Illinois in Decline: What Do the Numbers Say?
On Tuesday, August 1, 2023, Greg Bishop of WMAY Springfield's Morning News interviewed me.
We discussed the recently unveiled budget summary for FY2024 by the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). This is a bi-partisan Commission that includes Democratic and Republican state senators and house members.
Based upon the schedule included in the report (image below), there was an increase in total appropriations from $99 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2018 to $193.5 billion for FY 2024. Mr. Bishop highlighted for his viewers that appropriations are taxpayer dollars from the federal, state, and local governments. So, even if you aren't an Illinois resident, these are your federal tax dollars.
The most significant increases came during the COVID crisis, with a total appropriations increase of 35% in FY 2020 and 19% in FY2021. Once the crisis was over, appropriations should have returned to pre-COVID levels. Instead, they continue to rise. According to my calculations, if appropriations had continued to increase at a 7% rate, as they did from FY2018 to FY2019, then the estimated FY2024 total would be $149 billion, $44.5 billion less than the $193.5 billion estimated by COGFA.
The budget number mentioned by Governor JB Pritzker and the legislature is $50.4 billion, while the COFGA report puts expectations at $193.5 billion for total appropriations.
Why the discrepancy in numbers? Greg asked.
And this is where the confusion starts, was my reply. It is so confusing that even if the taxpayers paid attention, they would throw their hands up. As an accountant and someone who looks at Illinois' finances all the time, trying to figure out Illinois' budget numbers is like a dog trying to chase its tail.
The $50.4 billion is the “General Funds” budget. What does “General Funds” mean? Here is the definition I found on page 162 of the COGFA’s FY2024 budget summary.
General Funds - (usually lower-case) refers to the following group of funds, inclusively: the General Revenue Fund, the Education Assistance Fund, the Common School Fund, the General Revenue - Common School Special Account Fund, the Fund for the Advancement of Education, the Commitment to Human Services Fund, and the Budget Stabilization Fund.
Here is a chart included in the report titled “FY 2024 Budget By Funding Source”:
Now I am starting to get dizzy chasing the numbers. As an accountant, I want numbers to tie together. As Greg mentioned the Governor signed a $50.4 billion budget, but the revenue on the chart above shows the General Funds revenue totals $49.1 billion.
After spending 10 minutes looking at the 177-page COGFA report to find the difference I decided to move on since it’s only a mere $1.3 billion.
Another vital thing to understand is that “Special State Funds” are $70.1 billion, or 36% of all funding sources. In our 2017 Truth in Accounting study, we found Illinois had more than 600 special funds. We concluded that:
Most state governments utilize special funds, which are intended to restrict use of such funds to the specific purpose for which they were created. In Illinois there are more than 600 special state funds listed under Section 5 of the Illinois Finance Act (Illinois Legislative Reference Bureau, 2017) that support activities ranging from cancer research to environmental protection. Some of the large funds include the Local Government Tax, Hospital Provider, State Lottery, and the Road Fund. In many cases special funds are established for a special cause that might not be funded during the normal budget process.
One example of one of the special funds is the "911 Enhancement Fund". I invited his audience to review their cell phone bill for the 911 Enhancement Fee. This special fund is meant to enhance the 911 system throughout the state. For example, when you call 911, it will go to the closest police department. However, the state legislature can sweep this money into the general fund if they decide to use it for other purposes or to balance its budget.
The control and use of Special Funds can be very loosey-goosey. So much so that in 2016 80% of Illinois voters approved the Safe Roads Amendment, which taxes and fees assessed for transportation projects must be used for transportation projects.
At the end of my interview with Greg I stated that we should all agree on two issues.
First, the Illinois budget (or any state or local budget) should not list loan proceeds as revenue. Borrowing to balance the budget is so frequent that page 128 of the COGFA report includes a schedule titled "History of Short-Term Borrowing Act." As noted on this schedule, the budgets were "balanced" for FY2020 and FY2021, while state revenues listed a $3.2 billion loan from the Federal Reserve. (Do you consider your budget balanced if you had to borrow money to pay some bills?)
Second, the state should include its minimum pension contributions when calculating its budget. Unfunded pension benefits are compensation costs that should be accounted for when earned, but instead, they are being charged to future taxpayers' credit cards without making the minimum payment.
In fact, the COGFA report includes a quote from the Fitch rating agency that correctly highlights that the state pension contributions are $4.4 billion short of the minimum payments the state's actuaries say should be contributed to the pension plans. Another chart titled "Change in Unfunded Liabilities" highlights that $58.5 billion of the increase in Illinois' unfunded pension liabilities comes from the state not contributing the minimum payments to the plans.
