By: Ted Dabrowski
In a recent interview where I laid out Illinois’ overwhelming problems, WCIA reporter Mark Maxwell asked me if I would be willing to convince someone to move to Illinois.
Well, I could give them lots of great reasons to live here, including the same ones that attracted me when I returned to the Chicago area in 2007. The universities, Lake Michigan, the Loop, the state’s rich history and in my case, my family roots.
But if I was honest, I’d also have to tell them about the monstrous bill they’d be handed just for moving into Illinois. The state is drowning in public pension debt and anyone living here will be forced to pay that debt down over the next two to three decades. For many considering a move, that’d be reason enough to avoid this state.
It’s particularly bad in Chicago, where residents are on the hook for $150 billion in debts to public sector pensioners. That’s the amount Moody’s calculates Chicagoans owe when you add up the city debts plus their share of Cook County and state debts.
The problem is, thousands of households in the city don’t have the means to help pay down those shortfalls. About a fifth of all Chicagoans live at or below the poverty line. And nearly 50 percent of Chicago’s one million households make less than $50,000 a year.
So, if politicians go after only those with the actual means to pay down those debts – say households making $75,000 or more a year – it turns out they’re each on the hook for $393,000 in debts.
That’s what you get when you divide the $150 billion by the 380,000 Chicago households that make $75,000 or more.
Those household debts, already insurmountable, will only get worse as more people come to realize the size of their burden. And as more people leave – and others avoid moving in – the burden on those who remain will grow larger still.
The story is the same for those living in Illinois’ Chicago suburbs and downstate. A similar calculation yields per household burdens of $175,000 (households earning $75,000 or more). Though that’s a lower number than that in Chicago, it’s still a massive burden for the residents of cities like Danville or Macomb or Carmi.
Warren Buffet summed up well Illinois’ predicament when asked about the nation’s public pension crisis. He quickly warned he wouldn’t relocate a business to a state like Illinois: “In the public sector, you know, it’s a disaster…If I were relocating into some state that had a huge unfunded pension plan, I’m walking into liabilities…And those are big numbers, really big numbers…And when you see what they would have to do – I say to myself, “Why do I wanna build a plant there that has to sit there for 30 or 40 years?”
I’m waiting for the day I can tell Mark Maxwell and others that Illinois is once again a destination state. But that’s not going to happen until Illinois lawmakers finally address the pension crisis, roll back oppressive collective bargaining laws, root out corruption and eliminate unnecessary mandates on local governments.