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Chafee says seeking a pension settlement is in taxpayers’ interest

December 5, 2012

Governor Lincoln Chafee says the uncertainty and cost of litigating a union challenge to last year’s landmark pension overhaul justify efforts to seek a settlement.

In a telephone interview from Washington, DC, where he’s attending a National Governors Association meeting, Chafee dismissed concerns that a settlement would dilute the pension overhaul to such an extent that it would hurt Rhode Island’s fiscal condition.

“No, we can’t do that. I mean, a lot of hard work was put into these reforms. I think the unions know also that our common goal is a good solid future for their members as they approach and get into retirement. That’s really the goal — to make this pension fund solvent for decades and decades.”

Chafee met Tuesday with the AFL-CIO’s George Nee and the National Education Association Rhode Island’s Robert Walsh for what Chafee and Walsh call an early-stage conversation on the topic.

Walsh says he expects the next step to be soon, although he said he couldn’t be more specific. 

Chafee says pursuing areas of compromise between the state and the unions challenging the pension overhaul is “just common sense.”

Asked if Judge Sarah Taft-Carter — slated to consider Friday a state motion to dismiss the unions’ challenge to the lawsuit — has encouraged settlement talks, Chafee says:

“There’s some indication that that might occur. I’ll just say it’s very common to pursue negotiations and to have negotiations while litigation is ongoing.”

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the main architect of the pension overhaul, argues the state had a strong legal justification for cutting pension benefits.

Chafee says his difference of opinion with the treasurer on litigating versus negotiating “ultimately really depends on General Assembly members [since] any changes would have to go back to the legislature. It would have to be more of a partnership with the legislature than with the treasurer.”

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