tillman says.

 

But many vigorously dispute the findings.  Pat DeVaney with the Associated Firefighters of Illinois acknowledges there are struggling municipalities.  But he says the Illinois Policy Institute is a lobbying organization with what he describes as a radical conservative agenda.  And he argues that numerous objective studies paint a much brighter financial picture.

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