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Stock market gains cannot catch up to Illinois’ massive pension deficit

Belleville News Democrat

Wednesday, December 27, 2017  |  Editorial  |  By The Editorial Board

Pensions (70)
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert was clearly expecting an onslaught of criticism when word came down that the city wanted a 12 percent increase in the amount sought from property taxpayers, which will translate to somewhere between $30 and $80 more from the owner of a $100,000 home.

“They don’t understand how we’re funding things. The biggest part of the city’s levy that we do every year is pensions,” Eckert said.

About $8.2 million of the city’s $11.2 million from property taxes goes to pensions and Social Security. That’s 72 percent.

State law dictates how fully funded those municipal pensions must be, and as a result those pensions are in decent shape.

State law. That would be the laws made by state lawmakers. Those same state lawmakers who let the state pensions, including their own, go woefully underfunded.

So here comes that bull market that is driving up the nation’s stocks. It should be improving the returns on the state pension funds’ investments and dropping the deficit.

Well it has. The deficit dropped from $129.8 billion last year to $129.1 billion this year, according to the state Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

So even at a time when the market’s power should greatly improve out state pensions’ financial outlook, we still can’t rein in the beast. Taxpayers will eventually pay the tab.

The five pensions together have about 40 percent of the money needed to fund the promises made to their retirees. The State University Retirement System is in the best shape, relatively speaking, with money for 44 percent of its obligations.

Guess who is in the worst shape with only 15 percent of the cash it needs? The General Assembly Retirement System, you know, the folks who told Belleville not to monkey around and short their employee pension systems.

So no complaining, Mayor Eckert. Do as they say, and not as they do.