In terms of debt to GDP it’s South Carolina and New York that’s in real trouble. https://www.usgovernmentdebt.us/state_debt_rank
PS: All states combined is 14.79% and NJ stands at 15.69%. So it’s not great, but it’s not that far from average.
Percentage of taxes going towards paying debt service including benefits for retired government employees is going to far outpace increase in incomes for NJ/CT/IL. Plus they have a lot of infrastructure debt to pay.
They're not the worst states to live in, especially if you're making a high income from NYC or Chicago and need a suburb to live in, but for 90% of people there's probably a place they can get more bang for their buck tax wise in the long run.
Lack of large scale migration means people actually like living there even if they don’t like specific aspects. SC on the other hand seems to be in a far worse situation without any clear mechanics for improving the situation.
PS: Looking at federal spending you can see many states are already on life support.
Either way, you can be sure that the situation will be bad before pensions start getting cut. And South Carolina might not be good, but there's a bunch of other states with high growth in incomes, increasing high income populations, and well funded governments.
Most of these have limited impact on current retirees, but changing inflation calculations and capped annual increases really add up.
Arizona: Retired and current active members Replaced the Permanent Benefit Increase (PBI) with a compounding COLA to be based on CPI for the Phoenix region, with a 2% annual cap. This was done to save money over time, even if people see the same check today it’s noticeably lower in 10 years. Over a possible 40+ year retirement the difference is huge.
Arkansas: Current retirees Reduced automatic COLA from 3%, compounded, to the lesser of 3% or CPI, compounded. Again a single year at 2% compound vs 3% compound reduces outstanding debt by 1%. Over 20+ years it makes a huge difference.
Colorado: (2018) Retired and current active state employees. Suspended COLA for two years(2018 and 2019) They did more, but that alone reduced their liabilities by around 5%. They had already done a similar thing in 2010 by requiring retirees to wait over 1 year for their first COLA and reducing the cap from 3.5% to 2%.
I could go on but you find a lot of these changes that often add up to a 10+% reduction in benefits and thus costs.
If I sell a bond paying 5% interest, then say sorry only paying 4% that’s a lower liability.