Many West Virginians may believe the infamous "OPEB" liability has been wiped off the state's books. Wrong. Though the debt hanging over taxpayers' heads has been reduced dramatically, $3.8 billion of it remains.
OPEB stands for other post-employment benefits, primarily health insurance promised to government retirees including educators. The liability represents accountants' best estimates of the projected cost of benefits decades into the future, compared to money expected to be available to pay for them.
Just a few months ago, the OPEB liability was estimated at around $10.3 billion. Then the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board made benefit changes, and the Legislature followed up with a new funding stream.
Voila! Problem solved, it was announced.
But last week, the PEIA Finance Board took another look at the situation. Its analysis showed what officials termed a "manageable" $3.8 billion liability.
That is quite a difference-$6.5 billion, to be as precise as possible-in the outlook from late last year. And it certainly is dramatic progress. PEIA Executive Director Ted Cheatham said the outlook is for the liability to be entirely paid off by 2037.
But that is a quarter-century from now. A lot can change in that amount of time.
Not to detract from the accomplishments of the Finance Board and the Legislature, but - as is the case with billions of dollars in liabilities being paid down for other state programs-the situation will have to be monitored closely.
At the very first sign pay-down projections are not being met-without waiting for the problem to compound itself - legislators and those such as the Finance Board charged with maintaining the fiscal health of the programs will have to take action.
Yes, West Virginia has made enormous progress in dealing with unfunded liabilities during recent years.
But we're not out of the woods, yet.