STUMP » Articles » Illinois Financial Disaster: Even More Reactions to the Budget » 11 July 2017, 21:53

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Illinois Financial Disaster: Even More Reactions to the Budget  


11 July 2017, 21:53

That last post by no means exhausts all the reactions to the Illinois budget deal that I’ve seen.

But, perhaps, after today’s post, I will be exhausted for this subject. For a little bit.


Let’s start off with a laugh, for once.

Treasurer Frerichs urges Gov. Rauner to champion budget, tax hikes he vetoed

Before I get to the piece itself, that headline is a work of art.

Okay, the meat of the piece:

Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs wants Gov. Bruce Rauner to champion a budget Rauner says doesn’t address Illinois’ decades of fiscal problems.

After Democrats and some Republicans voted to override Rauner’s veto of the state’s largest annual budget to date and a 32 percent income tax increase, Treasurer Michael Frerichs said Rauner needs to embrace the change.

Among other things, Frerichs urged Rauner to talk to bond ratings agencies in New York and borrow $6 billion for some of the backlog of unpaid bills.

Frerichs said these steps will help the state avoid junk bond status.

“I believe that the governor is a very successful investor and as such he understands the danger of junk bond status,” Frerichs said.

Yes, he sure does.

And I bet the governor knows just fine that the budget doesn’t fix a damn thing.


Here is some info about the state individual income tax increases. I don’t like looking at numbers in that way, so I turned it into a graph:

Hey journalists. Learn to make a graph. You’re welcome.

(Yes, I know linear graphs are boring. So are a bunch of numbers on a page.)

Here is the Illinois Policy Institute’s calculator from which they got these numbers.

More on the taxes from the Better Government Association:

We took a look at the estimated effective 2016 tax rate — a measure of how much is actually paid in tax — for households across the region earning $57,574 with two earners — the Illinois median — and found that, in 2016, Illinois ranked fourth in effective tax rate. This recent change could push Illinois to second place, with potentially higher rates than Wisconsin and Iowa, states that had 2016 effective rates around 4.44 percent and 4.10 percent, respectively.

And they put it on a meaningful display:

So you can see there’s a range of rates for many states (and the highest rates are marginal tax rates, most likely).

I will do some math with the numbers given: 3.75% was the old Illinois individual income tax rate. 4.95% is the new rate. Assuming Wisconsin and Iowa remain the same, the new Illinois rate is 51 bps more than the Wisconsin effective rate and 85 bps more than the Iowa effective rate.

But that doesn’t give us the relative difference.

The new Illinois rate is 11% higher than the Wisconsin effective rate, and 21% higher than the Iowa effective rate.

Those are substantial differences.


But back to what good the budget may actually do.

Mark Glennon on whether tax revenue will come as expected: The Many Ways Illinoisans Won’t Pay Higher Taxes – Wirepoints Original

It’s not just that people are leaving because of taxes, though that’s probably the biggest problem. Long before last week’s tax increase over half of Illinoisans were telling pollsters they wanted to leave the state, citing taxes as the biggest reason.

Remember how the deniers a few years ago ridiculed what was then just anecdotal evidence of people leaving, especially big taxpayers? Census and tax data eventually backed it up. This is no different.

It’s happening within the Illinois, too. People will shop where sales taxes are lower because those rates have become so meaningful to them. One reader told me about how busy the take out Peapod location is in Deerfield, Lake County. Cook County shoppers are going there, just across the county line, to take a couple points off their sales tax.

As for me, I’m writing this from a house in southeastern Wisconsin my wife and I bought recently. I figured we’d get ahead of the escape-from-Illinois crowd that’s increasingly feeding demand here. If Illinois doesn’t adopt the radical changes it needs by the time my youngest graduates from high school there, I’ll make this my permanent home — like so many Illinois ex-pats I’ve met here have done. In the meantime, we’ll buy our groceries here often, where they’re exempt from any sales tax.

