Illinois Statehouse

Illinois is getting a failing grade for its financial health, according to a government watchdog.

In its “Financial State of the States” report, the think tank Truth in Accounting said Illinois received an “F” for going into the COVID-19 pandemic in dire fiscal health and probably will come out of the crisis even worse.

The report said eight state governments had a “Taxpayer Burden” greater than $20,000 per taxpayer before the pandemic. “Taxpayer Burden” is a calculation of the state’s debt divided by the number of taxpayers. The report said before the pandemic, Illinois had a debt burden of $226 billion, or $52,000 per taxpayer. Only New Jersey had a higher debt burden.

Truth in Accounting CEO Sheila Weinberg said the budget Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislators passed earlier this year is flawed.

“People for decades thought we must be living within our means, and then all of a sudden there is this huge pension retiree health care debt, and also this debt that has been borrowed,” Weinberg said. “You can’t balance your budget by borrowing; it is not truly balanced.”

According to Truth in Accounting’s rough estimates, the 50 states are projected to lose a combined $397 billion in revenue, with Illinois accounting for $16 billion of that total.

Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming are considered to be in the best financial shape, and Connecticut is the only other state aside from Illinois and New Jersey with a debt burden per taxpayer of more than $50,000.

Weinberg said Illinois is getting noticed nationally for the wrong reasons.

“People around the country were not paying attention to Illinois’ reckless behavior but now they have to because Illinois is going to the federal government and asking taxpayers around the country for a bailout,” Weinberg said.

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