CHICAGO (CBS) — A report from Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas claims taxpayers countywide are on the hook for more than $108 billion in debt accrued by various government agencies, including more than $25 billion in unfunded public pension liabilities.
The report shows that only a quarter of the county’s more than 500 taxing bodies are funding pension plans at 80 percent or more, an amount considered “healthy” by federal standards.
“It’s like if I were surgeon general, I’d say that 75 percent of our governments are morbidly obese,” Pappas said. “I don’t think there’s any one cure for the debt problem, just like I don’t think there’s one cure for obesity.”
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Pappas said governments in the county should look to reduce employee counts to offset debt costs and implement automation and technological advances to increase efficiency.
“This simple, common sense approach has saved taxpayers millions of dollars,” Pappas said of similar efforts in her own office.
The Civic Federation, a tax watchdog organization that analyzes government budgets, commended Pappas’ report.
“We think it’s a strong contribution to the debate on the number of governments in Illinois as well as our local governments’ debt levels and pension obligations,” said Laurence Msall, the group’s president.
Msall told WBBM Newsradio 780 that not all the $108 billion in debt is “bad,” since some if it is from bonds issued for long term projects like roads and sewers and schools that will be paid off. But he says issuance of debt, borrowing money, to pay pension liabilities or meet a payroll is just bad and has to be stopped.
And Msall agreed with Pappas that 550 taxing districts is far too many taxing district for any one county, even one as large as Cook county.