Those two changes alone would put Illinois on the track to financial honesty and repair.
April 4, 2023
This is an important election for Chicago and Illinois.
Therefore, every voter must be “fiscally educated” before entering the voting booth.
I was recently interviewed by ABC Chicago 7 on the race. Here is my recap.
The city’s budgets have not been truly balanced. Chicago would need $38.2 billion to pay the bills it has already accumulated. This includes $33.7 billion of pension debt.
Each taxpayer’s share is $41,900. This represents the amount each taxpayer will have to pay to cover bills past Councils and Mayors have not included in prior budgets, but the future taxpayers who will not receive any services for these taxes.
Chicago’s budget is routinely balanced by recording loan proceeds as revenue.
The retirement plans’ credit card bill is $33.7 billion. This would be like you having someone paint your house today and telling them your kids will pay the bill after they move out of the house.
In 2023 the city paid only 45 percent of the minimum payment as calculated by the city actuaries. To balance the budget would require contributing another $1 billion to the city’s pension plans.
There is some good news when looking at what the mayoral candidates say about the budget.
Brandon Johnson says he would “present the people of Chicago an honest, transparent budget. No more tricks, no more kicks of the can down the road, no more hiding the ball.” He would “report the costs of paying off our debt and pension obligations in annual budgets.”
On the other hand, Paul Vallas says, “he will create an Independent Budget Office akin to the New York City charter to score major legislation and manage the annual budget. He will also revamp the city budget process to comport with national best practices for transparency, citizen input and participation, independent analysis and budgeting, and budget transparency standards.”
The merits of both of their statements can be debated.
However, Truth in Accounting calls for the mayoral candidates to:
Truly balance the budget by adopting full accrual accounting.
Do not include loan proceeds as revenues in the budget.
Properly fund the city’s pension plans.
Properly fund the city’s retiree health care plans.
If they are unwilling to do the above, then at a minimum, be honest by highlighting that the budget has not been and is not truly balanced.
These are the only ways for both candidates to honor their campaign promises and for Chicago to begin to dig out of its fiscal mess.
March 16, 2023
A week to celebrate the 1966 signing of the Freedom of Information Act and to continue the promotion of an open government with public oversight.
In 1952, the people of Sacramento, California, elected John Moss to Congress as their representative. In 1955 Moss tried to bring the FOIA to Congress but didn’t get enough support. Finally, in 1966, the Senate and the House voted to pass the Freedom of Information Act, and Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law on July 4, 1966, releasing the statement, “I sign this measure with a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society.”
TIA’s contribution to the celebration is our Transparency Report Card, where we analyze the annual comprehensive financial reports filed yearly by the states and measure their contents against widely accepted best practices from the private sector.
It is meant to encourage the states to publish timely, transparent, and accurate financial reporting. (FYI, California has yet to release its 2021 annual comprehensive financial report.)
For instance, most corporate financial statements are prepared within 45 days of the fiscal yearend.
However, the standard set for the states by the Government Financial Officers Association (GFOA) is 180 days after the end of the fiscal year.
Read the full report here.
November 15, 2022
On November 14, 2022, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker issued a press release touting the findings of the state's annual Illinois Economic and Fiscal Policy Report (the Economic Report). In the release, he claimed:
Illinois is in its best fiscal shape in decades
The state's projected long-term budgetary deficits will be nearly eliminated
Extra money will be put into the pension systems, and $200 million will be added to the rainy-day fund
This press release and the Economic and Fiscal Policy Report are misleading because it omits material facts about the state's finances, such as:
Illinois is more than $200 billion in debt.
Illinois' long-term deficits will continue because the state will continue to short-change its pension systems by billions of dollars.
The money being added to the rainy-day fund exists because even with the extra money, the state is not paying the minimum on the pension system's credit cards. READ MORE HERE
June 9, 2022
On the heels of credit rating upgrades, Illinois has sold $1.6 billion worth of bonds to fund a pension buyout program and construction projects. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Gov. J.B. Pritzker touted the upgrades lauding Democratic leaders for their work “to make sure that we’re back in good fiscal order, that the state is building its fiscal foundations for the road ahead.” But as Hetty Chang of Moody has stated, ratings are not “public policy report cards, although politicians may use them as such.” Credit ratings do not focus on the overall financial condition of the state; they focus on the likelihood of bonds being paid.
