Pensions eat up $11.6B of Illinois’ budget

Pensions eat up $11.6B of Illinois’ budget

Despite taking up 20% of the state’s general funds and $11.6 billion in total, experts said lawmakers still underpaid the five statewide government retirement plans.

Pension expenses are the single-largest item in the state budget, taking up nearly $10.5 billion,  or 20%, of the state’s general funds budget, and nearly $11.6 billion across all state funds.

Illinois’ pension contributions are far below what actuaries determined is required to begin paying down the state’s $142 billion in pension debt – the gap between what the state will have available and what state retirees must eventually be paid. Payments across all funds in 2025 are more than $4.5 billion short of actuarially determined contributions, according to the Illinois General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Pritzker also proposed adding three years to the state’s current funding plan and raising the funding target from 90% to 100%.

Pritzker is correct to target 100% funding to solidify the state’s pension systems. However, his proposal ignores Illinois’ insufficient pension contributions on an actuarial basis – meaning they won’t meet real-world needs as defined by the experts.

The state’s funding schedule will not contribute above current actuarially determined contribution levels until 2039, but that figure will climb each year the state fails to make an adequate payment. In fiscal year 2023, actuarially determined contributions were less than $14.9 billion, more than $1.1 billion below today’s actuarially determined contribution.

Additionally, Pritzker’s budget proposal highlights the need for Tier 2 pensions to be reevaluated to determine if they are compliant with federal law. Illinois’ pension systems must provide benefits that meet or exceed Social Security benefits for the state to continue to avoid paying into Social Security on behalf of employees.

Because pensionable salaries within Tier 2 are capped at a level below the Social Security wage base, it is increasingly likely Tier 2 pensions will eventually violate these rules, known as safe harbor provisions. Should this be the case, Tier 2 pension benefits would need to be increased to become compliant with federal law, a measure that would add yet-to-be-determined debt to the state’s pension systems and further complicate Illinois’ funding plan.

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