Talk to the people of Illinois about America’s looming public-pension crisis, and they’ll tell you it’s not looming — it’s already here. This month, a statute went into effect giving Comptroller Susana Mendoza the right to make up for any town or county’s delinquent pension payments by seizing its share of sales, excise, and other taxes collected by the state. The result is that municipalities across Illinois have been scrambling to either cut services or raise taxes.
Mattoon officials have announced that ambulance services will be scuttled to pay pension bills a half-million dollars higher than last year’s, while Springfield’s budget director, Bill McCarthy, says he will have to “reduce other services just to meet pension obligations.” Normal will handle the problem through property-tax increases, while Danville has imposed a separate “public safety pension fee,” which will cost residents up to $267 annually. East St. Louis, which depends almost exclusively on its share of tax money from state’s Local Government Distributive Fund, could soon see its entire budget confiscated to satisfy pension obligations.
With a national pension asset shortfall calculated as high as $6 trillion — and with accelerating benefit payouts to retiring Baby Boomers — Illinois is sadly not the only state where voters are being hit with revenue surcharges or deprived of essential services.