NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

THE DEBT AGE

November 12, 2008

Officials from state and local governments apparently feel left out of the $750 billion bailout package passed by Congress and signed by the president last month.  Now they're angling for a share, complaining that the markets for government debt used to fund states, counties and municipalities are drying up, says Investor's Business Daily (IDB).

State and local governments are already drowning in debt, much of it in liabilities for public employee pensions that were underfunded to begin with, and are now even more so after losing tens of billions in market value during the recent economic slump.  To issue more debt when they know they don't have the money to pay future pension liabilities is foolish, says IBD:

  • Analysts at the National Bureau of Economic Research have found that state pensions alone are expected to grow to about $7.9 trillion in 2005 dollars over the next 15 years.
  • There's a 50 percent chance, they say, that the pensions will be underfunded by $750 billion by that time, and a 25 percent chance they will be underfunded by "at least $1.75 trillion," which will be about one-tenth the size of the economy.

To put this in perspective, consider that the NBER report says that underfunding in state pension plans is larger than the total magnitude of outstanding state bonds.  Add in the underfunded pensions for which counties and cities are liable, and which runs the percentage of underfunded state and local pensions to 40 percent of all public pensions, and the mix is a toxic brew of debt, says IBD.

So who is going to be responsible for the debt run up by reckless elected officials eager to provide luxury -- and often outrageously early -- retirements for civil servants?

Primarily the next generation's taxpayers, who will reap few if any benefits from services they'll be forced to pay for, as well as those who are not yet paying serious taxes but one day will be.

Source: Editorial, "The Debt Age," Investor's Business Daily, November 12, 2008.

 

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