Illinois is the worst in the nation when it comes to funding its pensions, paying billions in old bills and keeping its governors out of prison. But the state is among the best in telling people about its many problems.

By Benjamin Yount

Illinois is the worst in the nation when it comes to funding ts pensions, paying billions in old bills and keeping its governors out of prison. But the state is among the best in telling people about its many problems.

The Sunshine Review ranks Illinois among the top five most-transparent states in the country, joining California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington in getting a B+ for open government.

But that B+ is closer to a gold star for effort rather than a passing grade for providing voters with useful public information.

Kristin McMurray, managing editor for Sunshine Review, said her team looked at “the availability of data.”

McMurray said the research looked to see if states, counties and cities had archived three years of budgets and audits online, including meeting times and locations and contact information for most public officials.

“We do not just focus on financial transparency,” McMurray said. “I believe that Sunshine Review’s checklist evaluates the general ‘health’ of a government entity’s website.”

David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform sees a difference between making information public and making it useful.

“Putting big data dumps online is not the same as providing the info people want to have access to,” Morrison said.

The ICPR did its own review of government transparency and came to a much different conclusion.

“We conducted a FOIA review last year,” Morrison said, “and we found most (government) agencies ignored our requests or did not get back to us in the time allowed under law.”

Morrison said he doesn’t want to push dueling transparency reports, but he says there’s a basic difference between available information and useful information.

“I want to applaud the government for making their file cabinets public,” Morrison added. “But that’s not enough. Agencies need to answer questions, as well.”

McMurray said the Sunshine Review audit is a step in that direction.

“Our hope is that citizens will use this information to hold their government accountable and become engaged at a state and local level,” said McMurray.

Illinois posts its budgets online, and Illinois’ Auditor General makes all of his reports available through his website.

In addition to the basics, Illinois in 2011 launched its own data website, which includes information on state contracts, Illinois infrastructure and public health information.

McMurray said Illinois has consistently scored at the top of Sunshine Review’s annual report.

Brooke Anderson, Gov. Pat Quinn’s spokeswoman, said Illinois has opened things up in the past four years.

“We have launched several initiatives to increase transparency, like which provides important information to citizens ranging from inspection reports to school report cards and grant tracking, to make state expenditures and employee pay data available to the public, and to provide a searchable clearing house of state agency data that can empower entrepreneurs,” Anderson said in a statement.

“It’s great to see Illinois be recognized for our progress in making governments more accountable,” Anderson said.

Contact Benjamin Yount at

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  1. Illinois…we have a problem
    Last week I posted a comment about S&P downgrading the State of Illinois,and highlighted the challenged fiscal situation which confronts our state. Today, Illinois postponed a $500 mm bond offering, NOT a good sign. Given the risks in Illinois and the lack of a credible plan to restore our the financial health to our state, investors are demanding a higher and higher interest rate to purchase our debt.

    Today, investors are requiring about an extra 1.4% per year to buy Illinois debt. That means for the proposed $500mm bond deal, that amounts to an additional $7mm per year, each and every year, or $70mm over the life of a 10 year bond. $70mm extra cost could go to pay more to Schools, Policemen, Firemen, improve our roads, etc.(I’m just referring to the incremental cost-the total cost for Illinois 10 yr debt is about 3.16% per year-1.76% + 1.4%)

    Illinois…we have a problem. Call your legislators and demand they develop a credible plan. Here’s the complete Bloomberg article:

    Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) — Illinois postponed a $500 million offer of general-obligation bonds planned for today, citing unfavorable market conditions after Standard & Poor’s cut its credit rating last week and threatened to drop the grade again.
    Illinois still plans to sell the securities, though it has “no set date,” said John Sinsheimer, the state’s director of capital markets, in a telephone interview. The offer was set to be sold competitively, with banks bidding for the debt, and the state said its decision followed conversations with potential buyers.
    “It was straightforward — today is Wednesday, we had ratings actions Friday afternoon,” Sinsheimer said. “When we feel that the market has had the time it needs to digest the news and has settled down, we’ll be back.”
    The delay may hinder the school construction and transportation improvements that the sale proceeds would fund.
    Those projects would join the doctors, hospitals, pharmacists and other vendors who have waited more than six months in some cases for payments from the state. Illinois has $9 billion in unpaid bills.
    S&P cited that backlog and Illinois lawmakers’ “poor track record” on fixing the state’s retirement system in reducing its rating Jan. 25 to A-, six levels below AAA. That ties it with California for the lowest state grade in the nation.

    Market Declines

    The postponement followed two trading days in which interest rates climbed across the $3.7 trillion municipal-debt market, tracking losses in Treasuries. The yield on benchmark tax-exempts due in 10 years touched 1.76 percent yesterday, the highest since Jan. 8, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
    Investors will want added compensation on Illinois debt given the jump in yields and the rating action, said Daniel Solender, who helps oversee $19.5 billion in munis at Lord Abbett & Co. in Jersey City, New Jersey.
    “When a deal comes and they have to sell this larger amount of bonds, given the headlines and given that we’ve been down for a few days, it leads to discussion of spreads getting wider,” Solender said.
    Buyers already demand the highest yield spread on bonds from Illinois among the 19 states tracked by Bloomberg data.
    Muni investors require an extra 1.4 percentage points above AAA benchmarks to hold debt from the state and its localities, the data show.
    The penalty relative to California has risen since Illinois legislators ended their 2012 session Jan. 8 without a pension overhaul, after also failing to act during a special session in August.
    Illinois’s state retirement system is the weakest in the U.S., with just 39 percent of assets needed to cover projected obligations for five major groups of public employees, according to the Civic Federation, a Chicago-based nonprofit research group.

  2. What a joke!

    I find this article absolutely offensive.  Are you kidding me!

    Illinois has been mismanaged for years, and is broke, and yet we all should stand up and applaud the state's transparency (or perceived transparency) regarding the fiscal mess?

    Oh those goofy Democrats. 

    Sounds like another "look at this shiny thing ploy" to distract the public from the real issue – the disaster that is this state, under Democrat control.

    Reminds me of the Obama campaign.  The Chicago way.



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