And if the state is in such “good fiscal order,” then why did it need to borrow money?
April 5, 2022
Congratulations to Kansas for winning the national NCAA basketball championship beating North Carolina 72 – 69, but North Carolina’s taxpayers are better off. Kansas’ Taxpayer BurdenTM is $7,500, while each taxpayer’s burden in North Carolina is $1,400. This means each taxpayer in Kansas will have to pay $7,500 in taxes in the future for bills that the state has already accumulated.
February 28, 2022
To understand the state of the union we must understand the financial state of the union. Fortunately, for the first time in years the Financial Report of the US Government was issued (February 17) before the State of the Union address. Will the President mention the important information included in the report?
February 2, 2022
Includes: In his budget address, Governor JB Pritzker suggested that people who questioned his plan and statements are carnival barkers. If that is true then carnival barkers include basic mathematicians, the state’s pension systems’ actuaries, SEC officials and those who drafted the state’s latest bond offering.
February 1, 2022
Includes "The Treasury Department's reported debt doesn't include the Social Security and Medicare liabilities. If those liabilities were included, a $30 trillion national debt amount was reached years ago. ... Please do your part and send a check to the US Treasury Department for $919,000 to cover your share."
September 21, 2021
Includes "Yesterday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed her fiscal year 2022 budget for the city of Chicago. Thanks to the much anticipated federal aid, Lightfoot has proposed several shiny new programs while not increasing taxes. But the city was deep into debt long before the pandemic started."
August 30, 2021
Includes" It’s back-to-school season and this year not only did Illinois turn in its annual financial report late but it also received a bad grade: a qualified audit opinion. Illinois’ annual financial report was released to the public on Thursday, August 19 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. This means we just received the results of a fiscal year that ended more than 400 days ago."
July 15, 2021
Includes "Unfortunately at the July 1 meeting the Board and staff continued to focus on maintaining these funds using a short-term perspective. While I am not against accounting for the governmental funds' inflows and outflows using the short-term perspective, I believe that governmental funds accounting should include a balance sheet and income statement prepared using the long-term perspective, on a full accrual basis."
June 29, 2021
Includes "At a press conference last week, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle announced a projected budget surplus. When most people hear that the county has a surplus they think it means there is a surplus of money to spend. But that is not the case."
June 14, 2021
Includes "I got very excited when I saw the image below in an email I received from the Chicago Treasurer. I thought the mayor and aldermen were finally going to learn how to budget. In the past Chicago mayors and aldermen have done budgeting in a way that has allowed them to claim 'balance' while incurring billions of dollars of debt."
May 27, 2021
Includes "When I was researching the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), its role in municipal securities, and Chair Gary Gensler’s appointment, I ran across an interesting SEC legal bulletin titled, “Application of Antifraud Provisions to Public Statements of Issuers and Obligated Persons of Municipal Securities in the Secondary Market” issued February 7, 2020."
May 20, 2021
Includes "Last month, Gary Gensler was sworn in as the new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Will he use his experience at Goldman Sachs and in senior government financial positions for the public good or will he just use this position to bolster his resume?"
May 10, 2021
Includes "I am an accountant, not an attorney, so I am no expert on what is or isn’t fraud. But when I hear elected officials make misleading public comments about their government’s finances I often wonder if they are committing fraud."
April 15, 2021
Includes "Now that our calculations for our Financial State of the Union are complete, which are based upon information in the recently released Financial Report of the U.S. Government (FRUSG) for fiscal year ended September 30, 2020, we have found that we need to adjust our debt clock. The good news is the clock “true debt” decreased."
March 9, 2021
Includes "Congress has not figured out where the money will come from to pay $44 trillion worth of promised Social Security benefits over the next 75 years. In other words, the Social Security program has a long-term cash shortage, which can only be fixed one of two ways: bring more money in or take less money out."
February 17, 2021
Includes "Today in his budget address, Gov. J. B. Pritzker claimed he has once again balanced the budget. Yet Truth in Accounting calculated that the state needs more than $226 billion to pay its bills, which does not include pandemic-related expenses."
January 19, 2021
Includes "As Trump ends his term as President of the United States, he leaves behind quite the legacy. Included in his legacy will be a $7.7 trillion increase in the national debt, which amounts to almost $24,000 per person. This represents a 39 percent increase."
