Illinois Budget

Released May 14, 2024

Volume IX of the Fully Funding the EBF series continues CTBA’s modeling of fully funding the EBF to 90% of Adequacy. Volume IX uses the proposed Fiscal Year 2025 General Fund Budget appropriations for the Evidence-Based Funding formula, but uses a projected shortfall based on the ISBE EBF calculated shortfall for FY 2024 (released in August of 2023). The new release maintains the four scenarios, including the full funding model based on an increase of $500 million annually using Scenario 2: Funding the EBF on a Fully Inflation-Adjusted Basis, By Making a Nominal Minimum Target Level Increase Annually.

Released February 7, 2024

There is a growing consensus that the design of Tier II, which charges its members the same contribution rate as Tier I members, but pays a much lower retirement benefit, will be insufficient under the aforesaid federal Safe Harbor standards. This report has been updated to include small efforts that have been made to modify Tier II benefits and allow for Safe Harbor compliance within some pensions systems, though progress thus far has been insufficient.

 

Released October 30, 2023

Illinois state government has the responsibility to fund five public pension systems: the Teachers’ Retirement System (“TRS”); the State Employees’ Retirement System (“SERS”); the Judges’ Retirement System (“JRS”); the State Universities Retirement System (“SURS”); and the General Assembly Retirement System (“GARS”). The state’s pension systems are not in a good place fiscally. As of November 2022, which is the most recent data available, the state’s five pension systems collectively had $248 billion in liabilities, but only $109 billion in assets to cover those liabilities. This results in a funded ratio across all five state systems of just 44 percent.

In a poorly conceived attempt to reduce overall costs for the pension systems, legislators passed Public Act 96–0889 in 2010, which modified the Pension Code by creating a new tier of retirement benefits that were significantly less than the benefits payable under the state’s prior plan. Known as “Tier II,” these lesser benefits were applicable to all workers eligible to participate in any of the state’s five public pension plans that were hired on or after January 1, 2011. The concept of using a lesser benefit level to reduce overall costs in the state’s five pension systems was poorly conceived, because all the data show that plan benefits were not the driver of either the creation of the unfunded liability the state owes to its pensions systems, or the growing financial pressure that the pension systems are putting on the state’s General Fund.

Those lesser Tier II benefits created problems. For instance, it clearly is not equitable for the state to charge public workers the same contribution rate for lesser benefits than their peers receive. Of course, because their benefits are less than provided under Tier I, members of the Tier II system have less retirement security than their Tier I peers have, despite providing the same public services. On top of that, from a purely fiscal perspective, the design of the Tier II system will ultimately put Illinois in violation of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (“FICA”) exemption. This exemption creates a “Safe Harbor” which allows state governments to be exempt from enrolling public sector employees in Social Security coverage—and hence paying into the Social Security system—but only if those employees are provided a “sufficient” pension package from the state claiming the exemption. There is a growing consensus that the design of Tier II, which charges its members the same contribution rate as Tier I members, but pays a much lower retirement benefit, will be insufficient under the aforesaid federal Safe Harbor standards.

The policy questions this raises for decision makers are varied, and include, at a minimum: how can Tier II be modified to provide a level of benefits that would satisfy federal Safe Harbor requisites, create retirement security for Tier II members, and help recruit high quality workers to the public sector generally and teaching specifically?

This report analyzes those questions using data from TRS, which is Illinois’ largest pension system by number of enrollees, liabilities, and asset holdings, and will provide:

  1. A breakdown of Federal Safe Harbor and Social Security Equivalence standards;
  2. An overview of TRS;
  3. An explanation of why Tier II benefits exist in Illinois; and
  4. A demonstration of how Tier II benefits are in violation of federal standards.

Released October 9, 2023

Volume VIII of the Fully Funding the EBF series continues CTBA’s modeling of fully funding the EBF to 90% of Adequacy, which aligns with the Illinois State Board of Education’s methodology.

Released August 31, 2023

On June 7, 2023, Governor Pritzker signed the General Fund Budget for FY 2024 into law (the “FY 2024 Enacted GF Budget”). This budget was markedly different than any previous one proposed by Pritzker and passed by the General Assembly—or any other Illinois governor and General Assembly dating back to Jim Edgar in the mid-1990s, for one, simple reason: Illinois’ General Fund is in the healthiest fiscal condition it has been for decades.

