By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORTER
(The Center Square) — Unfunded state debt for things like retired public employees health care coverage continues to balloon to an unsustainable level, according to a new report.
The American Legislative Exchange Council released its report Thursday on “Other Post-Employment Benefit (OPEB) Liabilities,” which total about $959 billion.
The Center Square recently reported on the huge debt levels for state pensions, which have grown to more than $8 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Thursday’s ALEC report details the other state employment obligations that are not included in pensions that public employees can receive after they retire. This can include things like life insurance, health insurance and more.
“Without real policy reforms, defined benefit OPEB plans will place a severe burden on taxpayers and other state spending priorities,” ALEC Chief Economist and Executive Vice President of Policy Jonathan Williams said. “By offering a range of defined contribution options for new employees, states can keep the promises made to both public employees and taxpayers.”
The OPEB debt obligation is about $3,000 for every U.S. resident, according to ALEC, leaving taxpayers footing the bill.”
Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Utah, Montana, and Idaho rank as the five best states for OPEB plans, according to the report. Nebraska and South Dakota have no unfunded liabilities while Kansas has $138,373, a small sum compared to other states.
California, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Illinois rank as the five worst states. California alone has about $125 billion in OPEB obligations.
“Well-governed states such as Nebraska and South Dakota have switched to defined contribution plans to reduce the burdens on taxpayers to zero,” ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform Research Manager Tom Savidge said. “Utah’s common-sense reforms in recent years have led to a drop in their unfunded OPEB liabilities for the past five years. Today that liability is down to just $35 per person in Utah.”
This report comes a day after President Joe Biden touted a bailout for certain private union pensions that were on track to become insolvent.
Mr. Biden spoke in Cleveland Wednesday about the American Rescue Plan’s Special Financial Assistance program, as The Center Square previously reported. That federal program will keep pension benefits from being slashed for about 10 million Americans when their multi-employer plans become insolvent.
Now those plans that are set to become insolvent — as many are expected to in the next few years — can receive a federal bailout.
Casey Harper works at The Center Square’s Washington, D.C., bureau.