Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Public pension fund picture looks frightening with unfunded liabilities exceeding net assets

By The Madison County Record | Sep 12, 2015

SPRINGFIELD – Public employee pension funds paid $13,984,668,514 in benefits to 438,814 persons in 2012, according to the Illinois Department of Insurance.

Benefits averaged $31,869 per person.

Retired workers averaged $34,965, while disabled workers averaged $28,338 and survivors averaged $13,951.

More than five persons received benefits for every seven active workers.

Payroll for 605,872 active workers totaled $32,334,757,164, roughly $2.30 for every pension dollar.

Payroll and pensions together equaled $46,319,425,678, about $3,600 for every Illinois citizen.

The figures appear in a biennial report the department prepared in 2013.

For simplicity’s sake, the department compressed a multitude of local police funds into a single entry, and likewise for firefighter funds.

The report painted a frightening picture of the future, for the unfunded liabilities of the pension funds exceeded their net assets.

The department calculated total liabilities at $283,058,432,286, net assets at $138,663,672,085, and unfunded liabilities at $144,394,760,201.

A pension fund can tolerate some level of unfunded liability, because present assets can catch up with future liabilities, but Illinois has slipped too far to catch up.

Legislators tried to reform the system in 2013, but the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the reforms breached a contract in violation of the state Constitution.

The state teacher fund presents the biggest problem.

In 2012, it held net assets of $37,945,397,000, and faced an unfunded liability of $52,079,548,000.

It distributed $4,780,743,210 to 105,499 persons, an average of $45,316.

If its assets and its benefit payments grow at the same rate, it will run out of money in 2023.

The state retirement system would run out in 2019.

It carried more beneficiaries than active workers in 2012, with assets barely a third as great as unfunded liabilities.

Its accountant warned last year that a market downturn could render it insolvent.

The Chicago fire fund held net assets of less than $1 billion, with an unfunded liability exceeding $3 billion.

It served five beneficiaries for every three active workers in 2012, paying $54,917 per retiree, $58,651 per disabled worker, and $22,324 per survivor.

If its assets and benefits remain the same, it will run out of money next year.

The weakest fund belongs to the General Assembly, which paid out a dollar in benefits for every three dollars of assets in 2012.

It held $56,090,081 in assets, and faced an unfunded liability of $247,379,182.

The report found its only bright spot in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, serving city workers outside Chicago and county workers outside Cook County.

Its net assets equaled 87 percent of its liabilities, and those assets would last 25 years if their growth matched the growth of benefits.

Its solid foundation rests on modest benefits, at $13,086 per person in 2012.

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Illinois General Assembly Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund Illinois Supreme Court

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