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Accounting expert questions Illinois lawmakers’ claim of balanced budget

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square

Budget--State (8) , Pensions (70) Cullerton, John--State Senate, 6
Illinois lawmakers have said the state budget they passed and Gov. J.B. Pritzker enacted was balanced and properly contributes to public pension accounts, but an accounting watchdog said that’s misleading.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, told Fox 32 Chicago’s Mike Flannery that the state's budget is balanced and makes payments to the state’s pension funds as required by law.

“We passed a capital bill for the first time in ten years, a balanced budget, creating a lot more jobs, passed a balanced budget meaning that we’re not going to continue to increase our debt,” Cullerton said. “We have a law and we’re following it. We’ve done it for eleven years straight.”

Truth in Accounting Research Director Bill Bergman said state law requires a payment below what it would cost to actually start reducing the state’s billions of dollars in public retiree debt.

“If you require something to be paid statutorily, that is not often what the actuaries say is required,” he said.

Bergman pointed to the most recent analysis of the state’s pension obligations in a $440 million bond offering from April.

“Over the past ten years, the funding levels for the state’s retirement systems has deteriorated dramatically and are among the lowest in the nation with respect to state pension plans,” it said. “The state’s contributions to the retirement systems, while in conformity with state law, have been less than the contributions necessary to fully fund the retirement systems as calculated by the actuaries for the retirement systems.”

Summaries of the state’s pension debt in official bond offerings are scrutinized by the Securities and Exchange Commission for accuracy. Illinois was hit with fraud charges in 2013 after then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich painted a misleading picture of the state’s finances and debt.