Pain Train Stops in Illinois

I’ve talked extensively about the U.S. pension problem and warned of the dire consequences ahead.

And they aren’t pretty.

But I almost fell out of my chair when I read about the latest debacle.

You need look no further than the state of Illinois for an example of the havoc caused by underfunded pensions and political gridlock.

In fact, earlier this month, two of the major credit-rating agencies (Moody’s and S&P) lowered their grade for Illinois state debt to one notch above junk.

You read that right:

The state’s bonds are on the brink of becoming “junk” — meaning they’ve almost fallen below investment grade!

These major credit agencies serve a vital role by independently reviewing each bond issuer’s financial strength. They determine if the entity will be able to pay its bills and remain liquid. This is particularly important in bond markets around the world.

Plus, ratings are used to determine pricing and corresponding interest rates. And bond issuers with a lower rating need to provide a higher interest rate to attract capital.

The downgrade leaves Illinois with the lowest rating ever given to a U.S. state. And it’s not rocket science to see why Illinois debt was downgraded. Consider the following:

  • Two years without a state budget helped the state amass $14.5 billion in unpaid bills, according to Moody’s, which represents 40% of the state’s operating budget.
  • Moody’s estimates that liabilities for the state’s five major pension plans soared 25% in the year ended June 30, 2016, to $251 billion.
  • Retirement and health benefits combined with debt payments absorb 29% of the state’s general-fund expenditures, according to S&P.
  • And get ready for things to get a lot worse because the Legislature just failed to pass a budget for the third year in a row!
Chances are that these Chicago bond traders aren’t fighting tooth and claw for bonds issued by the state of Illinois — because the state’s paper  is on the brink of becoming “junk”.

And with no budget yet again, Illinois can expect S&P and Moody’s to downgrade its debt rating to outright “junk”.

A junk rating will only exacerbate the problem.

One, the state will have to pay millions of dollars in penalties to bond holders.

Two, it will float fewer bonds because many mutual funds are unable to hold any debt rated below investment grade.

And with an estimated budget deficit of $5 billion, it’s clear why the state’s gutting many social services and school programs.

And this dynamic will lead to more state and local job cuts and to an even larger rollback in social services.

I know what you’re thinking: If they don’t have the money, just make larger cuts to retirement benefits. But that’s illegal. The Illinois constitution says that pension promises can’t be cut for services already rendered.

The state has done a masterful job of keeping out-of-control pension woes out of the public eye by using creative accounting tricks, including unrealistic discount rates in their liability calculations.

But Illinois’ day of reckoning is quickly approaching.

The pension disaster is getting worse by the day. This epidemic will continue to spread to other states and ultimately to the federal level.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:

Limit exposure to government debt as much as possible. Instead, purchase high-quality blue-chip stocks on market weakness and accumulate safe-haven assets like gold when the time is right.

Good investing,

Mike Burnick

 

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Comments 26

  1. Harry T June 12, 2017

    What is your latest outlook on oil?

    Reply

  2. Rob June 12, 2017

    Why is it a pension problem? Why isn’t it a too much Republican trickle down tax policy problem, or too many tax cuts for the rich policy that costs states so much revenue they can’t fund their pensions? Once again, the little guy is going to take it on the chin because unstoppable corporate greed.

    Reply

    • Ellen Lemmon June 13, 2017

      Politicians “borrowed” against the pension funds for decades! That’s a big part of the underfunding problem. Why can’t we claw back that money (with interest) from the benefactors of the “borrowing”? Also the IL Senators and Congressmen who voted to “borrow” with no intention of returning, should be held accountable and sent to prison.

      Reply

    • Rainman June 14, 2017

      Excuse me. This is a Democratically controlled legislature. It’s Illinois. Remember Gary Sotero AKA Barrack Obama. Yes, he was a member of this legislature. Yeah, the same guy who ran up federal deficits. Kick the can down the road. I can’t wait until the state of Illinois declares bankruptcy. What will their Supreme Court say then about guaranteed pension payments and health care benefits. And will Illinois, like Puerto Rico, run to the totally broke US government to try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again?

      Reply

    • Manny D June 15, 2017

      Where is the blame on Democrats who have ruled Illinois forever?
      See Comment by John Cadwallader below.

