It’s not likely to make Evanston taxpayers feel any better, but the $140 million pension funding shortfall facing the city’s fire and police pension plans is far from unique.

A new report from the Center on the States of the Pew Charitable Trusts says across the country states are underfunding their pension and health care obligations for retirees by 27 percent — or about $731 billion.

The report also describes Illinois as being below par among the states with only 60 percent of its pension obligations funded and no money set aside for an anticipated $48 billion in other retiree obligations.

The report also discusses techniques some states are using to reduce future pension obligations.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Response to Pension Problem
    Thank you for providing a link to this report and the techniques other states are using to reduce future pension obligations. I hope the City of Evanston and the school districts seriously look at and implement all of these as options to help Evanston rein in its budgets. The public sector needs to be realistic and get more in sync with what the private sector has already done.

  2. Pension Referendum
    I just noticed on the City of Evanston home page that there is a link to a referendum on the February 5, 2008 ballot asking if we should approve a $1/$1000 increase to the City’s transfer tax for the sale of property.

    Isn’t this the same proposal we saw at the last election – only it was to support the”affordable housing fund”? In that proposal, it was never really clear how the money would be used. So, this time, it seems clear what this money is to be used for, but what about the other $5/$1000 ? It says on the City’s web page that it goes into the “general fund”. Why is this? How is this money used? To fund all of these consultants that have popped up all over the City? Throughout the last 5-8 years of unprecedented real estate increases and sales, we didn’t appear to benefit from this additional tax whatsoever. I guess there was also an unprecedented number of consultants to produce studies that will likely be shelved for lack of political will or just stupidity (such as the now famous recommendation to reroute Sheridan road!). I, for one, would have liked to see a proposal that ALL current real estate transfer money be diverted into funding our underfunded pension obligation. Also, by the way, many municipalities do not have any tax at all on real estate transfers. Make no mistake, this tax affects each and every property owner at some point – and it amounts to thousands of dollars right out of your pocket.

    Instead of giving more tax money to our city council, why not have the council evaluate the real value of keeping all of the city owned (and poorly maintained!) buildings? Why not sell the Evanston Art Center? The Levy Center? The Ecology Center? The Noyes Cultural Art Center?

    The City’s first responsibility is to protect their citizens: police, fire, health, safety. That sort of thing. And next, is probably to maintain the city streets and collect the garage. It seems to me that if we can afford to do that – and pay for all that those things involve (pensions, equipment in working order, etc.), then – and only then should we afford the other ‘luxuries’ of art, ecology and giving our seniors a place to gather. I enjoy having these luxuries just as much as the next Evanston citizen. But, it appears to me that we can’t afford them. So, sell them. We might be able to get back into the “black” and get our AAA bond rating back- and start to perform the way local government should. Let’s learn to live within our means. Join me in sending that message and vote “no”on the next referendum.

  3. Pension problem
    So the pension problem is widespread, is the latest report. That’s great news. I really feel a lot better! It’s like telling people that “Hey, lot’s of people go bankrupt.”

    So Evanston is up to its eyeballs in debt. And who is minding the store? Ultimately it’s the City Manager and the Finance Director. But the Finance Director Grady III just quit. You gotta wonder what’s going on behind those closed doors. Is anyone taking note of the fact that virtually every director and high level manager has been forced or coerced out of their positions? Or convinced to take early retirement? The entire brain trust of Evanston City is disappearing and, evidently, the Council is on board with this. Can someone volunteer to make a head count? Are the job ads placed to replace these people?

    I think Barb has a meritorious idea. Sell off frivolous property that Evanston can’t afford. Unload the nature center, the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and above all, the Evanston Art Center, which like the Civic Center, sees no maintenance at all. What are those properties worth? Use those proceeds toward rehabbing the Civic Center.

    Vote NO on the referendum. And have a Happy New Year.

    1. Pension and other financial incidentals
      I agree, vote NO on the referendum, and let us force the City to get its financial house in order before we nickel and dime ourselves to bankruptcy ala San Diego. The pension problem did not just pop up. It has been simmering for over a decade and our omniscient rulers let it slip by until Moody’s slapped them in the face with a wet fish credit down grade. They want to borrow money to make money? How are they going to manage funds when they can’t even get a decent roof contractor?

      While they are bowing to any developer who says the magic words “public benefit” without any real analysis, behind closed doors or through staff copying ad literature, they are qualifying for a Darwin Finance Award. Yet we continue deferred upkeep and dream of a new Civic Center and all kinds of programs.

      Lurking behind the housing bubble is going to be the push for reduced property assessments and the need for higher taxes to make up that loss of incremental revenue.

      If we keep this clobbering tax increase folly up, liberals in this town will become disenchanted. As the old saying goes: “a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.”

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