BY MALIA HILL – When it comes to the pension situation in Hawaii, all news seems to be bad news.  According to a recent article in the Hawaii Reporter, Hawaii ranks among the top 4 states in the nation for debt and pension burden.

This is not exactly the kind of accomplishment that should have us “gunning for number one.”

The ranking comes from a report from Moody’s Investor Service, which has been examining debt and pension liability in the different states as a way to get the clearest look at each state’s total obligations.  Along with Massachusetts and Connecticut, Hawaii leads the country with the highest ratio of bonded debt to personal income as well as having some of the highest long-term debt as a percentage of the state gross domestic product.  The scary numbers:

Long-Term Debt, Pension Liabilities as Percentage of Income

1. Hawaii                                            27.7%

2. Mississippi                                     22.8%

3. Connecticut                                    22.3%

4. New Mexico                                    21.9%

5. Alaska                                            21.6%

Long-Term Debt, Pension Liabilities as Percentage of State GDP

1. Hawaii                                            16.2%

2. Mississippi                                     15.9%

3. Connecticut                                     15.2%

4. West Virginia                                   14.5%

5. Massachusetts                                 14.2%

Source: Moody’s Investors Service

And for more good news, consider that–according to The Institute for Truth in Accounting, Hawaii isn’t meeting its balanced budget obligations because of the unfunded pension and healthcare benefits for state workers.  That shortfall is about $39,600 per taxpayer, and if you’re like me, you don’t exactly have the difference sitting around the house in little sacks with $$ on them.  Not that this will necessarily keep the government from trying to squeeze it out of us anyway.  More gloomy stats:

Long-Term Debt, Pension Liabilities Per Capita

1. Connecticut                  9,366

2. Hawaii                          7,987

3. Massachusetts             7,872

4. New Jersey                   7,198

5. Illinois                           6,692

Source: Moody’s Investors Service

A tiny speck of light in the very dark tunnel: Governor Abercrombie did demonstrate some level of awareness of the problem in his recent State of the State address, promising that modernizing Hawaii’s Employees’ Retirement System will be one of his legislative priorities.  Let’s just hope that it isn’t too little being executed too late.

(Interested in more information about state spending in Hawaii?  Don’t forget to check out



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Hawaii Reporter is an award-winning, independent Hawaii-based news and opinion journal founded in 2001 and launched in February 2002. The journal's staff have won a number of top awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including the top investigative news reporting awards, business reporting awards, government reporting awards, and online news reporting awards. Hawaii Reporter has a weekly television news show, News Behind the News, which airs on Mondays at 1:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.