Unfunded Liabilities: Oregon’s Hidden Debt

By Michael Bastasch

Congress is still debating raising the federal debt ceiling. This would allow the U.S. government to continue to borrow and to add to the already staggering $14.3 trillion in debt. However, the feds aren’t the only ones with debt problems. State and local debt is rising, including $3.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

Oregon’s debt is piling up as the state government continues to make future promises it won’t be able to fulfill. A study by the National Center for Policy Analysis found that Oregon’s unfunded pension liabilities totaled $47.5 billion, and its unfunded Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liabilities (mostly for retiree health insurance) were $765 million, totaling about 30% of Oregon’s GDP in 2008.

The real situation is much worse because the study failed to recognize the vastly unfunded OPEB liabilities of other Oregon government entities. A report by Oregon Capitol News showed that the largest 100 government entities in Oregon had $2.8 billion in unfunded OPEB liabilities. Including unfunded liabilities from all 1,700 government entities no doubt would reveal a much grimmer picture.

Future taxation will be determined by what government spends now and has promised to spend down the road. Taxes must increase if government debt isn’t decreased. All levels of government must reduce the debt burden on citizens to avoid severe fiscal distress and high taxes down the road.

Michael Bastasch is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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