Illinois’ tax collections have already been dropping. Last week the state released its report for the fiscal year that ended June 30. Tax receipts declined 3.2% — almost $1 billion from the preceding year.

I think we are well past the top of the curve — the point where higher rates result in less tax yield. Sure, tax receipts will surge for a few years. Maybe the state will get the $5 billion per year it claims — at first. It takes time to move or adapt in a way that reduces your taxes.

But it won’t hold up. Too many people are too furious. They won’t pay, one way or another.

I pay superhigh taxes in New York. And I pay taxes to Connecticut. At least in NY, I get a bunch of services, and they seem to be somewhat better-behaved on their finance (not much better, but that’s for another time.)

There’s no reason people should feel a particular loyalty to a particular state, especially if politicians are running it into the ground. But keep in mind you may be one of the people who put those politicians there.

A note on taxes taken in thus far:

In the budget year that ended last month, Illinois collected $17.8 billion in personal and corporate income taxes, an increase of just 1 percent from the previous year, according to the Legislature’s bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability . Legislative sponsors of the tax hike estimated it would bring in $350 million more per month, though that likely depends on economic growth in the state.

Legislative Democrats boast that the $36 billion budget they approved is not only $1 billion less than Rauner himself proposed, but $3 billion less than the “autopilot” government spent annually. But Rauner’s administration complains the budget still is $1 billion or more out of balance.

The bolded is a huge assumption.

But let’s see — this new budget doesn’t even fix the hole — So they’re spending $1 billion more than they expect to take in as revenue. That’s a 3% gap, which does sound small, until you realize that a bunch of these small, and not so small, annual gaps have accumulated as state debt. Which is a hell of a lot bigger than $1 billion.


Joe Cahill at Crain’s Chicago: New budget threatens to deepen pension debt:

Lawmakers in Springfield appeared to face up to Illinois’ grim financial realities when they passed the first state budget in three years. The spending plan approved over Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto does take a few steps to address deepening fiscal woes ignored during years of political stalemate between the governor and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. It brings a measure of relief to state vendors owed $15 billion in unpaid bills, and might stave off a downgrade of Illinois bonds to junk status.

When it comes to the state’s gravest budgetary peril, however, the 2018 budget is another exercise in denial and can-kicking. Legislators did nothing about unfunded state employee pension obligations estimated at $130 billion, an albatross that will surely drag Illinois under unless aggressive action is taken to reduce the shortfall. In fact, the new budget could even enlarge the pension funding sinkhole.

State contributions to pension plans will decline $1.5 billion in fiscal 2018, by far the largest single spending cut in the budget. And some $900 million of that reduction reflects wishful thinking about future investment returns at state employee pension funds.

Ironically, this is a rare area of agreement between arch-foes Madigan and Rauner. The governor excoriated Madigan’s 32 percent income tax hike, but uttered not a peep about his pension legerdemain. Perhaps that’s because he proposed “smoothing” in reduced rate-of-return assumptions in his own budget blueprint earlier this year.

Thus, both sides share blame for perpetuating pension funding practices that created the massive shortfall in the first place. For years, Illinois failed to make contributions sufficient to fully fund obligations to future retirees. Only recently did the state step up contributions. But now Illinois is taking a step backward. Even in a best-case scenario, smaller contributions will slow the return to pension solvency. And the enormous pension shortfall will grow larger if the rosy return assumptions embraced by our political leaders don’t come true.

Yes, this is a problem. The biggest financial problem the state has.


How Illinois Courts Are Bankrupting The State:

Like every other state, Illinois has a system of employer-funded insurance for workplace injuries. This is a safety net that every worker—in the private and public sectors alike—receives. Under workers’ compensation laws employees give up their right to sue and potentially win large awards in exchange for more modest but speedy compensation; and employers are liable no matter whose fault caused the injury, in exchange for limits on their liabilities. For the last 100 years, this regime has been working nicely in most states.

