The strategy was just pay as you go.
But about decade ago, it became clear that with rising health care costs, people living longer and other factors, the magnitude of those obligations could be overwhelming. So in 2004, the Government Accounting Standards Board issued a ruling that governments had best do the math and account for those expenses.
It was a big number.
Last year, the Pew Foundation for the States estimated that the gap between what states owed and what had been set aside was about $1.26 trillion. Especially with the recession, states are still struggling with the problem, and West Virginia is no different.
The Mountain State’s pension funds were among the most underfunded in the country when the Pew group did its first comprehensive look at the problem in 2008, although that situation has improved over the last few years.
The plans for other benefit obligations, primarily paying most of the health insurance premiums for retirees, are shaky, too. ...
Several years ago, the Legislature basically assigned as much as 45 percent of the overall OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) liability to the state’s 55 school districts. The policy bills the boards an annual sum, and any unpaid amount must be listed as debt. ...
Most of the county districts last year joined in suing the state over the issue. The state Supreme Court last month dismissed the lawsuit, but local school officials are still clamoring for a better solution.
Legislative leaders have said they will make that a top priority for the coming year, and we hope they do. The Public Employees Insurance Agency already has taken a long-term step, by eliminating the health insurance subsidy for employees hired after June 2010. But there are thousands of current and future retirees expecting benefits before the state feels the effect of that change.
It is time for the Legislature to come up with reasonable plan while the problem is still manageable. Kicking the can down the road could be a costly mistake.