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Raimondo reasserts her place in the pension debate

January 24, 2012

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.

Chafee has staked his turf as the mayors’ governor, and he unleashed a winning, more combative tone in underscoring his concern for the state’s cities and towns.

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.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Art permalink
    January 25, 2012 1:50 pm

    I fully support Raimondo’s fact-driven, common-sense pension reform plan. If anything, it does not go far enough to establish a fully sustainable pension system, which can only come about by converting all pensions to 401k-type pensions that are uncoupled from the taxpayers.

  2. Robert DeMichele permalink
    January 26, 2012 1:10 pm

    The State of RI, Ms. Raimondo and the changes enacted for the state’s woefully unfunded pension system is truely outstanding;maybe even incredible. It is amazing that this is not on every news show on television and newspapers. Other than Wisconsin, RI is the only state that has addressed their problems in a forthright manner. The fact is that years of inept or maybe corrupt, bought and paid for politicians with the math skills of a second grader kept promising more than the tax payer could afford to pay. It is not-sustainable and cannot be paid for. If the private system can’t pay for these riduclous benefits, how can the public system I have the greatest respect for police and fire, but retire in 20 years and live for another 40. the public pension systems are the only ones I know of where you earn more in retirement than you ever earned on the job. Private workers, WHO PAY THE TAXES, don’t have that luxury. Raimondo’s should be consulting for every bankrupt state in this country—hello Illinois, Connecitcut, Mass, California to just name a few. THE PARTY IS OVER!!

    • Mister Guy permalink
      February 14, 2012 11:56 pm

      Once again, we’ll see how many people will be praising Mrs. Raimondo when the court system overturns much of the recently-passed state pension “reform” plan. Sheesh…

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