Gov. Tom Corbett may not like ranking priorities, but the pension crisis facing Pennsylvania needs to be one of his top issues this year.
The problem is clearly apparent as the governor and top aides outlined to representatives from five Ogden Newspapers in Pennsylvania, including the Mirror, on Monday in Harrisburg.
Simply put: Bad decisions by previous legislatures and governors coupled with economic downturns that trashed investment returns for much of a decade have left Pennsylvania with a huge unfunded pension liability that threatens to swallow up larger and larger portions of the state budget.
As demands of the pension system grow, they will squeeze out other things in the budget and/or eventually leading to tax hikes.
Public school districts face the same dilemma because they and the state split the employer cost for pensions for public school employees.
Currently, there is a $41 billion shortfall between the funding on hand and what the State Employees' Retirement System and the Public School Employees' Retirement System are obligated pay out based on current formulas. And it's up to the state and school districts - i.e. taxpayers - to fill that hole.
It's important to note that state and school employees have contributed their required amounts toward the pension systems each year.
The same can't be said for the state and school districts. For years in an effort to soften the blow from lower investment returns, egislators capped what the state and schools had to contribute to the pension plans below the amounts needed.
This put off the pain until later.
Well, later has arrived.
The percentage of payroll that the state and school districts have to contribute to the pension systems will increase annually for most or all of this decade and then remain at those peak levels into the 2030s or beyond, a state Budget Office report shows.
Putting this in dollars, the state's share of the pension costs will increase from $1 billion this fiscal year to $1.5 billion in the next. This will rise to $4.3 billion in fiscal year 2016-17 and $5.1 billion in fiscal year 2019-20.
Those increases pose a huge problem.
While Corbett is providing an important service by alerting the public - much like Paul Revere did in the Revolutionary War - to fix this problem, the Keystone State is going to need a general forcing a plan of attack.
That's not likely to happen unless Corbett ranks it as a top priority.
MONDAY: How Pennsylvania got in this mess