      Reply

    • TiredofPols June 18, 2017

      Why don’t you look at the actions of your Democratic leaders? They are the ones that have been in charge. They have spent YOUR MONEY THAT YOU PAID IN TAXES irresponsibly.
      Wake up and put the blame where it belongs.

      Reply

    • hawk June 21, 2017

      DEAR ROB actually its a liberal problem of giving away more and more and more and making someone else pay for it and its a greedy union problem why should taxpayers have to pay for your ever wanting greed i think you got your stats. all wrong people like you are the problem

      Reply

    • nestone June 26, 2017

      Because residents of states can vote with their feet and leave! Especially the “evil rich,” those on whom you want taxes raised. Illinois is losing well to do citizens to states like Florida and Texas. They are being replaced by. Illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities like Chicago where they then consume tax dollars for social services.
      Like Detroit, Illinois will eventually go bankrupt and pensions will be cut.

      Reply

  3. Richard Stevens June 12, 2017

    Coming from NJ, we originated the ability to hide pension problems for years. The lovely Gov Christie has succeeded in lowering our credit rating every year he has been in office! Given the incredible wealth in the state and the highest property taxes, I don’t know how he managed to do this! And at the same time, he bankrupted our highway fund so the roads and bridges are falling apart. At least this is his last year in office.

    Reply

  4. Proud vet June 12, 2017

    Would you have the communist a.k.a. Democrat party spending peoples money as if it were their own, using it as a slush fund to buy power from the unions that they’ve now got no pension because of the spending 50s communist have used , As a way to buy their self power and move on. All good things come to an end it takes money paid by somebody to fund this kind of BS.don’t forget union members are usually money to keep those Democrats in power as the top people in the unions Rob billable’s with the corrupt in the a.k.a. Democrat Communist Party.

    Reply

  5. John Cadwallader June 12, 2017

    This state has been run almost entirely by Democrats. I checked out pension payouts for college professors and to
    my dismay learned many have already retired (in their 50’s) with payouts in the millions of dollars! College tuitions
    are out of control and I believe in Illinois’ case it is due largely to the Democrats (common core), disregard for the US Constitution, preaching the world’s problems are due to the USA. Socialism in Illinois is failing as it is symptomatic in Europe and elsewhere.

    Reply

  6. Thomas Schechter June 12, 2017

    The problem is not with the workers or the unions; it is with the budget. I retired from the City of New York, and our state constitution has a similar provision, which was upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court during the 1975 fiscal crisis. While people cry about government pensions, they don’t realize civil service workers make a trade off; a lower but livable salary in return for health benefits and a pension. The first health benefit for local government was in 1933, 2hen Laguardia as mayor of New York City created HIP so municipal employees could obtain free medical care. If the government underfunds the pension system and /or the health care benefits, it is the fault of the government, not the workers.

    Reply

  7. Whit June 12, 2017

    One word…..Madigan. The family that rules the Peoples Republic of Illinois and that has run it into the ground. Downstate is disenfranchised. Upstate is clueless. The Madigan clan lives on in wealth and infamy.

    Reply

  8. John Speredelozzi June 12, 2017

    All I ever see from you is gloom and doom but no recommendations. I am disappointed.

    Reply

  9. H. Craig Bradley June 13, 2017

    SOCIAL EROSION & MORAL HAZARD

    As debt service and public pension funding slowly continue deplete the resources of state and local government other factors are also at work at the same time. This social erosion is not unique to one or two states anymore either. Its nearly everywhere. For example, voters in California approved Proposition 57 last Nov. to parole non-violent offenders. All the Calif. sentencing and parole rules were redone in response to this initiative.

    Now, according to the local police department, if someone(s) breaks into your car on the street, all they can do if they actually catch them is recover the goods and issue a Citation. No arrests anymore unless there is something else going on like assault or manslaughter. A police officer told me they are not youths, but criminals “who should be incarcerated”, but we lack the funding and resolve continue to do so anymore.

    An arrest is now only made for a property crime that is technically a Felony, defined by state statute as the theft of property worth $950.0 or more. Most other states have a similar threshold for a Felony level property crime. So, if the offender blows-off his court appearance, the Superior (County) Court will no longer issue a bench warrant for “Failure to Appear”. Many low level offenders in most states have long done this “no show” act. Why bother?

