pension

Judge: RI cities, towns must join pension lawsuit

August 14th, 2014 at 7:08 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island judge handling organized labor’s sprawling challenge to the state’s landmark 2011 pension law has ordered that an unknown number of municipalities be added as defendants in the case.

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Providence pension investments beat state’s again

July 25th, 2014 at 5:02 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence pension fund’s investment performance beat the state’s once again in the fiscal year that just ended, and it wasn’t particularly close.

The City of Providence Employee Retirement System’s roughly $272-million portfolio earned 17.5% during the 12-month fiscal year that ended June 30. The Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island’s roughly $8.2-billion portfolio earned 15.1% over the same period.

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Chafee: RI may continue pension deal without police

April 8th, 2014 at 1:44 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Dan McGowan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – R.I. Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Tuesday the state may consider moving forward with its pension settlement without the eligible police officers who voted to reject the deal.

“There are various options and that might be one,” Chafee said following a news conference at the U.S. Attorney’s Office Tuesday morning.

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Chafee made undisclosed Texas speech amid pension drama

February 12th, 2014 at 12:06 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

From my newly updated pension story on WPRI.com, an interesting wrinkle:

Prior to the meeting’s start Raimondo was seen conferring with Licht, a powerful figure in the Chafee administration and another senior figure in the pension talks. Licht also confirmed that Chafee remained out of state after giving a speech in Texas on Tuesday, but said he expected the governor to return to Rhode Island by late Wednesday morning.

Licht said he spoke to Chafee several times Tuesday and into the evening about the progress of the talks. “Governor Chafee is involved completely,” Licht said. “He is fully informed. We talk to him all the time. He doesn’t sit in on the meetings, but we’re talking to him.”

Eagle-eyed Twitter users quickly discovered the online invitation to Chafee’s Texas speech, which said the free event was “open to the public.” That would contradict the official gubernatorial schedule Chafee’s office released for Tuesday, which said he had no public events scheduled.

Chafee spokeswoman Faye Zuckerman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WPRI.com, but when asked about it by AP reporter David Klepper, she told him: “Is this a story?”

Ironically, Chafee’s reported remarks in Texas included a mention of the problems he thinks are caused by senators constantly leaving Washington to see their constituents. “But that’s the reality, you want to be seen in your home district,” the Rhode Island governor told the Texas crowd.


Lawyers give judge 17th update on secret pension talks

February 3rd, 2014 at 5:39 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Lawyers briefed the Rhode Island judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging the state’s 2011 pension overhaul for the 17th time last week but still haven’t announced any proposed settlement.

Another status conference has been scheduled for Feb. 14, and an interim one may be held Feb. 6.

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Lawyers give 16th update on secret pension talks; back Friday

January 27th, 2014 at 2:51 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Lawyers briefed the Rhode Island judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging the state’s 2011 pension overhaul for the 16th time Monday and will be back at the courthouse later this week, as talk of a potential settlement continues to swirl.

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No pension settlement yet as lawyers meet for 15th time

January 17th, 2014 at 5:28 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Dan McGowan

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Lawyers briefed the Rhode Island judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging the state’s 2011 pension overhaul for the 15th time Friday as talk of a potential settlement continues to swirl.

Reporters were camped inside of Judge Sarah Taft-Carter’s courtroom at Kent County Superior Court as state and union lawyers met behind closed doors. The lawyers refused to comment, citing a court-imposed gag order.

Taft-Carter ordered the two sides into a formal, closed-door mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in December 2012.

The next status conference has been scheduled for Monday, Jan. 27 at 9 a.m. in the same location.

The update came in the same week that Gov. Lincoln Chafee proposed a 2014-15 budget to lawmakers that didn’t allocate any funding toward a potential settlement. During a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, Chafee said that if a settlement was reached and the General Assembly approved changes to the pension law, the state budget wouldn’t be affected until the 2015-16 fiscal year.

“Everybody’s anxious to see that number,” Chafee said.


14th briefing held on pension talks as settlement rumors swirl

January 10th, 2014 at 4:31 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

There’s no pension settlement – yet.

The judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s 2011 pension overhaul got another progress report Friday about the status of the two sides’ court-ordered mediation talks, as rumors swirl that they are close to announcing a settlement agreement which would avoid a trial.

Officials involved in the talks met this morning with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, court spokesman Craig Berke said. Taft-Carter ordered the state and the unions into a formal, closed-door mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in December 2012.

Berke said Taft-Carter scheduled the next status conference for Friday, Jan. 17 at 9 a.m. at Kent County’s court.

The meeting came a day after House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, said during an interview on WPRI 12′s Newsmakers that it’s possible state lawmakers – who aren’t part of the pension talks but still need to approve any deal – could simply ignore a settlement proposal entirely.

Friday’s status conference was the 14th one the two sides have held since last winter and the second one held this week. The previous ones were on Jan. 6, Dec. 9, Nov. 21, Nov. 12, Oct. 28, Sept. 30, Sept. 5, Aug. 6, May 17, April 22, March 25, Feb. 28 and Feb. 1.


RI lawmakers could ignore proposed pension suit settlement

January 10th, 2014 at 10:06 am by under Nesi's Notes

By Tim White and Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello, one of Rhode Island’s most influential lawmakers, says he wouldn’t be shocked if the legislature simply ignored any proposed settlement that emerges from secret court-ordered talks over the sweeping 2011 pension reform law.

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• Related: RI lawmakers worried about secret talks to rewrite pension law (Oct. 15)


Judge gets 13th briefing on RI pension suit talks; returning Fri.

January 6th, 2014 at 10:26 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s 2011 pension overhaul got another progress report on Monday about the progress of their court-ordered mediation talks – but it’s not the only update she’s set to receive from them this week.

Attorneys on both sides of the suit met this morning with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, court spokesman Craig Berke said. Taft-Carter ordered the state and the unions into a formal, closed-door mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in December 2012.

Berke said Taft-Carter scheduled another status conference for Friday at 9 a.m. in Kent County Superior Court – the first time since the talks began that she asked to receive two updates in one week. The scheduling move will likely add more fuel to speculation that the two sides are getting closer to a deal.

Monday’s status conference was the 13th one the two sides have held since last winter. The previous ones were on Dec. 9, Nov. 21, Nov. 12, Oct. 28, Sept. 30, Sept. 5, Aug. 6, May 17, April 22, March 25, Feb. 28 and Feb. 1. Monday’s meeting was originally scheduled for Friday but was delayed by the nor’easter.

• Related: RI lawmakers worried about secret talks to rewrite pension law (Oct. 15)


Nor’easter postpones next pension mediation update to Mon.

January 2nd, 2014 at 3:43 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Nor’easters are an even bigger deal than pensions.

R.I. Superior Court Judge Taft-Carter has postponed Friday’s scheduled status conference on mediation of the lawsuit against Rhode Island’s 2011 pension law. She is now scheduled to receive an update from lawyers in the suit on Monday, Jan. 6 at 9 a.m. at Kent County Superior Court.

Monday’s status conference will be the 13th one since last winter. The previous ones were on Dec. 9, Nov. 21, Nov. 12, Oct. 28, Sept. 30, Sept. 5, Aug. 6, May 17, April 22, March 25, Feb. 28 and Feb. 1.

• Related: RI lawmakers worried about secret talks to rewrite pension law (Oct. 15)


Fire, police unions sue Providence over OT pay

December 24th, 2013 at 1:48 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Dan McGowan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence’s two public safety unions have filed separate federal lawsuits against the city charging that their members are owed overtime pay that wasn’t calculated accurately.

Paul Doughty, president of Providence firefighters union Local 799, and Taft Manzotti, president of the Providence Fraternal Order of Police, say the city did not factor in longevity pay when it calculated overtime for public safety employees, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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Lawyers brief judge for 12th time on RI pension lawsuit talks

December 9th, 2013 at 12:56 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Lawyers briefed the judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s 2011 pension overhaul once again Monday about the progress of their court-ordered mediation to settle the case.

