Elected officials unwilling to address debt problems

\Call the Tune by Mike Anthony

\”Call the Tune” by Mike Anthony

We report in this week’s issue that Sunset Hills aldermen are considering a freeze on employees’ salaries to balance the proposed 2012 budget.

The Sunset Hills board will consider final approval of the city’s 2012 budget when it meets Dec. 13. If aldermen decide to freeze salaries for the coming year, Sunset Hills employees will join Crestwood and St. Louis County employees who have had their salaries frozen for some time now.

But it could be worse. Just consider our neighbor to the east — Illinois.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., last month published the Report on Illinois Debt, which was prepared in consultation with Kirk’s Sovereign Debt Advisory Board, chaired by financial expert Henry Feinberg.

This report shows Illinois directly owes more than $30 billion, on top of unpaid bills that increased 10 times in 10 years. The state’s accumulated health and pension obligations total more than $140 billion — with less than 60 percent of these promises covered, representing the lowest percentage in the nation.

By adding the debts owed to Illinois, Cook County and the city of Chicago, each Chicago household owes $78,000.

That’s a staggering amount, but we believe this is the coming reality in Missouri unless our elected leaders take the necessary steps to rein in this mounting debt that at some point will become unsustainable.

But so far, very few of our elected representatives have shown the political courage required to begin to solve the problem. Instead, they appear content to ignore the problem and hope that a future generation of leaders will find a solution.

One local board — the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors — has been way ahead of the curve, changing the district’s employee pension plan to a defined-contribution plan from a defined-benefit plan and capping the number of sick-leave and vacation days employees can accrue for future reimbursement.

Despite that cap, the fire district still had sick-leave and vacation liabilities totaling roughly $3.37 million as of June 30.

As a result of the difficult decisions made by the MFPD board, the majority of district employees are projected to receive a 2-percent salary increase next year — the final-year of a three-year compensation plan.

But other local elected officials and and, in particular, those at the state level appear unwilling to do what’s necessary to solve these problems.

The clock is ticking.