Below are what Charles Barkley might call the truly "turrible" — both significantly underfunded (less than 60 percent funded) and significantly neglected (with the cities and towns putting in less than 80 percent of the required contribution).

The numbers are a couple of years old, now, but you get the picture:


It's everywhere!

You've probably heard about some of the cities in the worst financial straits — their troubles driven, in no small part, by crushing pension liabilities. In Providence, Mayor Angel Taveras is closing schools. And the state has taken over Central Falls, more or less, and fired its sad-sack mayor, Chuck Moreau.

But the truth is, the trouble is everywhere. Take Cranston, where nearly one-quarter of the city's budget was eaten up by retirement costs last year.

The main problem: a pension system for firefighters and police officers hired before July 1, 1995. For years, Cranston politicians stuffed the plan chock-full o' generous benefits and failed to fund it.

"The real problem is those sins of the past," said Mayor Allan Fung, looking a little exasperated, in his office on a recent afternoon.

The numbers are staggering. That pre-1995 police and fire plan is just 15.1 percent funded; it has a $245 million unfunded liability.

That means the average liability for a member of the plan is $492,413, while the average liability for a worker in the state-run MERS plan stands at $6253.

Now I'm no math genius, but I'm pretty sure that gets a "yowsas."

$492,413 -- Liability per member in Cranston police and fire pension
$6253 -- Liability per municipal employee in state-run system


Naah, really?!?

So I know what you're thinking: enough with the drama, there's no way a city would actually cut off its retirees. Right?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Prichard, Alabama, a bleak little town of 27,000.

The city's pension fund ran out in 2009, just like the actuaries said it would. And then Prichard did the unthinkable: it stopped paying.

Some retirees were forced to work again. A handful gathered before the City Council just before Christmas to make a tearful plea for holiday help. And last June a retired fire marshal, not yet eligible for Social Security, died alone.

"When they found him, he had no electricity and no running water in his house," retired district fire chief David Anders, 58, told the New York Times. "He was a proud enough man that he wouldn't accept help."

Coming soon to a city near you? Unlikely. But not, it seems, impossible.

Fire alarm

The Providence pension problem, by the numbers:

• Unfunded Liability: $805 million
• Pension Contribution as Percentage of Property Taxes Collected by the City: 39.3%
• Pension Contribution for Fiscal Year 2012: $59 million
• Providence Fire Department Budget for Fiscal Year 2012: $63 million

The fix

Governor Chafee has proposed a carrot-and-stick approach in his budget.

Cities that make their required pension contributions every year will get a new infusion of state cash — and those that fail to step up will actually lose state funding, starting a couple of years from now.

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