Attorneys on both sides of the suit met this morning with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, court spokesman Craig Berke said. It was a year ago next Wednesday that she ordered the state and the unions into a formal, closed-door mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The frequency of the status conferences has been picking up in recent weeks, with four held in the last month and a half, fueling speculation that the two sides are closing in on a deal. But the next one won’t take place until after the holidays: Taft-Carter scheduled it for Jan. 3 at 9 a.m., Berke said.

Monday’s status conference was the 12th one the two sides have held since last winter. The previous ones were on Nov. 21, Nov. 12, Oct. 28, Sept. 30, Sept. 5, Aug. 6, May 17, April 22, March 25, Feb. 28 and Feb. 1.

• Related: RI lawmakers worried about secret talks to rewrite pension law (Oct. 15)


Lawyers brief judge for 11th time on RI pension lawsuit talks

November 25th, 2013 at 11:34 am by under Nesi's Notes

Lawyers briefed the judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s 2011 pension overhaul once again last week about the progress of their court-ordered mediation to settle the case.

Attorneys on both sides of the suit met last Thursday morning with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, court spokesman Craig Berke said. Last December she ordered the state and the unions into a formal, closed-door mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The “status quo” in the pension talks continues, Berke said after conferring with Taft-Carter.

Thursday’s status conference took place less than two weeks after the previous one as the time frame between meetings shrinks, which has fueled rising speculation that the two sides are nearing an agreement. The next status conference will be Dec. 9 at 9 a.m., almost a year after Taft-Carter ordered talks to begin.

A union leader revealed in August that a subcommittee has been formed to communicate with workers and retirees about the terms of a settlement, which Gov. Lincoln Chafee has repeatedly said he hopes will work out. Some state lawmakers, however, have expressed concerns about what that would mean.

Thursday’s status conference was the 11th one the two sides have held since last winter. The previous ones were on Nov. 12, Oct. 28, Sept. 30, Sept. 5, Aug. 6, May 17, April 22, March 25, Feb. 28 and Feb. 1.


Target 12: Fees, earnings of city, town pension funds revealed

November 18th, 2013 at 6:23 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island cities and towns are all over the map when it comes to the investment performance of their independent pension plans and how much they pay to manage the money, with some places failing to track basic data about their assets, a Target 12 investigation has found.

The police pension fund in Tiverton posted the worst investment performance in Rhode Island during the 10-year period ended June 30, 2012, with an annual return of just 3.45% after fees. Tiverton’s return was only half as high as the state’s top performer, Providence, which posted a 6.9% return over the same period.

Tiverton’s track record was weaker than its neighbors even though the town paid more to invest its pension money than almost any other municipality during the 2011-12 fiscal year: 0.96% of the assets in its pension fund. The only town that spent a larger share of its money on investment fees was Lincoln, which spent 0.97% of assets. The state spent 0.62% of assets.

“Obviously, we’ve been concerned about this,” former Tiverton Town Administrator James Goncalo, who retired earlier this month, told Target 12 before his surprise departure. He acknowledged, however, he wasn’t aware that Tiverton’s performance was the worst in the state until he saw the results of the Target 12 investigation.

“I just had a feeling that it was lower than it should be because our goals were much higher,” Goncalo said. The town has set an annual investment target of 7% on the advice of its investment adviser, Bank of America, he said. “I understand that there was a big drop in 2008 but I just felt we should have recovered more since then than we have,” he said.

A Bank of America spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment on its work in Tiverton. Goncalo said the town is in the process of finding a new investment adviser.

Tiverton is one of 24 Rhode Island cities and towns that manage independent local pension plans for their municipal workers. Target 12 spent the last five months tracking down and compiling data from each community about their investment strategies – and in a few cases found that municipalities were unable to locate any of the information requested.

“I’m surprised at that,” Robert Cusack, an investment manager at WhaleRock Point Partners in Providence and a former East Providence city councilman, told Target 12. “To meet your fiduciary responsibilities as a member of a [pension] board, you should know those numbers. The data that you just mentioned should really be at your fingertips.”

