While a pair of recessions was a key contributing factor, Pennsylvania's pension crisis was made worse by unrealistic expectations, greed and desires to put off the pain for another day.
Now residents are paying the price.
The economic downturns over the past dozen years walloped the State Employees' Retirement System and the Public School Employees' Retirement System income from investments, the biggest contributor to funding the pension plans.
During the past decade, 71 percent of the funding for the pension plans came from investments, but it still wasn't enough to offset the declines.
It's impossible to control economic cycles, but one can plan for them. Sadly that didn't happen.
The soaring stock market of the 1990s left the state pension plans with big surpluses, and some thought the good times would last forever.
And in those heady times, state legislators made decisions that haunt us today. In 2001, lawmakers increased the pension benefits that current employees were accruing by 25 percent and greedily boosted their own pensions by 50 percent. They also shortened the vesting period to five years so more people became eligible for a guaranteed pension.
What they didn't do was require an increase in contributions to cover those costs, instead hoping the stock market would continue to skyrocket.
The next year, despite the economic downturn following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Legislature provided a cost-of-living increase for retirees who didn't get an increase under the 2001 measure. Again, no steps were taken to fund the COLA, and the state capped what employers (the state and local school districts) had to contribute after they saw the increases required, further underfunding the system.
This tactic of capping employer contributions was repeated, worsening the problem.
Even as the state was underfunding its share of the pension costs, employees made their legally required contributions generally 6.25 percent for SERS and 7.5 percent for PSERS - throughout the same period.
There is no dispute that the declines in investments contributed heavily to the problems facing the state pension systems.
But that was compounded by lawmakers' decisions to increase benefits without requiring a corresponding increase in employer contributions and then trying to put off the pain of those decisions in hopes the economy would suddenly skyrocket and save the day.
Now the costs are becoming excruciatingly apparent.