Even if Illinois borrows to pay this year's annual pension contribution, the state's bond rating may take another tumble.
That's the word from Moody’s Investors Services, which issued a report Monday warning that selling another $3.75 billion in bonds to cover public employee retirement costs may not prevent another downgrade.
(Maintaining a high rating, and proving Illinois is credit worthy, is
important because it keeps the state's borrowing costs low.) Lawmakers
have already sold $13.5 billion worth of pension-related debt over the
last decade, including $3.5 billion last fiscal year.
The alternatives to borrowing are no better though, a point even Moody's concedes. Lawmakers could skip the payment entirely, costing
the pension systems roughly $25 billion in future value. They could divert $3.75 billion from the General Revenue Funds, thereby
starving cash-strapped agencies like the Department of Human Services.
Selling bonds, on the other hand, "would at least limit deterioration in
the funded status of the state’s pensions, which are the lowest-funded
among state," according to the credit rating agency.
After the State Senate put off the decision for months, passing SB 3514 during the final days of the January veto session is probably the best outcome for which taxpayers can hope.