But not in Illinois. The commission handling workers’ claims and the courts that supervise it have endlessly expanded the liability of employers, forgetting that the system was supposed to cover only employment-related injuries. One Illinois court held, for example, that a worker was entitled to benefits when he was injured throwing himself up against a vending machine in an attempt to dislodge a stubborn bag of potato chips. The court said that the injured employee was a deserving “Good Samaritan” on a rescue mission to help a fellow co-worker who had deposited the coins. The court thought that the defect in the vending machine “created a need for action to dislodge the bag of Fritos.” (I am not making this up!)

Illinois courts are generous to workers even when it defies common sense. A firefighter that was injured when he was out of town for a seminar and engaged in “horseplay” with a fellow worker in their hotel room (“wrestling like two oversized kids”) succeeded in persuading a court that the injury is work related. Numerous employees have had great success receiving lifetime benefits for degenerative injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, even when it was proven highly unlikely that they were caused on the job. Ex-workers often continue to receive lost wages awards after returning to work elsewhere!

Illinois’ bottomless workers’ compensation system has contributed to the state ranking as one of the most labor-expensive states. In the construction industry, for example, $20 of every $100 of wages goes to workers’ compensation (in neighboring Indiana it’s less than $5). It is perhaps one more reason why the state has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, and why, unlike its Midwest neighbors, it has not enjoyed any manufacturing job growth since the Great Recession.

Those are far from the wackiest workers comp stories I have heard.


Illinois: A State In Crisis

The political battle playing out in Illinois at the state level is a national disgrace. Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, and the Illinois State Legislature, which is Democratically controlled, haven’t agreed on a state budget for the last two years.

As a result, the state has built up a record $14.9 billion backlog of unpaid bills. This has prompted a lawsuit by Medicaid recipients whose health care is at risk since care givers can only fund so much unpaid care before they too cut back.

Unsaid is that many businesses owed money by the state have of necessity had to shrink their operations and cut expenses due to not being paid, hence economic growth is suffering. The most unfortunate part of this situation is that the citizens of Illinois have come to accept such irresponsible behavior from their officials as they see a similar situation playing out on the national stage.

The long-term consequences of this battle in Illinois are tragic. The state is on the brink of losing its investment grade credit rating, an event that can generate a new crisis since the municipal debt market is key to any resolution of the financial crisis at hand. Barring some dramatic action by voters, it will ultimately be bondholders who force the state into more responsible behavior.

I don’t think the bondholders will be able to.

And look for below, which lets some bondholders back off with forcing the state into good behavior.


Greg Hinz explains: State budget deal contains a junk-free sweetener for Chicago

The city of Chicago may be able to end junk status on much of its debt—potentially saving $100 million or more in interest charges each year—thanks to a clause that was quietly tucked into the state’s new budget.

The provision will allow home-rule entities such as Chicago to separate out money they get from the state from other receipts and use that dedicated revenue to pay for new debt, or to pay for retiring old debt.

The city now gets well over $1 billion from the state each year, including $630 million in sales taxes collected by the Illinois Department of Revenue on the city’s behalf, the $368 million city share of local income tax receipts, and $71 million in motor fuel taxes.

City officials hope the provision will allow them to save as much as 3 full percentage points—300 basis points—compared to what junk-level city general-obligation debt now costs. With more than $8 billion in outstanding general-obligation debt, the city would save $30 million a year on each $1 billion that could be refinanced, assuming it indeed can sell such “statutory lien” debt at the lower rates.

Saving $100 million a year would about equal the annual recent increase in the city’s property tax levy.

Bond experts and financial watchdogs say that while the scheme is not perfect and does not in itself reduce tens of billions of dollars in unfunded city pension liability, the clause has considerable potential.

The idea of creating a segregated revenue stream to bail out a troubled government is not new. Chicago Public Schools did that a generation ago when, amidst a financial crisis, it agreed to creation of an independent School Finance Authority that received a portion of CPS’ normal property tax levy and used it to secure bonds that CPS was unable to issue on its own.