December 18, 2020
Includes "At a time when state and local governments have to make tough choices due to COVID-related budget shortfalls and the federal government is contemplating more aid in another stimulus package, citizens deserve to know the extent of their governments’ financial troubles now more than ever."
October 21, 2020
Includes "This year every city and state in America is struggling with acute fiscal shortfalls. Illinois estimated a budget deficit of $6 billion and Chicago’s budget deficit is expected to be $2 billion."
October 5, 2020
Includes "Last month, Truth in Accounting released the eleventh edition of our flagship Financial State of the States report. I cannot believe it's been 11 years since we began this endeavor to bring citizens truthful and timely government financial information..."
July 22, 2020
Includes "On Thursday, July 16, I listened to a Special Briefing on How Cities and Counties are Coping with COVID-19’s Fiscal Shock hosted by The Volcker Alliance and Penn Institute for Urban Research (IUR)..."
June 26, 2020
Includes "On Thursday, June 25, I listened to a Special Briefing on COVID-19: Unemployment, and State and Local Fiscal Consequences. It was co-hosted by The Volcker Alliance and Penn Institute for Urban Research."
June 10, 2020
Includes "Economic shocks like the one we’re facing right now, by definition, do not give much notice. And while the emergence of COVID-19 and the extended lockdown was not on any state legislature’s or governor’s radar at the start of this year, the economic disruptions of the last several decades should have given states an incentive to be fiscally prepared."
May 14, 2020
Includes "Any aid package should require state and local governments to develop fiscal stability plans that would address financial imbalances before the crisis arrived, and take steps to ensure governments are financially prepared for future crises."
May 7, 2020
Includes "Today I realized that our debt clock was moving too slowly. I had to increase the debt clock by hundreds of billions to match how much the Treasury is currently borrowing. In April, the reported debt increased by $1.2 trillion dollars to almost $25 trillion."
April 17, 2020
Includes "The Federal Reserve loans will financially set these governments further back for a long time, if not forever. To pay back this new debt, governments will have to run true surpluses. Before the current crisis, only ten of the states had run annual surpluses that have enabled them to amass money available to pay future bills."
February 19, 2020
Includes "Gov. Pritzker says the budget will fully fund the statutory contributions to the pension plans. These statutory contributions woefully underfund the plans. Last year, the state shorted the plans by more than $4 billion using this funding scheme, which has been called a balloon payment on steroids."
February 12, 2020
Includes "President Trump’s budget simply looks at revenues and expenditures for fiscal year 2021. It does not include the Social Security and Medicare benefits that workers have been promised and are earning now."
February 10, 2020
Includes "Pension debt is similar to credit card debt, not a mortgage, because it is debt accumulated to cover costs that have already been incurred. Evidently Phoenix has a plan to pay the pension debt off over the next 22 years, but this does not negate the fact that this debt exists today. To explain this concept on a personal level, someone who plans to pay off a credit card balance over time by paying the minimum payments still has outstanding credit card debt now."
December 17, 2019
Includes "'The debt is growing faster than the economy, it is as simple as that in nominal terms, and that is the definition of unsustainable,' Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell warned the Joint Economic Committee on November 13, 2019."
December 12, 2019
Includes "Private companies must report and fund their employees’ pension plans as benefits are earned. So why are governments held to a different standard?"
August 28, 2019
Includes, "Today I received an email from Frank Mautino, Illinois Auditor General, announcing that he will be releasing the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) tomorrow, Thursday, August 29, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. CT. This audited report provides citizens with the best financial information issued by the state, such as the amount of unfunded pension and other retirement promises."
May 9, 2019
Includes "Illinois lawmakers and voters are in the process of amending the state constitution to allow for a progressive income tax. Springfield is looking for more revenue because lawmakers habitually spend more than the state takes in."
March 14, 2019
Includes "The GASB was established as an independent board whose mission is to 'educate stakeholders on how to most effectively understand and implement [accounting] standards.' Citizens and taxpayers are the greatest stakeholders in a government’s financial reports. So why is the GASB seemingly on the side of government officials?"
December 19, 2018
Includes "As my Facebook friends know, I post my 'good news of the day.' With the focus of my work being government budgeting and accounting—where the federal debt is now more than $100 trillion and states’ debt more than $1.5 trillion—you would think there isn’t much good news to report. But I believe everyone can find something good in all situations.
November 20, 2018
Includes "On July 16—after spending too much time on Facebook and reading so many negative posts—I decided to start posting my 'good news of the day' update and asking my friends to share their good news. As Thanksgiving approaches and I look back at my posts, I realize I have been putting together the things I am thankful to have in my life."
