Cities make slow progress in addressing retiree healthcare liabilities

Source: Sunny Zhu, Thomas Aaron, Eric Hoffmann, Leonard Jones, Moody’s, Sector In-Depth, Local government – California, March 18, 2019
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Similar to pensions, other post-employment benefits (OPEB) — principally retiree healthcare — are liabilities that pose credit risks for some local governments. With rising healthcare costs, longer life spans and aging workforces, OPEB costs are escalating rapidly in some casesand unfunded liabilities are becoming a material source of balance sheet leverage. Positively,numerous California (Aa3 positive) cities, including San Jose (Aa1 stable), San Francisco (Aaa stable) and San Diego (Aa2 stable), have taken proactive steps to curb OPEB costs. Few cities have meaningfully reduced these liabilities to date because most cost-containment strategies will take years to provide substantial savings. If unaddressed, rising OPEB expenses threaten to curtail other local government spending priorities.