Maine state government, which already faces serious budget challenges, will have to pay tens of millions of dollars more to cover pension obligations for workers covered under the Maine State Retirement System.

This crisis has been developing for decades and lawmakers and governors have been aware of the situation but have chosen to put off any actions so that the tough decisions are not made on their watch.

The time to reform the system has long since passed. Failure to act soon will threaten the ability of state government to spend money on other needed programs such as education, health care and public safety.

Instead of reforming the retirement system, the Legislature several years ago allowed state employees and school employees to retire, receive their pensions and then be rehired by the same employer. The reasoning was that Maine was short on qualified teachers and other experienced personnel. This has led to an additional drain on the system. These employees would not have retired as early if they had not been allowed to, in effect, keep working at the same job and collect a pension.

But there are larger, more fundamental problems with the state retirement system. In a private retirement account, if the investments go south because of a bad economy, retirement benefits go down. In the state system, if the investments perform poorly, the employees are still guaranteed their originally expected payments.

There system should be adjusted to tie it more closely to the reality of the economy. The retirement age should be increased and some benefit reductions will have to be considered.

Taxpayers who are struggling to survive should not have to shell out tens of millions more of their incomes so that other workers are guaranteed a certain annual retirement payment.

Governors — Democratic, Republican and independent — have long ignored this crisis.

The time has come for the next governor and the next slate of legislative leaders to deal with this issue. If a change in the state constitution is needed to deal with this matter, the Legislature and governor need to pass the legislation and send it to voters, who may be willing to make the painful but needed changes.