The only way out appears to be a combination of higher taxes, fewer public services, and reduced pension benefits. Expect the hostility between the public and private sectors to intensify and to break out into open class conflict.
The pension plans sponsored by states and municipalities will place a substantial burden on state and local public finances in the near future. My recent work has estimated that the present value of already-promised state pension benefits is over $5 trillion when the benefit payments are discounted using Treasury yields, compared to a little over $2 trillion in pension fund assets. Most state constitutions offer special protections to pension benefits that state workers have already earned.
This analysis raises the question of how soon such a situation might lead to an all-out state and municipal fiscal crisis. One important day of reckoning is the day that the state pension funds run out of money. At that point, pension payments to retirees will have to come out of general revenues. This day of reckoning is in fact not as far away as some might imagine. For Illinois, it could be as soon as 2018.
Red more at the Kellogg School of Management.