Citing the multi-million-dollar balloon payments to meet the obligations of the state pension plan, two legislative committees want to know if there’s any alternative to the constitutional mandate that is one reason for the payments.

A 1995 amendment to the Maine Constitution requires the state to pay off all its debt to the pension system by 2028, which is 18 years away.

That debt is now more than $4 billion and the payments between now and 2028 will take up as much as 20 percent of the state budget.

The request was made to Sandy Matheson, executive director of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, by the Appropriations and Labor committees of the House and Senate, which met July 27 at the Statehouse.

“What’s really scaring me is” annual payments estimated to be as large as $700 million in the next 10 years, said Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford. “Are there any options without changing the constitution?”

Matheson replied, “It’s very difficult to answer that question. In general, you don’t have a lot of options.”

She said if the committee put the details of its question in writing, she and her staff would study the matter and submit a report to the committee, which the committee agreed to do.

John Christie is publisher and senior reporter for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan and nonprofit journalism organization based in Hallowell. His e-mail is mainecenter@gmail.com. The center Web site is pinetreewatchdog.org.