Let's mitigate the mitigation
Given the hole facing the state government's two big pension plans - $41 billion in unfunded obligations - it's counterintuitive to use the word "surplus" in relation to either of them.
But it appears that the state indeed will have a $140 million short-term surplus relative to the plan covering teachers and other public school employees. And, as a carcass attracts vultures, the sudden pool of money is attracting a flock of politicians with designs on it.
The state government reimburses school districts for an average of 56 percent of their payrolls. At the close of the last fiscal year, June 30, about $69 million worth of reimbursements, which had been designated for pension payments, had not been used. The reason was that public school payrolls had declined for multiple reasons, including state/federal budget reductions and restrictions on local property tax increases. At the close of this fiscal year, the total of unspent money is expected to total about $140 million.
Since the money originally was appropriated for pension payments, that is what it should be used for, in one of several ways. It could be returned to school districts to mitigate planned increases in their pension payments, or used by the state government to help meet its own increased pension obligations. The administration wants to use it as part of a pension refinancing plan and broader reform package.
Even though $140 million is a large amount of money, it's a fraction of the overall pension debt. Still, lawmakers should ensure that it is used to mitigate that mitigation to the greatest degree possible.
Meanwhile, an audit has revealed that the Democratic and Republican caucuses in both legislative houses continue to hoard another $140 million of the people's money for their own purposes. They should release most of that pot to double the pension relief.