The 17 cities and towns that were able to report how much they spent on investment fees said they paid financial firms a combined $6.6 million to manage their pension investments during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

The information about local pension investments collected by Target 12 has apparently never been compiled by the state and is either unavailable or difficult to find on municipal websites. It is not reported in communities’ annual financial audits or pension studies. The local pension study commission created by the state’s 2011 pension overhaul has obtained only cursory information about the investments.

Two places – Coventry and West Warwick – were unable to provide any of the fee or performance data about their pension investments that Target 12 requested. Both of those communities’ pension funds are in “critical status,” which means they are significantly underfunded, according to the state.

A Target 12 investigation in May revealed Coventry officials had washed their hands of responsibility for one of their three pension plans, alarming state leaders. WPRI.com reported last year that West Warwick’s pension fund was on track to run out of cash within five years without major changes.

Three other communities – Johnston, North Providence and Scituate – couldn’t provide data on how much they spent to invest their pension assets.

North Providence is the only city or town whose pension plan lost money over the last five years. In Scituate, a recent Target 12 investigation revealed officials there charged with overseeing its police pension plan held next to no meetings for more than a decade as its cash shortfall quadrupled.

Some local officials are in over their heads, Cusack said. “Ideally what you’d want in one of these plans is to have a good, well-informed retirement board, and then you’d want to have a good investment process, and then you’d like to have good investment people executing it,” he said. “Often you don’t have that. Sometimes you do, but often not.”

Over the last 10 years, all but two local pension plans trailed the 6.6% average annual return earned by the state-run pension system. The two exceptions were Providence, which earned 6.9%, and Warwick, whose municipal and new police pension plans earned 6.7%.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has said that although he’s pleased with the city pension plan’s strong investment performance, he’s concerned about how much the capital is spending on investment fees: $2.16 million in 2011-12 alone, or 0.8% of assets, among the highest levels in the state. He has asked the city’s advisers to find cheaper options.

Warwick officials said one of its five local pension plans – the one for school personnel other than teachers – is managed separately from the city’s four plans for municipal workers, even though Warwick taxpayers are responsible for all five. The school plan earned just 5.19% over the last 10 years, significantly less than the four city plans.

Tiverton’s Goncalo said the town’s police pension board is made up of the town administrator, the town treasurer, the police chief, a member of the police union and a member of the town council. Since they lack investment expertise, they rely on Bank of America’s advice to invest the nearly $7 million in its police pension fund.

“They are the people in the know,” he said. “They know more about investments than we do, so we have taken their advice.”

Goncalo said he would prefer to have Tiverton merge its police pension fund into the state-run Municipal Employees’ Retirement System, but was told by state officials that the pension plan would need to be fully funded in order to do that. The Tiverton plan was just 51% funded, with a $6.5 million shortfall, as of June 2012.

“I think the general treasurer’s office and the [state retirement] board probably has more expertise than the local level in these areas,” he said.

Cusack said the Providence and Warwick cases show that in some cases communities can do a better job managing their pension funds than the state can. “I think if it’s well-run there are advantages to having independent plans,” he said. “It’s not automatic that they should all be put with the state plan.”

In addition, Cusack said some cities and towns with solid pension returns may actually be masking deeper problems, “because you might still get returns inadvertently for a period.”

When he was in East Providence, Cusack said, “I looked at the portfolio and I said, ‘Congratulations on these returns. Things are really great here. You’ve done really well. However, because of the risk you have, it’s so high that you’ve been lucky. You’ve just been lucky.’” The town lowered its portfolio’s risk prior to the 2008 crash, he said.

• Interactive: See all 24 municipalities’ pension investment returns and fees (WPRI.com)


Lawyers brief judge for 10th time on RI pension lawsuit talks

November 12th, 2013 at 2:31 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Lawyers on Tuesday once again briefed the judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s 2011 pension overhaul about the progress of their court-ordered mediation to settle the case.

