Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Wednesday gave his annual State of the State speech, praising the “major strides” made towards achieving his “vision of a more perfect democracy.” He talked about the progress made in bringing high-speed rail to the Prairie State, urged the state’s minimum wage to rise to $10 an hour, demanded a ban on the sale of “assault weapons” and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and called for “marriage equality.” He also noted that his progressive vision for Illinois “cannot be fully realized without pension reform” and urged his fellow voters to be “part of the solution.”
Illinois has the worst unfunded pension liability of any state, an estimated $85 billion, according to a recent report from the State Budget Task Force. Unfunded health care liabilities for state and local government retirees amount to more than $1 trillion. By 2015, pension costs and related debt service could take up one-fourth of the state’s resources. The study concludes: “Without some type of reform that reduces costs going forward, the systems appear destined for insolvency. Illinois needs to act now to salvage the benefits of future retirees.”
Yes, Quinn mentioned the need for reform. But the Chicago Tribune was unimpressed: “Until he and the General Assembly actually put meaningful pension reforms into law, time spent listening to and analyzing speeches is lost time.”
Well, it’s not like Quinn and legislators are doing nothing. On Tuesday, the state government took action:
A proposal designed to plug leaks in the state budget won narrow approval Tuesday in the Illinois House. The Democrat-sponsored measure, endorsed on a mostly party line, 63-52 vote … includes $115,000 to help launch a high school basketball hall of fame in Danville, $1 million to help build a new children’s museum in downtown Springfield and $167,148 for a museum in Rosiclare dedicated to fluorspar mining. … “We restrained ourselves,” House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said. “This represents a pretty austere response.”
They say states are the laboratories of democracy. But the mad scientists of Illinois are running one crazy fiscal experiment.