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New report: State debt doubles in last dozen years

By GREG BISHOP, The Center Square

Illinois taxpayers are on the hook for nearly double the debt burden of just 12 years ago. That’s according to a new report on the fiscal state of the state.

Truth In Accounting (TIA) has been evaluating state governments for how much debt the state has versus how much they bring in. Their Financial State of the States 2021 published Tuesday.

For all 50 states, the total amount of state government debt taxpayers must pay back is $1.5 trillion at the end of fiscal year 2020.

For Illinois, TIA Research Director Bill Bergman said the amount owed per taxpayer went from about $30,000 in 2009 to $57,000 in the most recent report.

“In other words, it’s almost doubled since 2009,” Bergman said. “That’s significant for a few reasons, including the beginning of that period was in the middle of the worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression and Illinois has only deteriorated since then despite the massive recovery in financial markets since 2009. That’s scary.”

Only two other states were in worse financial condition than Illinois. New Jersey’s taxpayer burden is at $58,300 and Connecticut’s burden is at $62,500 per taxpayer. Only 11 states had taxpayer surpluses. The rest are considered “Sinkhole States” by TIA.

Illinois is among the five worst Sinkhole States in TIA’s report where they note the state needed $236 billion to pay all of its bills, which include long-term pensions and other post employment costs for state retirees. TIA says the pension debt can be equated to the state having only 37 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits set aside.

The state is also consistently late with it’s annual audited financial reports, going more than 400 days to publish when the standard is 180 days. Bergman said of all but two states, Iowa and California, that have published their audited reports, Illinois went the longest at 408 days since the end of the previous fiscal year.

“What does that mean? That means our government officials are planning for the future on the basis of audited results that are more than a year old,” Bergman said. “Hopefully government accounting improves on its timeliness in the years ahead.”

Bergman also said TIA doesn’t give ratings out for states like credit rating companies do for bond holders, but they do hand out grades and Illinois gets an F.

“And that’s what effectively represents the cost of not living up to what they were telling the taxpayers that they were balancing the budget,” Bergman said.

COVER: File photo

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