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Peanuts. That’s what you’d think it would take to stabilize Chicago’s fiscal situation if you relied on a Reuters story last week.

Chicago’s budget gap, the article says, “has been shrinking since hitting a high of $654.7 million in fiscal 2011…. The city is projecting a $114.2 million shortfall in fiscal 2018….”

Looks like great progress and nothing a little tax increase wouldn’t fix. No wonder many folks think that way.

But let’s look at actual results based on the city’s audited financial statements. Here’s what Bill Bergman at Truth in Accounting wrote in July upon release of the most recent statements:

After a string of bottom-line (change in net position) losses of roughly $1 billion a year from 2011 to 2014 (losses that arose despite regular claims to ‘balanced budgets’), Chicago posted an especially grueling loss of about $5 billion in 2015.  Last year, things ‘improved.’  Chicago ‘only’ had a $3.6 billion decline in its reported net position….

Much of that discrepancy is because government “budgets” mean almost nothing since they ignore growing unfunded pension liabilities, which are the lion’s share of Chicago’s problem. The discrepancy also derives from changes in accounting standards and assumptions about pensions, but that’s really just an admission that previous reports didn’t fairly present financial results.

There’s just no reason to talk about past performance by referencing budgets when actual financial statements are available. And I’m not clear where Reuters’ budget numbers came from anyway since Rahm claims to have fully balanced budgets year after year.

The reporter on the article was Karen Pierog. We’ve criticized her before for repeating the “80 percent funding myth” about public pensions. That’s the notion that a pension is healthy if it has 80% of what it needs, propagated by politicians hoping to understate the problem and reporters in an echo chamber. In fact it’s a myth, according to the American Academy of Actuaries. Pierog is a repeat offender in the “Hall of Shame” kept by actuary Mary Pat Campbell of reporters and politicians who repeat the myth.

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Glennonsachump

Your reporting is just as disingenuous The same study you cite also says – “Just as being more than 80% funded does not assure a plan is adequately funded, a plan with a funded ratio below 80% should not necessarily be characterized as unhealthy without further examination. A plan’s actuarial funding method should have a built-in mechanism for moving the plan to the target of 100% funding. Provided the plan sponsor has the financial means and the commitment to make the necessary contributions, a particular funded ratio does not necessarily represent a significant problem.”

Mark M
Glennonsachump – you can’t possibly be serious. Glendon’s point was over shoddy reporting regarding the actual state of Chicago’s finances, and you cite a statement from a report that indicates that being 80 percent funded in some cases may not mean a fund is unhealthy. But look at Chicago. Depending on what fanciful rate of return one wishes to apply, Chicago’s funds are funded in the low 20th percentile range. They are surely unhealthy, and are rapidly heading to insolvency, if not already there in som sense. And you claim that somehow Glennon’s reporting is disingenuous? The only reason that comes to mind as to why you… Read more »

Pierog is on my list (so far) 4 times

That’s up there with Hilary Russ, also from Reuters: 4 times

But not quite so high at CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf: 8 times