WEST Virginians face $10 billion in unfunded liabilities for pension and health benefit promises that politicians made to public employees.
It's an onerous expense that diverts tax money from other needs. There is not much money for raises. Or new schools. Or roads. Or mental health programs.
This was avoidable, according to Carl DeMaio, the primary author of the San Diego Pension Reform Initiative, which voters approved in June.
"Washington has tightly regulated private pension systems since the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act, but that law exempted the pension systems of state and local governments," DeMaio wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
"Four decades and $3 trillion in debt later, it is clear Congress made a mistake."
The unfunded liabilities of all the pension funds for local and state governments in the United States now total $3 trillion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Private enterprise would not get away with this. It is covered by ERISA.
But state governments can and have. The exemption from the law lifted any fiscal responsibility. Politicians have kicked the pension mess down the road for years.
DeMaio wants Congress to "make it easier for public employees to dump more expensive pensions - into which they will have to pay increasingly more over time - in favor of hybrid plans or 401(k) retirement accounts."
He cited such a proposal by liberal Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif.
Ending the ERISA exemption should be the first step.
Government should under no circumstances exempt itself from disciplines it requires of others.