Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Illinois Faces a ‘Red Menace’ Made of Ink

 

The Chicago Tribune has published the story of a family trying to obtain services for their autistic son. He “aged out” of Illinois’ special education system when he turned 22 and was put on the State’s “Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services” (PUNS) list, a waitlist for disabilities services administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). From the story:

“Nick is among nearly 20,000 people with developmental disabilities in Illinois who are on a waiting list to get into adult programs. Many of them come from families who don’t have a way to pay for home care, job coaches or other services.

Most wait an average of seven years before they are selected, despite a court order in 2011 that Illinois shrink the list and do other things to improve how it serves developmentally disabled adults.

One family told the Tribune they signed up their child when he was just 5 and he still did not get a spot when he turned 22 this year…”

The story goes on to describe a lawsuit filed in 2004 to require the State to provide community-based living arrangements and services to the developmentally disabled. Again, from the story:

“While paying lip service to the value of community-based programs, defendants have made paltry efforts to reduce the state’s reliance on large institutions or to expand Illinois’ community-based programs,” the lawsuit added.

We’re all familiar with the tragic story of A.J. Freund, the five-year-old who had been in and out of the attention of DCFS since birth. The extent to which the agency’s systemic troubles failed him and others is a story yet to be fully told.

I’ve recently been appointed to the “Task Force for Strengthening Child Welfare Workforce for Children and Families,” established by Public Act 100-879, the purpose of which is to:

[C]reate a task force to study the compensation and workload of child welfare workers to determine the role that compensation and workload play in the recruitment and retention of child welfare workers, and to determine the role that staff turnover plays in achieving safety and timely permanency for children.

It would be an easy fix if all we were doing was paying “lip-service” to these and any number of other underfunded programs. But the real and bigger reason for this chronic underfunding is staring us directly in the face.

A story getting far less attention but which has everything to do with the 20,000 people on the PUNS list and excessive workloads at DCFS is the recent report issued by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) about the state of Illinois’ pensions.

The report discloses that the unfunded liability for its five pension funds as of June 30 stands at $137.2 billion, up from $133.5 billion the previous year. It notes that in Fiscal Year 2020, the State is scheduled to contribute $9.223 billion out of General Revenue to fund those pensions.

That $9.2 billion represents 22 percent of the total amount of state spending in the current FY 2020 budget, which is scheduled to grow to $10.6 billion in 2024 and ultimately rise to over $19 billion in 2045.

When over 20% (and climbing) of your total budget is going towards paying debt, it leaves much less for the ongoing functions of government. The size of our debt is a rough measure of how much money was diverted in the past to dispense the type of goodies that politicians are only too happy to give; goodies which blur and ultimately erase the lines between an encroaching State and those entities and institutions in which a free people in a healthy society really live: its civic and charitable organizations, community clubs, Little League, churches and a free economy, to name just a few.

This is money that could be used for the types of programs that would help Nick cope with life in our broader society, allow the State to more adequately fulfill its Constitutional imperative of paying for education and create a more robust and effective program of child protection. But so long as we continue to deal with this albatross around our neck, none of this will be done.

I grew up at a time when the former Soviet Union was referred to as the “Red Menace.” We now live under the threat of a new Red Menace, one made of ink. We can argue all day about where the responsibility lies and whose fault it is that we’re in this mess. But when the excesses of the past continue to increasingly crowd out our responsibilities of the present and to the future, we’re going to see more stories about people like Nick and A.J. If we don’t do something about our debt and soon, we’d better get used to seeing them.

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  1. John Park Member

    When Dodd-Frank created the sifi (systematically important financial institutions) designation, I thought the Illinois pension system should be nominated for the designation and additional scrutiny and recordkeeping.

    • #1
    • December 18, 2019, at 7:47 AM PST
    • 1 like
  2. Locke On Member

    The only way out is going to be (hopefully partial) repudiation. That can happen sooner with much political and legal pain, or later with much more economic pain.

    “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” – Herb Stein

     

    • #2
    • December 18, 2019, at 7:54 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. Juliana Member

    Hopefully changes have been made to current contracts so going forward you do not incur the same types of liabilities. It looks like the highest amount owed is the TRS – I am assuming that is the teacher retirement system. I can’t speak for all of Minnesota, but in our district they made changes about 10 or 12 years ago which significantly reduced the amount of pension paid to retired teachers. Previously if you had worked for 20 years in this district and were 65 or older, you would be entitled to 90% of your pay as a lifetime pension. Most of the Rule of 90 teachers have now retired. Currently more emphasis is placed on your own social security and 401k. I don’t know what kind of contract the Illinois teachers have, but if they have not been changed to reflect more reasonable pensions, this debt will just continue – same with the other government workers. But that’s the hard part – changing the contracts. Unions will not hear ‘we don’t have the money.’ Even as taxpayers, they don’t get it. So they strike, and services are not provided until the government capitulates, knowing full well there is no way to pay.

    You can throw up your hands and say ‘what a mess!’ but that is not a solution. No one really wants to confront the problems and take the hard cuts. Most adults with disabilities are pretty invisible to the general population. Families try, but generally cannot afford what it takes to keep them healthy and safe without support. But a story here, and a story there only generates a few minutes of sympathy and cannot compete with loud mouthed, well connected unions and their collaborating politicians.

