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Our View: No time for lawmakers to take time off

Updated: January 31, 2013 6:42AM



Unfunded liability for the state’s five public pension systems is at roughly $95 billion, growing at a rate of about $17 million per day.

Illinois’ pension bill for the current fiscal year that began July 1 is nearly $6 billion, sucking up an ever-greater portion of the $33 billion state budget and leaving less money for other needs, such as education, health care and public safety.

Moody’s Investor Service this month lowered Illinois’ credit outlook from stable to negative, while keeping the state’s credit rating at A2, the lowest among the states that Moody’s rates. The worse the credit rating, the higher the borrowing costs for the state.

Illinois has the lowest ratio of pension funding (the percentage of liabilities that are covered by assets) among the 50 states — 39 percent as of June 30, 2012, far below the 80 percent level that’s considered healthy.

All these facts together paint a pretty grim picture. That’s not news. As you’ve been reading and hearing, here and elsewhere, for the past few years, Illinois has a serious and growing pension crisis.

But you wouldn’t know that from watching the General Assembly, which surprisingly still lacks a sense of urgency in taking major steps to address the crisis.

Hopes were high that it might seize the golden opportunity presented by the upcoming lame-duck session, when outgoing legislators can vote without political repercussion. Major, and politically explosive, legislation has passed in previous lame-duck sessions, largely for that very reason.

Now pension reform is not looking so likely. The session was to run from Wednesday to Jan. 9. But the Senate now intends to meet only from Wednesday to Friday and the House from Jan. 6 to 8 (though the Senate could return Jan. 8 to vote on any laws passed by the House).

The truncated schedule means less time for lawmakers to resolve the differences they have over how best to reduce pension costs. Could it mean they’re closer to agreeing on a bill than we thought? We hope so. If they aren’t, they’ve made it tougher on themselves — and on us.



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