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Blue Model Blues
Illinois' Fiscal Problems Run Deeper Than Pensions

Illinois’ modest but much-needed pension reform may not be the lifeline that the state’s thrift-conscious lawmakers were hoping for. A new report says the state is still running up a mammoth budget deficit. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

While the changes to the state’s major public pension systems will eliminate their unfunded liability over the next 25 years, the state’s deficit will increase to $13 billion during that time, according to the University of Illinois’ Institute for Government and Public Affairs study.

Researchers had projected a $14 billion deficit — a $1 billion difference — if the state had not implemented pension reform. “The deficit has gotten off the front burner,” institute director Chris Mooney said. “And the pension solution, while important, in terms of (its effect on) the budget, it’s a red herring.”

One moderate attempt at pension reform (the subject of several pending lawsuits, by the way) isn’t going to change a deep-seated culture of profligate spending overnight. Spendthrift lawmakers will try to ride out the current wave of reform and then return to their profligate ways. The fact that many of the state’s deepest budget troubles are long term doesn’t help; lawmakers can probably find ways to continue postponing real reform indefinitely, or at least until they retire. The only ones who can adjust these politicians’ attitudes for them are Illinois voters.

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