Jan 19, 2010 8:17 PM GMT
Legal experts say the protections of the federal bankruptcy code are available to cities and counties but not states.
The real fear is that the state could eventually be unable to plug its budget gaps with short-term borrowing. Illinois is still a long way from Arkansas during the Great Depression, believed to be the only instance in the past century when a state defaulted on its debt. But California was forced to seek a federal guarantee for its borrowing last year when credit dried up. It didn't get the guarantee, and state officials are now seeking a $6.9-billion federal bailout.
While California has an even bigger budget hole to fill, Illinois ranks dead last among the states in terms of negative net worth compared with total expenditures.
While the Illinois Constitution protects vested pension benefits, that promise, like all the state's obligations, is only as good as its ability to pay. The Civic Federation warned lawmakers last fall that "there is mounting evidence that a judge could find the state is already insolvent. If the state is found to be insolvent under the classical cash-flow definition of insolvency, which is 'the inability to pay debts as they come due,' it is not only the pension rights of non-vested employees that will be in jeopardy. All the obligations of the state, whether vested or not, will be competing for funding with the other essential responsibilities of state government. Even vested pension rights are jeopardized when a government is insolvent."