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Whatever fiscal woes the nation is facing, and despite running battles over resource development and state spending, Montanas finances provide a bit of good news: according to State Data Lab at Truth in Accounting (TIA), Montana is has joined a list of only eight other states designated “Sunshine States”. These “states have enough assets to cover their debt, according to analysis of assets and liabilities” as of fiscal year-end 2013.
Unfortunately, all the news isn’t so rosy. The group’s website quotes former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker in reference to a key factor few pay attention to, and which fewer still understand well.
While other organizations have compared the states’ unfunded retirement liabilities, only [The Institute for Truth in Accounting] has determined the overall financial condition of every state.”
In the category of unfunded liabilities — financial obligations for which funding is not yet covered — retirement benefits comprise a large portion, if not the largest portion. Retiring baby-boomers have been on the fiscal radar for decades, but the problem is beginning to hit home, and will only grow.
As with any problem in need of a solution, solutions can only be found if one has accurate information. Given this simple reality, disclosure of relevant information to citizens is critical. It spite of Montana’s listing as a “Sunshine State”, TIA reports over a billion dollars in “Retirement about Liabilities Not Clearly Disclosed”.
State Data Lab provides great tool for taxpayers: a robust database from which users can graph of financial data from scores categories. One example related to the present topic is Montana’s “Total Reported Retirement Liabilities”. Given Montana’s “Sunshine” status, one might expect to find a major percentage of retirement liabilities to be adequately reported to the taxpaying public.
One would be disappointed.
The total retirement liability reported for fiscal year 2013 was around $350,000,000. With a billion more “not clearly disclosed”, that amounts to only about twenty-five percent of our state’s retirement liability.
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