EngageRI lobbyist was Smith Hill insider in worst pension eraOctober 12th, 2011 at 12:23 pm by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes
The veteran lobbyist hired by Engage Rhode Island, a deep-pocketed advocacy group pushing for approval of the forthcoming Raimondo-Chafee pension bill, was a key player at the Statehouse during the years when state leaders made the pension problem significantly worse.
The lobbyist, Christopher Boyle, represented Newport in the General Assembly from 1981 to 1993 and served in the Democratic leadership as House Majority Whip from 1988 to 1993, according to an online biography. He did not immediately respond to a phone message from WPRI.com seeking comment.
“Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, pension benefits were substantially increased for state employees and teachers without corresponding contributions being made,” Treasurer Gina Raimondo wrote in her “Truth in Numbers” report earlier this year.
But it was the 1980s specifically that The Providence Journal once described as “a decade-long binge of generosity” for Rhode Island’s pension system.
During those years, lawmakers approved compounded cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), lowered age requirements, doubled their own pensions after voters denied them a pay raise, sweetened benefits for well-connected individuals, and quickly dropped the first plan to fully fund the system.
Boyle’s hiring was first reported by RIPR’s Scott MacKay. EngageRI is paying Boyle $30,000 to lobby on its behalf from Oct. 7 to Dec. 31, according to a filing with the secretary of state’s office. His other clients include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, General Motors, Newport Grand and PriMedia.
EngageRI spokesman Jon Duffy defended Boyle’s hiring, and said he wasn’t concerned by the disconnect between what happened during the years when Boyle was a leading lawmaker and what he’s tasked with doing now.
“Chris is a very good lobbyist and this is a very important issue, and having been in the Assembly he understands the issue,” Duffy told WPRI.com. “Having been there, he knows what happened during those times – and those were different times, to tell you the truth – and he now knows that it must get fixed.”
Boyle was not collecting a legislative pension as of June 30, according to WPRI.com’s database of Rhode Island retirement data.
• Related: EngageRI Poll: 63% in RI want ‘complete overhaul’ of pensions (Oct. 6)
(photo: Shawn O’Domski)