According to Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners, 10 states spend more on government employee pensions than on all public colleges and universities combined: California, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
According to the Cook Political Report, eight of those 10 states lean Democratic.
"Like the insatiable Pac-Man, pensions are eating further and further into state and local education budgets, eating up dollars that could be spent on lots of other things," Aldeman says. "That's true for all public services, but higher education is uniquely harmed by rising pension costs." He says these 10 states are "near the bottom of the list in terms of responsibly funding their pension plans."
As pension costs continue to rise, higher education budgets will likely lose out to pensions, partially because pensions are politically harder to reform. Aldeman says higher education specifically is on the chopping block because universities can always raise prices on students, because there is a lack of federal incentives for state governments to spend more on colleges, and because few state constitutions mandate spending on higher education.
Aldeman's data are from the Boston College Center for Retirement Research. He looked at all state and local contributions to teacher retirement plans. And his method was designed to understate total retirement spending to the extent that it isn't completely correct.
Previous analysis by Aldeman showed that the rising cost of teacher pensions is keeping their salaries down.
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.