In fact, when it comes to the health of the state’s General Fund, things have changed dramatically since Governor Pritzker was first sworn into office. Back then in 2019, Governor Pritzker inherited an $8 billion backlog of unpaid bills from Governor Rauner’s Administration. That was significant, as it meant roughly 30 percent of all General Fund expenditures during Rauner’s final year as governor constituted deficit spending. Unfortunately, that was also nothing new, as Illinois had failed to produce anything close to a balanced budget in its General Fund at any time over the prior two decades plus.

Many of the structural fiscal flaws that created years of deficits remain in place. Which means Illinois decision-makers have the rare opportunity to consider reforming the state’s fiscal system not during a crisis—but while the General Fund is on an upward trajectory, with an eye toward building the capacity needed to sustain investments in core services over the long haul. The FY 2024 Enacted GF Budget analysis takes an in depth look at Illinois’ revenue and spending in the General Fund for the current fiscal year.

Released June 21, 2023

Illinois state government has the responsibility to fund five public pension systems: the Teachers’ Retirement System (“TRS”); the State Employees’ Retirement System (“SERS”); the Judges’ Retirement System (“JRS”); the State Universities Retirement System (“SURS”); and the General Assembly Retirement System (“GARS”). But what exactly does “funding” a public pension system entail?

According to the United States Government Accountability Office (“GAO”), to be considered financially healthy, a public pension system should have a “funded ratio” of at least 80 percent.  A “funded ratio” is determined by dividing the current monetary value of a pension system’s total assets by its total liabilities.

As things stand today, the state’s pension systems are decidedly not healthy. As of November 2022, the state’s five pension systems collectively had $248 billion in liabilities, but only $109 billion in assets to cover those liabilities. This results in a funded ratio across all five state systems of just 44 percent, or fully 36 percentage points below the standard for healthy set by the GAO.  It also means Illinois state government faces a significant, as in $139 billion, aggregate “unfunded liability”—read that as “debt”—owed to its pension systems. Which begs the question: how did the state get in this predicament?

The report, “Understanding – and Resolving Illinois’ Pension Funding Challenges” provides some insights into Illinois’ pension crisis by:

  1. Providing the historical context of how Illinois pensions became so underfunded;
  2. Explaining where the Illinois pension debt stands today;
  3. Clarifying that the debt service schedule created under the pension ramp is straining the state’s fiscal system—not the cost of funding benefits; and
  4. Providing a template for re-amortizing the pension debt in a responsible manner, that would save billions in taxpayer costs while getting all five pension systems healthy.

Released May 3, 2023

Volume VII of the Fully Funding the EBF series continues CTBA’s modeling of fully funding the EBF to 90% of Adequacy, which aligns more closely with the Illinois State Board of Education’s methodology.

Released May 2, 2023

On February 15, 2023, Governor Pritzker delivered the first budget address of his second term to the 103rd General Assembly. This budget address was markedly different than any previous one delivered by Pritzker—or any other Illinois governor dating back to Jim Edgar in the mid-1990s. The reason: Illinois’ General Fund is in the healthiest fiscal condition it has been for decades.

Things have definitely changed since Governor Pritzker was first sworn into office in 2019. Back then, he inherited an $8 billion backlog of unpaid bills from Governor Rauner’s Administration. A budget hole of that size meant roughly 30 percent of all General Fund expenditures during Rauner’s final year as governor constituted deficit spending. Unfortunately, that was also nothing new, as Illinois had failed to produce anything close to a balanced budget in its General Fund for well over two decades prior.

Released April 24, 2023

In collaboration with the University of Illinois School of Labor & Employment Relations Project for Middle Class Renewal, CTBA’s report, “Reforming the Illinois Estate Tax to Advance Tax Equity and Fund Public Services” provides a historical overview of the Estate Tax in Illinois. In addition, the report highlights how the Estate Tax can be used as good, sound fiscal policy in today’s economy. Even more, this report estimates how changes to the Illinois Estate Tax policy could have significant impacts on future Illinois budgets

Released October 1, 2022

Volume VI of the Fully Funding the EBF series continues CTBA’s modeling of fully funding the EBF to 90% of Adequacy, which aligns more closely with the Illinois State Board of Education’s methodology. Volume VI uses the Enacted Fiscal Year 2023 General Fund Budget appropriations for the Evidence-Based Funding formula found in Volume V, but applies the ISBE EBF calculated shortfall for FY 2023 (released in August 2022), rather than a projected shortfall as provided in Volume V. The new release maintains the four scenarios found in the Fully Funding the EBF series Volume V.

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