Another factor behind ballooning state pension bills

In Illinois, highway maintenance workers can retire at age 50 and receive

Credit: USA Today

$75,000 a year for life.

In Florida, a crime lab employee with 25 years on the state payrolls can retire at age 50 and take home $60,000 a year.

These are just a few examples provided by a USA Today special report on the expansion of special retirement benefits that allow state workers to retire as early as 50 years old with large pension checks for the rest of their lives.

Historically, these kind of pensions were reserved for public workers in dangerous, physically taxing jobs, like police and firefighters. But, according to the USA Today report, thirty one states have passed laws in the last decade that have expanded which workers get these cushy benefits.

The story is accompanied by an interactive graphic where you can check out what the benefits are in the state you live in. For example, in California the 11 employee categories that can qualify for the expanded pension benefits range from police dispatchers to park rangers.

“There’s been a massive increase in the scope of who qualifies for (early) retirement benefits,” William Eggers, public-sector research director at Deloitte consultants, told USA Today. “They’re supposed to be for people who are getting shot at and running into buildings that are on fire.”

It’s these kind of enhanced benefits packages that have gotten states into increasing financial trouble.

Take California, which according to a Stanford study released today , has seen it’s unfunded liability for employee retirement obligations reach $290.6 billion.

“That increased spending on pensions is virtually certain to continue to crowd out non-pension spending, including education and social services,” study author Stanford Professor Joe Nation wrote in the report.

And California’s not alone. I spoke to Nation and other experts when I was covering pension issues as a southern California city hall reporter and they all told me that most states are facing similar crises. It will take some major moves and agreement on the part of state legislators and union officials to even begin to address the growing problem.

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