“Kekua” might be defined as “fiction copied from one story to another in the media echo chamber and assumed to be fact.” The infamous story of Lennay Kekua, Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, was copied and repeated endlessly until somebody finally checked her out and learned she never existed.
Virtually every news story one reads about Illinois pensions mentions our “$97 billion” unfunded pension liability. That’s the size of the problem, most everybody who follows the pension crisis will tell you. Actually, the number is Kekua. The original source of the number is the state — the same folks who created the problem report $97 billion as the official unfunded pension liability.
Financial experts tell us something far more frightening. Most recently, University of Illinois finance professor Jeffrey Brown said the problem is two to three times what the state says. We earlier listed other unbiased experts from out of state saying the Illinois problem is roughly twice that $97 billion official number. The state’s numbers are backed up by no credible pension expert. By “credible pension expert” I mean a person or group with no policy agenda and that isn’t biased by how they are paid. Professor Brown put it this way: “One would have to search far and wide to find a reputable financial economist – of any political persuasion or ideology – who believes that [the accounting rule the state uses which distorts the official state numbers] has any reasonable intellectual foundation.”
The Manti Te’o farce was followed by plenty of soul searching in the sports media by reporters who were duped. That day will come soon to the media’s coverage of pension issues, perhaps next year when new accounting standards will force the state to come clean and give us honest numbers in a way similar to how the private sector is required to report its pensions.
Until then, we will have no real solution to the pension crisis because the starting point is fiction.