A group of bright young women came together last week as part of the 74th session of Alabama Girls State and did something truly spectacular: they passed bipartisan legislation to overhaul Alabama’s public pension system.

Alabama Girls State gives rising high school seniors the opportunity to create and participate in mock city, county and state governments. Sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary, the young women take a hands-on role in which they form political parties, run for office and work on mock legislation. This summer, 365 delegates took part in the week-long event.

This session’s successful pension reform effort began when one of the rising high school seniors who is concerned about the struggling state budget began looking deeper and learned that pension debt is a main culprit of Alabama’s financial woes. After methodically researching the issue, she drafted pension reform legislation, worked with colleagues to build consensus, shepherded the bill through committee process, and in the end got her legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by the Girls State Governor. The pension reform bill was one of only a handful that passed.

The Retirement Security Initiative (RSI) applauds this future leader for taking on a tough issue and seeing it through.  For every new employee Alabama hires into the current system, it makes a lifetime pension commitment in which it doesn’t have the funding to guarantee. It’s a never-ending cycle that requires taxpayers to continually dump money into a system that has no hope of catching up. Unless action is taken, taxpayers will be picking up the tab for Alabama’s pension debt 30 years from now.

Living in a state that pays more than $1 billion per year into a system where the debt still continues to rise, this young woman and her fellow delegates realize that it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and fix the problem now. We at RSI are inspired by their proactivity and commitment to the role of government and its responsibility to ensure that retirement plans are sustainable and fiscally sound. We are hopeful that Alabama’s legislators, too, draw inspiration from their efforts.