Public education lost $204M diverted to pension funds, Utah auditor says

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Public education lost out on more than $200 million because the state diverted the money to cover lagging employee pension funds in 2015, a state auditor’s report says.

The trade‐off Utah faces for past pension promises is a decreased amount for education today, according to the report released Tuesday.

“This is just one example among many of the painful consequences of the temptation of previous generations to mortgage their children’s future by spending money they did not have,” State Auditor John Dougall said.

Had the state fully funded the pensions, the report says it could have used the $204 million to either:

• Reduce education expenses by 3.7 percent

• Increase the weighted pupil unit by almost 7.5 percent

• Increase teacher pay by about 14 percent

• Raise public education employee wages by about 8 percent

• Double the number of teacher aides and paraprofessionals inside classrooms

• Operate an additional 40 elementary schools or several hundred new classrooms

The $204 million represents 3.7 percent of Utah’s $5.5 billion total public education expenditures in 2015.

Making promises about the future is risky, especially with pensions where there is a significant incentive to make promises today for which others must pay tomorrow, according to the report.

As a result, the report says, past pension promises now divert significant portions of the state budget for work that was performed years if not decades ago.

“Today’s policymakers should continue to make sure that today’s expenses are properly paid, past underfunding is fixed in a timely manner, and that promises are not made that would have to be paid for by our children and grandchildren,” Dougall said.

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