Fitch Ratings Service downgraded the credit rating of the state of Illinois after the General Assembly again failed to reform its state pension plans, which have nearly $100 billion in unfunded liabilities.
Illinois already had the worst credit rating of the 50 states. The latest downgrade will cost taxpayers millions of dollars in higher interest rates paid on state-issued bonds.
The reason for this problem is Democrats, who control both houses of the legislature, are beholden to the public employee unions, whose demands for fringe benefits are "unsustainable," according to Fitch.
Democrats in Illinois cannot rally behind a plan to amortize the debt over the next 30 years by increasing the retirement age, increasing contributions from employees, and reducing cost-of-living raises for retirees.
"Every time the General Assembly misses the deadline, Illinois' credit rating is downgraded, which hurts our economy, wastes taxpayer dollars and shortchanges the education of our children," said Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
West Virginians have public pension problems, too They face unfunded liabilities of $6 billion.
The state is in the midst of a 40-year plan to fill that gap. A couple of generations of taxpayers are paying dearly - many of them to pay for better benefits than they enjoy themselves.
For example, for every $1 they pay teachers, taxpayers must put 26.8 cents into the Teacher Retirement Service, which is only 53 percent funded.
Pension formulas themselves are driving this.
Teachers and most state employees can retire with full benefits much, much earlier than most taxpayers can. Some state employees can retire at 50.
Pensions are part of the compensation plan for government employees, who deserve to be treated fairly.
But if even Illinois Democrats are facing up to the need to change the variables that inflate pensions - and therefore taxes - West Virginia Democrats should, too.