Brien won’t go ‘Khrushchev’ on Raimondo-Chafee despite reamOctober 19th, 2011 at 1:40 pm by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes
State Rep. Jon Brien is leaning toward supporting the Raimondo-Chafee pension bill based on what he’s learned so far even though it includes reamortization, a policy he’s vocally opposed in the past.
“As it stands, I didn’t find that portion of ream to be nearly as nefarious as the effort that was put forward a few years back,” Brien, D-Woonsocket, told WPRI.com, describing a House-approved budget bill rejected by the Senate last year because it included “a complete and total refinancing” of the state’s unfunded pension liability.
Brien’s cautious initial support for the bill is a sign that Treasurer Raimondo and Governor Chafee – not to mention Speaker Fox – may be able to forge a coalition to pass a version of their bill through the chamber despite fierce labor opposition.
Brien said he thinks the best predictor of how the pension battle will end in the House is the chamber’s 33-39 vote earlier this year against an amendment that would have let state workers keep longevity payments. “I think the numbers will be right around there,” he said. (See below for the roll call.)
Reamortization refinances the pension shortfall by stretching out the schedule for paying it down. The Raimondo-Chafee bill calls for extending the current schedule from 19 years to 25 years as part of a broader proposal that would suspend cost-of-living adjustments, raise the retirement age and create a hybrid plan.
“Do I love that ream is in there? No,” said Brien, who chairs the House Municipal Government Committee. “But I’m sure there are people that wish there was a lot more ream and a lot less changes to benefits.”
Raimondo made a similar comment Tuesday during a press briefing about the bill. Reamortization “isn’t bad – it would only be bad if you reamortize without changes,” she said. The state’s actuary and its outside advisor on bond financing “advised that this reamortization is a prudent and acceptable thing to do,” she said.
“The fact that there was going to be a little bit of ream never really bothered me,” Brien said Wednesday. “I think it’s difficult to get to where we need to be without some refinancing of the debt, but I’m just encouraged that there’s not an over-reliance on ream. If there was, there was no way I’d be able to support the reform bill.”
Brien said he’s had “candid conversations” with Raimondo about the bill and found her to be “earnest and forthright” about her proposal, but he needs more time to review it and hear it discussed at the finance committee hearings that start Monday, as well as to discuss it with municipal leaders in Woonsocket.
“What I was looking for in this legislation was … was ream being used as a means to throw a bone to the unions, so that the hard choices weren’t getting made?” Brien said. “And if I thought that was the case, I mean, I would have turned into the Nikita Khrushchev of the House of Representatives. The shoe would have been off, banging the desk. I don’t get that sense now.”
Asked about the initial reaction to the proposal among other lawmakers, Brien said: “It seems to me that no one’s particularly happy right now. Not everyone got everything, and being a former arbitrator I know that when you walk away from the table and no one’s really happy, it’s usually a pretty good compromise.”
Brien also said he’s been pleasantly surprised by Governor Chafee’s position on pensions.
“While I’ve agreed with the governor on almost nothing, I think that he’s taken a pragmatic approach here on what needs to be done,” he said. “And I also think, politically, he doesn’t want to be outdone by Treasurer Raimondo, because that’s probably his most likely opponent in 2014. He doesn’t want to be upstaged by her.”
House roll-call vote on amendment to keep worker longevity pay (June 24, 2011)
YEAS – 33 NAYS – 39 NOT VOTING – 3
Y SAN BENTO
N MR SPEAKER
Update: In the first version of this post, I misstated which House roll-call vote Rep. Brien was referring to as a precursor to the pending pension vote – he meant the DaSilva amendment, which was the main fight on the floor, not the final vote on the amendment. I’ve updated the post to reflect that.
(photo: General Assembly)