Raimondo reasserts her place in the pension debate
The three-hour pension workshop convened by state Treasurer Gina Raimondo this morning at CCRI was pretty much what you’d expect: a detail-rich discussion, heavy on such wonky phrases as “normal rate” and “discount rate” – that sets the stage for the next hurdle facing locally manged pensions.
The contrast couldn’t have been more striking from Governor Lincoln Chafee’s three recent strategy sessions with municipal officials, unions, and buiness people. In Chafee’s case, the groups (which met behind closed doors) offered little in concrete proposals after emerging (George Nee’s tax increase trial balloon notwithstanding).
Raimondo convened her audience in public. More significantly, she focused the discussion on a very specific goal – even if the puzzle of how to effectively overhaul 36 varying local pensions in 24 communities remains elusive:
What I said when we began this morning is that this entire session and the focus of your work now ought to be around assessing the magnitude of your problem.
This three hours we’ve spent together, we’ve deliberately not talked about, what’s the answer? and I’ll tell you if there’s one lesson I learned – I learned many lessons, as you might imagine, in the past year. But the lesson I really learned is that I don’t believe we would have gotten done what we did if we didn’t spend enough time focusing on the problem: How big is your problem? How did you get there? What are the key cost-drivers? What are the real implications of yor pension problems?
Getting a solid baseline on the state of local pensions is important, Raimondo said, because, “You are going to have to get all the parties to the table and negotiate, and you must be negotiating from the same set of facts. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, we’re not all entitled to our own facts.”
Attendees at the workshop received a half-inch thick handout of papers — including what Raimondo calls a roadmap for communities in charting their way forward. She repeatedly offered the help from her office as cities and towns face an April 1 deadline for completing studies of their local pensions.
Some local officials might say their pensions have already been studied. They might gripe about how the local pensions were left out of the pension bill that became law last year.
But fixing the local pensions won’t be easy for a number of reasons, including the political reality of an election year, how they were set by collective bargaining, and how they vary from community by community. To make matters worse, pension consultant Allan Emkin provided the bleakest portion of the workshop, warning of relatively meager investment returns due to changes in the global economy.
But when it comes to nudging along, at least publicly, the incremental work of tackling tough pension problems, Raimondo has reasserted her hold on the bully pulpit.