The 50 most populated communities in Massachusetts face a $20 billion liability for retiree health care benefits, placing funds for local services at serious risk, according to a report by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
These governments must pay $20 billion in today's dollars for the lifetime health care benefits already earned by 150,000 employees and retirees in the 50 communities, including Chicopee, Holyoke, Springfield and Westfield, according to "Retiree Health Care: The Brick That Broke Municipalities' Backs."
Taken together, the 50 communities face a liability that is virtually unfunded , the report said. It concludes that financing these obligations for retirees would burden taxpayers and trigger layoffs or cuts in municipal services.

"This is a death march," said Michael J. Widmer, president of the taxpayers foundation. "Something has to give."
Chicopee's unfunded liability for health care for retirees is $165.2 million; Holyoke, $300.1 million; Springfield, $761.5 million, and Westfield, $178.4 million.
Ralph White, president of the Retired State, County and Municipal Employees Association of Massachusetts, said the foundation is attempting to throw retirees under the bus by calling for dramatic changes in certain laws that protect benefits.
"To me, it's egregious," White said. "It's cruel. You really don't have to go that far."
Gov. Deval L. Patrick has filed legislation that seeks to force communities to join the state health insurance plan or use a local plan that would cost no more than enrolling in the state program.
Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, is sponsoring a bill that would allow communities to set co-pays and deductibles on health plans without approval of public employee unions. The co-pays and deductibles could be no higher than the state insurance plan. Under the bill, municipalities would negotiate with unions about the employees' share of premiums.
The report lays out recommendations to reduce costs and control increases in retiree health care, including calling for approval of Kulik's bill, which is backed by the Massachusetts Municipal Association.