But there are a couple of differences between that and what’s in the new measure, which is buried on page 711 of the massive fiscal 2018 budget implementation act that became law last week after Rauner’s veto was overridden by the General Assembly. The new, unnamed issuing entity will not be independent of regular city government, and it will not have its own tax levy.

Instead, the measure specifically allows home-rule municipalities to assign to debt repayment regular revenues received from the state, and obligates Illinois officials not to interfere in any such deals.

The idea for the innovative financing step apparently comes from Chicago Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown, who arranged for a somewhat similar assignment of income taxes when she worked in Washington, D.C.

A version of the statutory lien was included earlier this year in the “grand bargain” negotiated between Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and his then-GOP counterpart, Christine Radogno. After the grand bargain fell apart and Democrats decided to move ahead on a budget and tax plan on their own, it was included in the budget implementation bill, generally known in Springfield as the BIMP. That almost certainly happened at Cullerton’s behest, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s backing.

Officially, all City Hall is saying is that it’s “reviewing the provision” and will make decisions later about whether to use it. But I’m told Emanuel wants to move this year, perhaps starting with the $2 billion to $3 billion in city debt that will soon expire or can be called in without paying a penalty. Officials say they do not intend to use the clause for pensions, although saving money anywhere in city government will free up funds that can go toward retirement costs.

Ciccarone says a roughly similar group in New York, first created during that city’s financial crisis years ago, is rated AAA. But for the new plan to work, the state revenues involved must go directly to debt repayment and not into general city coffers, he adds.

Reaction from Mark Glennon: Outrageous Giveaway to Muni Bond Buyers Hidden in Massive Budget Bill – Wirepoints Original:

Guess what was hidden in the 756-page Budget Implementation Bill that just became law in Illinois?

It’s roughly the same as the “bill that must be stopped,” as we called it earlier. That was Senate Bill 10, the bill about which I wrote this:

When I practiced law I taught secured lending and bankruptcy as an adjunct at the University of Texas Law School. I can imagine giving an assignment like this: “Draft a bill to make bondholders supreme by stiffing the public and taxpayers.” If somebody handed in Senate Bill 10, they’d get an A+.

It’s a naked asset grab at the expense of citizens designed to allow municipalities to kick the can by borrowing more and giving first dibs to municipal bondholders on public assets.

It’s the ticket to an assetless bankruptcy, which is the worst of all conceivable outcomes for broke Illinois towns and cities, including Chicago.

It’s Section 8-13-10, “Assignment of receipts,” in the implementation bill. It is intended to eliminate the risk of mortgages being undone and assure that bondholders come first, hell or high water, regardless of the need for essential government service. It would do that by forcing (not just authorizing) municipalities that want to use, as collateral, funds that come to them from the state to transfer complete ownership of that money to a new, separate entity created solely to pay bondholders.

By doing that, the bill would create a form of mortgage that would be bulletproof even in bankruptcy. The bill would apply to all home rule muncipalities (which are all towns and cities with more than 25,000 residents plus those that have voted to become home rule).

Worse, it binds the state itself to “non-impairment.” That means the state would be required by statute to refrain from doing the very things it should already be doing — working to undo mortgages that prioritize bondholders over the public. And it prohibits municipalities from mortgaging their state money in any way other than the bulletproof manner created by the bill.

We’ll no doubt be finding more bombshells in the hundreds and hundreds of budget and tax bills dumped on the General Assembly just prior to their vote, which few members ever reviewed and the public doesn’t know about.

The muni bond industry is going all out to keep raising the credit card limit and sucking every ounce of blood out to ensure it gets repaid.

My first reaction: yes, bondholders do want to get paid.

Otherwise, they wouldn’t buy the bonds. Duh.

But my second reaction was to wonder just how strong this particular legal protection is.

