The state's pension debt will exceed $44 billion this summer, increasing at a rate of about $120 per second, according to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration. The debt already tops $42 billion -- enough to give every one of Illinois' 12.8 million residents a $3,300 check or to buy 937,000 Cadillacs at $45,000 a pop.


The staggering debt load for the five pension plans for state employees is a problem that's remained largely in the shadows for decades. The $42 billion "unfunded liability" -- the difference between the systems' assets and what they owe employees in benefits -- also is creating a real problem for state policy makers.

It's squeezing out money for other valued needs, such as education and health care. It means the state has less money for things like child-care aid and fixing roads and schools, or paying some of the $1 billion it owes to Medicaid health care providers and others.

There may be states out there that are worse than Illinois, but which simply have not yet owned up to the extent of the problem.

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