Pritzker's proposed budget is financial catfishing

Sheila Weinberg  |  February 27, 2023

"If you are a citizen of Illinois, you are a victim of financial catfishing.

The only reason I know about catfishing is because I have a hard time sleeping, and the MTV show “Catfish” just happens to be one of the few non-infomercial programs on in the middle of the night. For those of you who do not know, catfishing is defined as a deceptive activity in which a person creates a fictional persona or fake identity on a social-networking service, usually targeting a specific victim.

The big problem with being a victim of catfishing is you make decisions based upon deceptive information. Catfishing can cost you not just in matters of the heart, but also financially. A 2022 study done by SocialCatfish found Illinois is the 13th-most-catfished state, with the average victim losing $33,478.

In Illinois, financial catfishing is being perpetrated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has created a fictional persona or fake identity for our state — namely, Illinois as a fiscally responsible state that has balanced its budget for four years and has a surplus. The most recent social-networking service he used was his State of the State Address. There, he targeted Illinois taxpayers, voters, potential bond holders, former teachers and other state pensioners.

Like prior governors, the biggest part of his catfishing story involves the funding of pension systems. Pritzker’s budget document touts that the budget “fully funds the (pension) systems’ certified contributions.” In 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission highlighted this catfishing when it charged Illinois with securities fraud for misleading the public, including municipal bond investors, about the state’s approach to funding its pension obligations.

Pritzker’s “certified contributions’’ were calculated according to this approach, which was established in the Illinois Pension Funding Act. As the SEC highlighted, “the statutory plan structurally underfunded the state’s pension obligations and backloaded the majority of pension contributions far into the future.” One SEC official called it a balloon-payment plan on steroids.

The pension systems’ actuaries have calculated the miserable truth that the governor’s “balanced” budget will short the pension systems by more than $4 billion.

The governor’s positive catfishing story, better known as his State of the State address, mentioned, “as of Fiscal Year 2023, all our state’s short-term and medium-term liabilities have been eliminated.” Notice he did not mention the state’s more than $200 billion long-term liabilities. But he did highlight the state’s “fiscal progress,” which included paying off debt, including that owed for College Illinois, group health insurance, the Thompson Center liability, the unemployment trust fund and overdue bills. Payment of this debt is a great thing, but it is amazing what you can do after you get a $8 billion gift from Uncle Sam.

Pritzker also proudly stated that during the first two years of the pandemic, “we balanced the budget.” Another miserable truth is the budgets were balanced in large part by including more $3.2 billion of money borrowed as revenues. Illinois, because of its horrible financial condition, was the only state that had to use a special borrowing facility set up by the Federal Reserve. The money was paid back after Illinois received money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Even though the miserable truth is that the state is hundreds of billions of dollars in debt, the governor offered many ways to spend the projected “surplus” of $165 billion. This includes additional funds for education from early childhood through K-12 to college, job training, family services, homeless assistance, and public-health infrastructure.

Unfortunately, our current governor is not alone. This financial catfishing has been done by all of our recent governors, both Democrat — Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich — and Republican — Bruce Rauner, George Ryan, Jim Edgar. If the state continues down its bad financial road, their collective catfishing, in cooperation with state legislators, will cost each taxpayer more than $49,500. This amount represents their share of the $210.5 billion of debt, including unfunded pension promises of $141 billion and unfunded retiree health care promises of $49 billion.

The biggest problem with this financial catfishing is that big decisions will be made based on deceptive information. Spending will be increased because of the false narrative that the state has a surplus of money, when Illinois is hundreds of billions of dollars in debt."

Read the full article on: The News Gazette

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