For citizens and taxpayers hoping to learn about the quality of Illinois state government finances, 2019 has been a long, long wait. Illinois still hasn’t issued audited financial statements for fiscal 2018, which ended June 30 last year. In other words, the latest year for which we have audited financial statements ended more than two years ago.
Speaking of a long wait, and state government, I’ve been on hold now for more than five minutes. I’m not calling to try to get that report again. I’m actually calling the Illinois Department of Employment Security. I’m trying to find out how much money has been paid in unemployment insurance taxes on my behalf in my lifetime, and how much money, if any, I ever get back for this “insurance.” A topic for another day.
In the forthcoming (hopefully) Illinois annual financial report, Illinois will finally report an OPEB liability on its balance sheet for the first time. “OPEB” stands for “Other Post-Employment Benefits,” principally retiree health care benefit payments but also including things such as life insurance benefits. For decades, just like pensions, state and local governments distributed OPEB promises without funding the benefits, leading to massive liabilities that the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) allowed governments to accumulate off the balance sheet.
Until the latest fiscal year, when Illinois will finally be reporting that debt on its balance sheet. We’ve been recasting state and local government balance sheets for years at Truth in Accounting to include our estimate for both pension and OPEB debts, which are now arriving on reported balance sheets with the thud of billions and billions of dollars.
Here’s a chart comparing OPEB debts for Illinois, Indiana and Michigan since 2009, based on underlying actuarial and other reports. This chart is created using Truth in Accounting’s State Data Lab, which allows you to create and share charts with others. You can see Illinois’ OPEB running above $50 billion in 2017.
In turn, coincidentally or otherwise, here’s a look at the share of outbound moves for Illinois, Indiana and Michigan reported in United Van Lines’ annual migration study. Illinois, one of the most indebted state governments in the nation, has fewer and fewer stones to try to draw blood from.