    In the future, once low level criminals find out how immune they are, I expect gangs of roving youths to be ransacking on the streets of America at will someday. Clearly, our society is now destined to break-down without sufficient deterrents to bad behavior. So, America’s more comprehensive than just the financial (fiscal) aspects. You won’t be secure in Boise, Idaho or Daytona Beach, Florida or anywhere by virtue of your location. The New World Order Global Financial Paradigm ( cashless) will arrive after we have been sufficiently “softened-up”. Watching it happen in real time now. It may not be too much longer.

    Reply

  10. Howard June 13, 2017

    Mike

    When the swamp in Washington rediscovers that the reason they are there, is to help the citizens it may be too late. Do they look like there’s any urgency to make America great again? There’s far too much ugliness in the swamp. Maybe we need a real revolution in conceptual ideas to live within our means just as families have to do with their budgets.

    Reply

  11. r.w. walker June 13, 2017

    If Illinois fails financially is the Federal Government obligated to step in and make them whole? If so, is punitive action possible? rw

    Reply

    • hawk June 21, 2017

      no………….. this problem is not just in illinois its michigan california new york all of them liberal strongholds

      Reply

  12. Jiim Knorr June 13, 2017

    Since I am a Illinois retired resident, what should I do to protect my self from the state? Move to another state?
    Age 72, own a house, $5k in property taxes, on S.S.

    Thanks, Jim from ill IL.

    Reply

  13. hawk June 13, 2017

    THE PROBLEM WITH ILLINOIS IS…………………… THE CHICAGO MACHINE its broken its corrupt the mayors and other officials have been on the take for years the unions are corrupt its nothing but a welfare system for the poor and the democratic rich one hand washes the other hand AND IT WONT STOP EVER TILL THEY HAVE BLED THE TAXPAYERS OF ILLINOIS AND THE UNITED STATES DRY all of this is brought to you from rob emmanual barack obama all democrats all socialists all progressives all liberals all of them… no-good liars and cheats

    Reply

  14. Nels June 13, 2017

    “the state amass $14.5 billion in unpaid bills, … which represents 40% of the state’s operating budget.”

    Unpaid bills equal to 40% of the budget? A 40% cut in operating budget just to catch up? And the ratings services haven’t rated Illinois junk yet? Are some of those unpaid bills bribes to the rating agencies? Illinois is totally unable to get current, and so they won’t. Default is inevitable – all that remains are the details. Who gets stiffed first, and who gets stiffed next, and so on.

    “The Illinois constitution says that pension promises can’t be cut for services already rendered.”

    If a promise cannot be kept, it won’t be kept. If Illinois law required that you fly to the moon by flapping your wings, how soon do you think you would get there? The pensioners will get, at most, what it is physically possible for Illinois to pay. More likely Illinois will discover that it is easier to ignore or change its constitution than to keep promises which cannot be kept. Do you really think that taxpayers will be willing to impoverish themselves – even starve themselves – for a bunch of pensioners?

    Nation-wide we have made promises like these. The claims on future assets exceed the assets which will exist in the future. Some of those claims, then, are worthless, because there simply aren’t going to be assets to fulfill them, regardless of the willingness of the tax payers.

    Reply

  15. Paula June 14, 2017

    Hi Mike, How can I look up the extent of my state’s pension problems? Hopefully I will make my first million before I lose my pension.:)

    Reply

  16. David Durrant June 18, 2017

    Actually, Illinois is in “decent” shape compared to the federal government. http://www.usdebtclock.org reveals EVERY citizen’s share of the $20 trillion debit is $61,335 which works out to $165,897 per taxpayer. Meanwhile, the unfunded liability (written into federal law) for social security, medicare, and federal employee and veterans’ benefits is $885,718 per taxpayer.

    If someone thinks that Illinois (or Puerto Rico for that matter) is going to be bailed out by the federal government they are sadly mistaken. If I overspent on my credit cards, would you pay off a large portion of my debt?

    Reply

    • hawk June 21, 2017

      and lets not forget who rang up this federal budget into the stratosphere BARACK OBAMA and his liberal minions

      Reply

    • hawk June 21, 2017

      YOU MISSED THAT WELL OVER 50% OF ALL TAXPAYERS PAY NOTHING SO FOR THE REST OF YOU WHO DO PAY TAXES ITS CLOSER TO $350,000 THAT IS OWED SO GET READY TO PAY UP

      Reply

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    Reply