In his Daily Herald article today on the latest tally of Illinois' outstanding pension liability (it's $62 billion, by the way), reporter John Patterson includes this important passage:
Political observers and pension experts agree the main reason for this
massive liability is because the state for decades failed to contribute
the required amount to the pension systems. School districts, teachers
and state workers have all been required to make their contributions,
but the state routinely spent its contribution elsewhere. Each time it
did, it added to the debt that also gets compounded with interest.
While legislators -- and conservatives in particular -- like to suggest that the size of individual pension benefits are to blame for the ballooning liability, the story described above is often obscured. Over the past decade or so, state legislators and governors have essentially used the pension system as a credit card -- all to avoid passing an income tax increase. Now the due date is approaching and the balance is compounding. You can delve deeper into this issue here and here.