We’re already seeing in Puerto Rico that they’ve been trying to get out of various guarantees that were supposed to make newly-issued bonds bankruptcy remote. But now that they’re in their morass, seems that the political actors are trying their damnedest to make sure the politicians, employees, and retirees get the money, and not the bondholders (though, of course, some bondholders are also retirees. Who exactly are buying these bonds, I wonder.)

My third reaction was: exactly how difficult would it be to enforce that “non-impairment” rule against the state?

As noted in Hinz’s piece, we’ll see if Chicago takes this particular lifeline.

But here’s the real deal: paying for pensions and debt isn’t as sexy as paying for shiny new toys. I assume a lot of shiny new toys will be bought if the debt pressure is lightened. I do not trust one whit that there will be any fiscal sanity from Chicago or Illinois.

And I agree with Glennon that this is an awful idea, because it doesn’t do anything for the structural financial problems for the cities or state. It makes the ultimate crash that much worse when it does come.


Yes, he’s a nasty piece of work. Here’s a nice piece on Madigan’s behavior — Krug: INN asks the tough statehouse questions regardless Madigan’s bullying with respect to Illinois News Network:

We’re glad to be making an impact. We’re proud that our efforts have made a difference, and we thank our partner editors for their trust and belief in us.

In spite of challenges: And we’ve done this in spite of Speaker Michael Madigan’s consistent pattern – specifically over the last two weeks of session – of antagonizing our statehouse reporter, Greg Bishop.

Some of the time, these barbs were echoed by chuckleheaded giggles of the Springfield Bubble Press Corps, who at any time could have intervened and stood up for the rights of journalists to ask difficult questions. Rather than respect the profession, they either burbled like a 1970s TV sit-com laugh track or stood by and said nothing. So fake. So weak. So typical.

Only once, when Capitol Fax owner Rich Miller told Madigan to knock it off when he was assailing Bishop for the fifth consecutive day, did anyone on the statehouse beat have the fortitude to stand up to Madigan’s bullying.

When people ask me how Madigan has managed to maintain his grip on the state, I tell them that it’s two pieces. One, he owns his district. He’s had it on lockdown for decades. Two, he owns the Springfield Bubble Press Corps, who seem only too willing to amplify whatever anyone blows into their recorders. Some of that reporting brings to mind the foreign press I observed in my world travels.

Look, I know it takes courage to do the right thing in the face of perceived authority. But, c’mon. There’s no journalistic ethic in withering. There’s no drive. There’s no fight for fairness. If there were any of those attributes, that group would have rallied around Bishop the past two weeks or more than a year ago during Illinois News Network’s effort to gain credentials to the House and Senate floors.

Instead, crickets. Those fighting for a free press shouldn’t be silent when it’s jeopardized. The shortsightedness of that is galling, and anyone who stood idly by and watched should be ashamed of their shrinking.

Not that access has much mattered this year.

As we’ve seen with much of legacy media, “access” isn’t worth much when those with “access” just get fed bullshit by their sources. Is it the quality of the china and silverware it’s served with that’s appealing?


So some people have written to me about the Illinois debt stuff.

I attribute to people when they wish, and don’t attribute when they don’t wish (also, I will paraphrase vs. quote, depending – I will edit for readability, typos, and the like).

From an email, the following point was brought up:

“While bondholders fear—and Illinois’ pensioners would presumably welcome—a similar resolution should Illinois go bust, the more important precedent established by Puerto Rico is that when the federal government gets involved, the state’s constitution will get tossed aside. And that should worry both pensioners and taxpayers.”

[that quote was from a Weekly Standard piece]

The Feds CANNOT, EVER “set aside” a state’s constitution.

The 11th Amendment gives states their sovereign status and immunity, they CANNOT be sued by ANYONE, not residents of others states, not the residents of their own state and not the Feds. It also PREVENTS the Feds from imposing ANYTHING on the states UNLESS it is a violation of US Constitution, laws or treaties.

