PROVIDENCE - Rhode Island's public pension system is one of the most underfinanced in the nation, raising concerns about how the state will meet massive bills for retiree healthcare costs.
A report by the Center on the States at the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that only West Virginia is in worse shape.
The report says Rhode Island taxpayers must raise $4.3 billion more to cover health costs for the 45,000 current and former state workers and teachers vested in the system over the next 30 years.
"If we had a hope of what this report could do, it would help people pay more attention to an issue that comes in and out of public consciousness," said the report's coauthor, Katherine Barrett. "It's so much money."
The state has banked 56 percent of its promised pension payments. The national average is 82 percent.
State Treasurer Frank Caprio said he's not surprised by the report, but is confident lawmakers can address the problem.
"Rhode Island decision-makers have been focusing on this for the last three years anyway," Caprio told The Providence Journal. "I'm optimistic that the Legislature is going to roll up its sleeves and do some good work in this area this session."
Rhode Island's financing has worsened. The report was based on 2005 numbers, but the state reported in July that the unfunded liability has grown to about $4.9 billion.
Rhode Island isn't the only state with huge pension and healthcare obligations for retired workers. The Pew study found that states will need to come up with $2.73 trillion over the next 30 years to cover the costs.
House Speaker William J. Murphy, Democrat of West Warwick, said he plans to form a commission to study whether to change the public pension system, now a defined-benefit plan, toward a 401(k)-like system.