If there's any issue facing state government that's not quite reared its ugly head... but will... it's the price tag for retirement benefits of state employees. And today, a new estimate of those costs may only reinforce the notion that the issue is a ticking fiscal time bomb.
Controller John Chiang has released a new report, conducted by outside researchers, that pegs California will have to shell out some $48.2 billion to cover its current state worker retiree obligations on medical and dental care.
That's an increase of about $340 million since the last report on the issue from Chiang, almost two years ago. (And if there's a silver lining, it turns out to be less than what the 2007 report projected for 2009, thanks to some actions taken in the interim.)
The $48.2 billion liability is over a 30-year period. And as we all know, it comes on the heels of the divisive battle to solve a $41 billion budget shortfall, a battle that left many Californians with the distinct impression state government is already teetering on being flat broke.
So, how does the state meet its multi-billion dollar worker retirement obligation? That's a discussion that Chiang says the report should prompt inside the state Capitol.
The report makes it clear that the earlier the state sets aside money, the lower the long-term cost (thanks to interest payments that could be earned).
Currently, the state is using a 'pay as you go' policy, an annual contribution toward the overall cost... but no pre-payment of retiree health care obligations.
Trouble is, not enough money is being set aside. Today's report says that such a policy should have meant $3.72 billion would be set aside in the current fiscal year. Actual amount being set aside, says Chiang: $1.36 billion.