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The new intractable problem at the Statehouse

January 12, 2012

A week after a clutch of municipal officials asked for the state to give them “tools” to help overhaul their local pensions and fix other fiscal woes, representatives of organized labor expressed a completely contrary view.

Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association RI, echoed other union figures in contending that municipal officials should tackle their money issues through local talks, not by seeking legislative hammers.

“Negotiation leads to resolution,” Walsh said during a news conference following another of Governor Chafee’s closed strategy sessions on municipal finance, this one with public-employee unions. “Often, legislation leads to litigation, even in the recent case of the already legislated pension reform . . . .”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed want the process to play out before getting specific on the approach to overhauling locally managed pensions. Paiva-Weed in particular has warned against a “quick fix.”  The two legislative leaders today revealed their picks to a upcoming study commission on local pensions, and Chafee is expected to do likewise shortly.

Chafee expressed hope that continued dialogue will yield solutions. (He also reacted coolly to a suggestion by the AFL-CIO’s George Nee that tax hikes should be hiked on the wealthy, with the money redistributed to cities and towns. Chafee says he fears raising taxes could lead some residents to leave the state.)

The outlook on overhauling local pensions, for now, seems nebulous.

But if last year’s General Assembly session proved anything, it’s that even an improbable piece of  legislation can find a critical mass of support.

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