A new report ranks Illinois fifth in the nation for having the largest combined pension and debt burdens per capita. The Moody's Investors Service report attempts to hone in on how pension liabilities will affect credit ratings. The report looks at metrics such as personal income, Gross Domestic Product, and debt as a percentage of state revenue to figure out state by state debt burdens.
Robyn Prunty is an Illinois analyst with a different credit rating service, Standard and Poor’s. She says that company is keeping a close eye on the state's finances, but isn't sure whether Illinois will receive a credit downgrade.
“The rating's not directly tied to pensions,“ she said, “There's many other factors that we use in establishing our ratings. But certainly pensions have been a significant focus for Illinois.”
Joshua Rauh is a professor of Finance at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business. He is concerned that government accounting standards across the country grossly understate pension liabilities. Rauh said the methods endorsed by Government Accounting Standards Board are not endorsed by the majority of finance economists. According to Moody’s report, Illinois debt burden per capita is close to $7,000, but Rauh said, “What you find is Illinois actually has unfunded pension liabilities alone of over $200 billion. This adds up to an unfunded liability of over $40,000 per household.”
Moody's ranking comes just after a recent Security and Exchange Commission’s inquiry into claims Illinois officials made about savings resulting from recent pension reform. The SEC is looking into whether expected savings from recently passed legislation are accurate. Illinois officials are planning on selling off $3.7 billion in bonds on February 17th to cover this year’s pension payment.