JACKSON, Mich. - The Michigan Education Associations says that most of its newly reported $124 million debt consists of pension liabilities that will come due over the next 70 years, according to The Jackson Citizen Patriot.

The MEA reported the debt to the U.S. Department of Labor last week, The Citizen Patriot reported. Vice President Steve Cook told The Citizen Patriot that the pension fund — which pays retirement benefits to MEA employees — has lost value as interest rates decline, but that the MEA does not expect the debt to remain that high as markets fluctuate.

The MEA made a required $8 million contribution to the fund, Cook told The Citizen Patriot.

Kyle Olson, vice president of the Education Action Group, a nonprofit organization that advocates for public school spending reform, told The Citizen Patriot that a review of several other teachers unions reports showed none have a liability as large as the MEA.

He also pointed out the gap between union employee salaries and those of rank-and-file members, primarily teachers, The Citizen Patriot reported. Nearly half of the 343 MEA employees listed in the report earn more than $100,000 a year; President Iris Salters received a 13 percent increase, going from $256,000 to $290,741, and other top officers and executives received pay hikes as well.

Cook told The Citizen Patriot that the increases are not raises, but reimbursements for a four-year pay deferral that was implemented the last time the pension fund lost value, in 2001. In that case, the union was required to make a $12 million payment to the fund.

The Jackson Citizen Patriot, "Michigan Education Association criticized after reporting it had $124 million in debt," Dec. 2, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Tidbits From the MEA's Recent Financial Report," Dec. 2, 2009