    • #3
    • December 18, 2019, at 8:51 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    This is what happens when politicians and govt. workers collude to pay for today’s services with future tax revenues. This is the fate of all cities and states that do not constitutionally constrain politicians to signing contracts for current services for deferred payments. Without the constitutional constraint, there is too much incentive for politicians to “give” without taxing. I am OK with haircuts for pensions. That is part of the risk of taking deferred payments.

    • #4
    • December 18, 2019, at 10:52 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Juliana (View Comment):

    Hopefully changes have been made to current contracts so going forward you do not incur the same types of liabilities. It looks like the highest amount owed is the TRS – I am assuming that is the teacher retirement system. I can’t speak for all of Minnesota, but in our district they made changes about 10 or 12 years ago which significantly reduced the amount of pension paid to retired teachers. Previously if you had worked for 20 years in this district and were 65 or older, you would be entitled to 90% of your pay as a lifetime pension. Most of the Rule of 90 teachers have now retired. Currently more emphasis is placed on your own social security and 401k. I don’t know what kind of contract the Illinois teachers have, but if they have not been changed to reflect more reasonable pensions, this debt will just continue – same with the other government workers. But that’s the hard part – changing the contracts. Unions will not hear ‘we don’t have the money.’ Even as taxpayers, they don’t get it. So they strike, and services are not provided until the government capitulates, knowing full well there is no way to pay.

    You can throw up your hands and say ‘what a mess!’ but that is not a solution. No one really wants to confront the problems and take the hard cuts. Most adults with disabilities are pretty invisible to the general population. Families try, but generally cannot afford what it takes to keep them healthy and safe without support. But a story here, and a story there only generates a few minutes of sympathy and cannot compete with loud mouthed, well connected unions and their collaborating politicians.

    We went to a different pension program for those hired after 2011, which has its own set of problems, but our Supreme Court has made it plain that the pension protections in the Illinois Constitution are hard and fast, and pension benefits earned under the old system cannot be diminished. We’re stuck with what we have. None of our state employees participate in social security.

    • #5
    • December 18, 2019, at 5:12 PM PST
    • Like
  6. Juliana Member

    Illiniguy (View Comment):

    We went to a different pension program for those hired after 2011, which has its own set of problems, but our Supreme Court has made it plain that the pension protections in the Illinois Constitution are hard and fast, and pension benefits earned under the old system cannot be diminished. We’re stuck with what we have. None of our state employees participate in social security.

    Wow. Just wow.

     

    • #6
    • December 18, 2019, at 5:31 PM PST
    • Like
  7. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    When I was an IL state employee, I joked that we would get hunted down Logan’s Run style as soon as we retire. If all of the retirees die right away, IL might be able to have some money.

    I personally support IL becoming a territory again under bankruptcy.

    • #7
    • December 18, 2019, at 11:45 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  8. Old Bathos Moderator

    I don’t get what the expected endpoint is. Maybe wait until there is a Democrat in the White House with majorities in Congress then declare bankruptcy and get a federal bailout? Big tax hikes will likely accelerate an exodus of the taxable and make the problem worse. And big spending cuts in a blue state are virtually impossible. Some small, powerless constituencies will be squeezed by cuts and redirected spending. I don’t see a solution.

    • #8
    • December 19, 2019, at 9:15 AM PST
    • Like
  9. Stad Thatcher

    Illiniguy (View Comment):
    but our Supreme Court has made it plain that the pension protections in the Illinois Constitution are hard and fast, and pension benefits earned under the old system cannot be diminished

    I love it when legislatures make laws or judges make rulings which have a good chance of being bitten by the hard jaws of reality later . . .

    • #9
    • December 19, 2019, at 10:19 AM PST
    • Like
  10. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    Illiniguy (View Comment):
    but our Supreme Court has made it plain that the pension protections in the Illinois Constitution are hard and fast,

    I am assuming that their pensions are part of this. California has similar problems. The employee unions are responsible for much of it.

    • #10
    • December 19, 2019, at 12:12 PM PST
    • Like
  11. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    I personally support IL becoming a territory again under bankruptcy.

    Maybe Chicago could be split off. One can hope.

    • #11
    • December 19, 2019, at 12:13 PM PST
    • Like
  12. The Reticulator Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    I personally support IL becoming a territory again under bankruptcy.

    Maybe Chicago could be split off. One can hope.

    At the very least, Illinois could refuse to send pension payments out of state. Make the pensioners come in person to a local office every two weeks to pick up their checks.

    • #12
    • December 19, 2019, at 1:56 PM PST
    • Like
  13. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    I personally support IL becoming a territory again under bankruptcy.

    Maybe Chicago could be split off. One can hope.

    We have a group of Republican reps called the “Eastern Bloc” who want Chicago to be carved out of the state. The only problem is that those of us in the northern half of the state get less back than we pay in taxes, and the districts that these guys represent average about $1.50 in state benefits for every dollar they send to Springfield. Economics aren’t these guys’ strong suit.

    • #13
    • December 19, 2019, at 6:12 PM PST
    • 1 like
  14. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    When I was an IL state employee, I joked that we would get hunted down Logan’s Run style as soon as we retire. If all of the retirees die right away, IL might be able to have some money.

    I personally support IL becoming a territory again under bankruptcy.

    Watch what you wish for.

    • #14
    • December 19, 2019, at 6:15 PM PST
    • Like