The next Stockton? Illinois’ runaway debt affecting education, infrastructure

Published: Friday, Oct. 26 2012 12:02 p.m. MDT

Smaller, more subdued groups of teachers picket outside Morgan Park High School in Chicago, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, as a strike by Chicago Teachers Union members heads into its second week. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he will seek a court order to force the city's teachers back into the classroom. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

M. Spencer Green, Associated Press

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Taxpayers in Illinois, home to the most underfunded pension system in the U.S., are starting to feel the sting of mismanaged debt as the poor condition of its public infrastructure becomes critical, according to the a recent report from the state’s budget task force.

More than 15 percent of Illinois’ 26,000 bridges were “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” in 2010, according to the report.

Check out more: These 9 states have dangerously underfunded pensions

The state cut it’s K-12 education funding by 3 percent from FY 2012.

“Illinois’ past fiscal choices and future threats challenge the state’s ability to meet its population’s basic needs, let alone accommodate future growth,” the task force said in the report. “Infrastructure is deteriorating. Education is threatened. Public safety, public health, and care for the needy all are at risk. Taxpayers and the state’s competitiveness are also at risk.”

The state has been underfunding its pension system since the early 1980s, according to the report. The result is an estimated $85 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, making it the most underfunded system in the country.

"Illinois’ aging and deteriorating infrastructure is in urgent need of immediate repairs to meet basic standards of public safety,” the task force said in the report. “Over the next several decades, Illinois’ infrastructure needs will likely exceed $300 billion, yet the state does not have a comprehensive plan to address this critical need.”

The task force called for immediate decisions on the state’s financial situation. In the report, the group suggests “spending cuts and revenue increases” to balance the budget.

EMAIL: jferguson@desnews.com

TWITTER: @joeyferguson

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