November 15, 2018
Includes "Many taxpayers and voters would be surprised to learn that this is not the case for the state governments that manage their tax dollars. Each year, states issue financial report cards to their citizens in the form of a comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFR.) After analyzing all 50 of these complex documents, only 15 state governments used outside audit firms to double check their work."
October 22, 2018
Includes "Truth in Accounting’s grading system is rooted in our holistic perspective on government finance. Our grade is based upon the government’s overall financial condition. We care about the big picture and the risk to the taxpayers."
May 23, 2018
Includes "... saying this accounting standard is the reason for the hospital’s poor financial condition is like blaming your credit card company for your bad credit score while you have a huge outstanding balance on your account."
March 21, 2018
Includes "Kudos to California state Sen. John Moorlach for his understanding of government finances and how to determine the true fiscal condition of a government."
March 8, 2018
Includes "One of the goals of International Women’s Day is to empower women. I believe we should work to empower everyone."
January 29, 2018
Includes "Despite the bankruptcy of a few of your companies, because you are a successful businessman, I assume you understand the importance of a company’s finances."
October 16, 2017
Includes "In our analysis of state governments’ financial condition, we calculate 'money needed to pay bills.'"
August 21, 2017
Includes "If you are into horror movies and like to be scared, take a look at the actuarial valuation of Chicago’s Municipal Employees' Annuity and Benefit Fund (MEABF)."
August 17, 2017
Includes "In response to our Social Security videos, I have compiled a list of references we used for the video and my interpretations of the material."
August 10, 2017
Includes "I was invited to be a panelist at the Illinois Issues forum entitied "State Budget: The Challenges Ahead", hosted by the Union League Club of Chicago, NPR Illinois, and AARP."
June 15, 2017
Includes "I was invited to comment on a proposed GASB standard change regarding the accounting for special funds. Here is my testimony to the board."
June 9, 2017
Includes, "Illinois has some very unusual special funds, such as..."
May 31, 2017
Includes, "The federal government’s debt is no longer increasing. This sounds like great news. The government isn’t borrowing any more money. But don’t get your emotions too high."
April 12, 2017
Includes "This is why I am excited to announce the Concord Coalition and my Congressman, Brad Schneider, are hosting a federal budget workshop at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 17 at Lake Forest College. Space is limited due to the workshop format."
March 7, 2017
Includes "Yesterday Illinois State Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza finally released the state’s fiscal year 2016 financial report. This was 251 days after the fiscal year end, which is considered late even under the loose government standard of 180 days. More than 30 states had released their reports before Illinois."
September 19, 2016
Guest post by H. Lee Fisher, includes "The risks posed by our national debt places this nation in self-destruct mode. Our politicians can continue to manipulate accounting records and conceal our real debt..."
August 12, 2016
If instead of paying Illinois teachers for the next six and half years, their salaries were diverted to their pension plan, there still won't be enough money to cover all promised benefits.
July 21, 2016
Includes, "The amendment is an attempt at circumventing some of the accounting gimmicks used to balance the state budget."
June 16, 2016
Includes, "When will the governor and legislators come to their senses? When the state can't borrow any more money any more."
April 28, 2016
Includes, "Did you know that the federal government does not follow the same accounting standards that they require major corporations to follow?"
April 26, 2016
Guest blog post by William Glasgall. He is director of state and local programs at the Volcker Alliance in New York.
April 20, 2016
With Leslie Munger's delayed payments to state officials, office holders have joined the ranks of de facto creditors to the state.
April 13, 2016
My recap on Monday's event that we co-hosted with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
April 12, 2016
My thoughts on the state's recently released financial report.
February 17, 2016
My response to a Facebook comment regarding Gov. Rauner’s 2017 budget address today.
January 1, 2016
Includes, "Yesterday I listened to Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State with an ear out for the true financial state of California."
January 14, 2016
Includes, "The federal government is the largest financial institution in the world, yet the President did not discuss our financial position."
December 3, 2015
Includes, "State and Local Governments' Balance Sheets Are About to Explode"
November 5, 2015
Includes "At the same time Americans guzzled on Halloween candy, the federal government gorged on debt..."
October 30, 2015
Includes "Governor Christie is correct, politicians and government officials have created many myths about Social Security and Medicare..."
October 28, 2015
Includes "Watch out when government officials tell you they have a surplus..."
October 14, 2015
Includes "there are two possible nightmare scenarios for America's financial future...