A federal judge ruled last week that Detroit can proceed with bankruptcy -- which may wreck the pensions of thousands of police officers, firefighters and other city employees.
Forbes estimates that Detroit may owe as much as $8 billion in unfunded pensions. It will be tragic if longtime Detroit workers come to the end of their careers, only to lose part or all of their promised life-support.
Across America, multitudes of local governments are watching the Detroit nightmare cautiously, because they likewise cannot afford retirement that was guaranteed to employees. Actually, Detroit is moderate, because its average police pension is just $30,000 a year, compared to $58,000 in Los Angeles, for example.
West Virginia's capital is among imperiled cities. Not long ago, the Washington Examiner reported:
"Charleston has the worst-funded pension system of any major city in the United States, with only 24 percent of the necessary funds to cover more than $337 million in pension debt.... Charleston won't be able to look to the state for help. West Virginia is dealing with its own pension crisis -- only Illinois has a lower funded ration of its state pension plans."
Former Gov. Joe Manchin and other sensible West Virginia leaders diverted state surpluses into skimpy pension reserves, but it wasn't enough to wipe out all deficits.
Many private corporations have ended old-style "defined benefit" pensions awarding fixed monthly payments, and switched instead to "defined contribution" plans in which employees pay into 401(k)-type investments, hoping that stock market growth will cover their retirement. But government agencies continue to give the previous type of pensions.
Will Detroit's misery affect West Virginia, Charleston and other places that promised more than taxpayers can afford? Keep reading the news and try to fathom how this quandary will play out.