The Feds can and do sue states for injunctive relief to STOP states from doing certain unlawful practices that violate the US Constitution, laws or treaties. An example would be voting rights and gerrymandering voting districts, or trying to impose terms limits on the Congress, those are FEDERAL issues. Those are the LIMITED exceptions when the Fed’s CAN force action on states.

I am obviously not any kind of lawyer or any constitutional scholar, but let’s look up the 11th amendment:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

That deals specifically with the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary. Yes, the states are sometimes sued in federal court, but as my interlocutor notes, it’s under very specific circumstances that this can be done. It’s usually done under the auspices of the section 1 of the 14th amendment which states:



All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.

Something I want to note is a different section of this amendment, which is rarely brought up. It’s this one:


The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

But back to the matter at hand: a process for states to go through a federal bankruptcy process as municipalities can.

It would require a U.S. Constitutional amendment to nullify at least part of Amendment 11 in order to allow this to happen.

I will modestly suggest that it would be easier to amend the Illinois state constitution, to nullify debts, than to amend the U.S. constitution on this matter.

But back to the email exchange:

Because states cannot be sued under the 11th Amendment they can repudiate/default/NOT pay any of their debts with impunity. Nothing ANYONE can do about it.

The fact is I am sick and tired of people saying things like: “States can’t go bankrupt” — a favorite of public employees (they don’t have to with the 11th Amendment); or “ Congress MUST pass legislation to ALLOW states to go bankrupt” (again, states do not need the Congress or anyone else to repudiate their debts b/c they cannot be forced to pay up).

States are run by politicians and those politicians will not go against their $$$ constituents, which means states are not likely to repudiate their own debts, but the CAN do that, if they so choose; without any help/legislation from Congress or anyone else.

I think they will. This isn’t about what I think should happen. But given past performance….

and have some tweets:

See, I don’t get why people bitch about how horrible twitter is. I have fun convos about public finance all the time there!


From March 2013 — SEC Nails Illinois For Misleading Pension Disclosures In Municipal Bond Offerings

The Securities and Exchange Commission today finally charged the State of Illinois with securities fraud for misleading municipal bond investors about the impact of problems with its pension funding schedule as the state sold more than $2.2 billion in municipal bonds from 2005 to early 2009. It’s now eight years after the inception of the wrongdoing and the state’s impending pension crisis has hardly been kept secret. Given the number of cities and states facing pension meltdowns, let’s hope the SEC becomes more efficient in ferreting-out misleading pension disclosures.

OOoooooh, bad news, Ted….

Illinois will pay no fine. The SEC apparently needs reminding that it actually has the power, some might even say responsibility, to impose fines as a deterrent to multi-billion frauds.

The SEC says Illinois failed to disclose that its statutory plan significantly underfunded the state’s pension obligations and increased the risk to its overall financial condition. The state also misled investors about the effect of changes to its statutory plan.

If I recall correctly, New Jersey also got dinged by the SEC.

By the way, I don’t disagree with Mark Glennon (and others) that a federal bankruptcy process would be the best possible outcome for Illinois.

My main point is that I think it’s an extremely unlikely outcome.

I think something much uglier is going to happen. This is my “benefit” of being relatively young among the pension bloggers — I’ll get to see how it turns out. Maybe. It’s all contingent.


Here’s a bunch of links. Go for it.

Liz Farmer at Governing: The Week in Public Finance: Late Budgets, Illinois’ First in Years and Risky Pension Investments

Illinois’s concocted budget crisis a red flag for all pension holders… now why would that be? Don’t you know that public pensions can’t fail?!

Video Muni Minute: Market eyes the future of Illinois’ credit

Illinois reaps market reward for break in gridlock

Moody’s May Cut State of Illinois, Chicago Board of Ed Credit

Rauner replaces Chief of Staff Goldberg with Illinois Policy’s Rasmussen

With new chief of staff pick, Rauner signals war

Illinois tax increase welcome in Wisconsin

Illinois tax hikes give Indiana competitive advantage

and to wrap it up the way I started:


Compilation of Illinois posts

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