* From the governor’s transition report…
Pensions and debt management
Illinois must take significant steps to make substantial progress in confronting its unfunded pension liabilities. Concentrating on one area will not be sufficient. Instead, a portfolio of initiatives across different levers will likely be required.
Increase funding to the pension system
Opportunities exist to find unique and new ways to increase funding. The state could apply a direct revenue stream to help pay down the pension debt. These revenue streams could have provisions to ensure they are only used for payment of pension debt and benefits. Asset transfers could also be used as a means to add value to pension systems. For example, if the state were to move an asset to a pension fund, it could be used to reduce the unfunded liabilities for the pension system and increase the funding ratio, leading to potentially reduced interest costs on pension debt.
Improve the investment engine
The returns that Illinois currently achieves on its pension funds could also be increased by improving the investment engine. To generate higher returns and with the added benefit of enhanced efficiency, Illinois could work with local constituencies to consolidate pension funds for similar systems within verticals (e.g., fire, public safety). This move would help smaller funds not only achieve higher returns but also reduce the cost of fund administration and give managers greater visibility into investment decisions and trade-offs.
Re-shape the pension payment curve
To put the pension funds on a more sustainable path, the committee discussed whether the state could consider re-shaping the pension payment curve. For instance, the state could create a sustainable amortization schedule combined with other changes to improve the system which could meet short term budget needs while improving the funded ratio in the long term. The goal here is to find a rational payment plan that increases the funded ratio each year while still meeting the cost of paying benefits to current and future retirees. Such action would need to be taken in conjunction with changes that increase funding, improve investments, and/or increase stability such that debt markets see that Illinois is serious about comprehensively solving the pension funding deficiency.
Modernize Bonded Debt Provisions
Illinois should also explore ways to improve its existing bonded indebtedness provisions to provide government officials with more flexibility in managing debt. The state should consider changes including but not limited to: maturity limitations, current statutory refunding and/or restructuring requirements within constitutional limitations, and available security. This could help the state create innovative financial vehicles to manage all of its debt including the pension debt while also strengthening Illinois’ creditworthiness.
* The Question: What do you think about the highlighted idea of moving state assets into the pension funds?