Attorneys on both sides of the suit met late Tuesday morning with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, court spokesman Craig Berke said. Last December she ordered the state and the unions into a formal, closed-door mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Tuesday’s status conference took place just two weeks after the last one, a much shorter time frame between meetings than in the past, which has added to speculation that the two sides are nearing an agreement. That buzz will likely grow now: Berke said the next status conference will be Nov. 21, a week from Thursday.

A union leader revealed in August that a subcommittee has been formed to communicate with workers and retirees about the terms of a settlement, which Gov. Lincoln Chafee has repeatedly said he hopes will work out. But some state lawmakers have expressed concerns about what that would mean.

Tuesday’s status conference was the tenth one the two sides have held since last winter. The previous ones were on Oct. 28, Sept. 30, Sept. 5, Aug. 6, May 17, April 22, March 25, Feb. 28 and Feb. 1.

• Related: RI lawmakers worried about secret talks to rewrite pension law (Oct. 15)


Lawyers brief judge for 9th time on RI pension lawsuit talks

October 28th, 2013 at 6:43 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Lawyers briefed the Rhode Island judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging the state’s 2011 pension overhaul Monday for a ninth time about the progress of their court-ordered mediation to settle the case.

Attorneys on both sides of the suit met Monday with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, court spokesman Craig Berke said. Last December Taft-Carter ordered the state and the unions into a formal mediation process behind closed doors overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The buzz continues to build about the possibility that the two sides are nearing an agreement, which has some state lawmakers expressing serious concerns about the process. A union leader recently revealed that a subcommittee has been formed to communicate with workers and retirees about the terms of a settlement, which Gov. Lincoln Chafee has repeatedly said he hopes will work out.

The buzz will likely grow because Taft-Carter will hold the next status conference in just two weeks, according to Berke – a much shorter time between meetings than in the past. The last eight status conferences were held on Sept. 30, Sept. 5, Aug. 6, May 17, April 22, March 25, Feb. 28 and Feb. 1.

• Related: RI lawmakers worried about secret talks to rewrite pension law (Oct. 15)


RI lawmakers worried about secret talks to rewrite pension law

October 15th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – There’s growing anxiety among Rhode Island lawmakers about secret court-ordered talks between state leaders and public-sector unions, who appear to be closing in on a deal that will change the state’s landmark 2011 pension law significantly.

The uncertainty emerged last week after House Democrats discussed the pension talks at a closed-door caucus in West Greenwich. Rank-and-file lawmakers were addressed separately by Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who were ordered into mediation by Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter in a bid to settle the unions’ suit challenging the law.

“I’m very concerned with opening that whole debate again because it’s already been debated,” Rep. Jared Nunes, D-Coventry, told WPRI.com. “No matter where you stood on that, as far as a legislator is concerned, whether you stood on the side of the state employees or stood on the side of the taxpayers, you got that thing jammed down your throat.”

“They’re out of their minds,” added Nunes, who did not attend the caucus himself.

Taft-Carter has imposed a gag order on Chafee, Raimondo and everyone else directly involved in the pension negotiations. But members of the General Assembly are not party to the talks.

Multiple lawmakers who attended the caucus refused to say if Chafee told them he will need to ask for extra money in his proposed 2014-15 state budget next January to cover increased spending on pensions. State leaders are already facing a projected shortfall of roughly $170 million in the budget.

“It was a closed meeting and the things that they discussed are best kept in that room,” Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger told WPRI.com. “It’s way too early to know exactly what form the budget will take. Obviously, there are many decisions that will need to be made.”

The final version of the pension law, known as the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act, suspended benefit increases for roughly two decades and transitioned employees into a hybrid plan that includes a 401k-style defined-contribution account. The changes slashed the state’s long-term unfunded pension liability from $7.3 billion to $4.3 billion, and lowered the state’s last annual pension contribution from roughly $400 million to $242 million, according to Raimondo’s office.

Rep. Michael Marcello, D-Scituate, acknowledged the proposed pension deal may raise costs for taxpayers starting next year. “It is clear that negotiations are continuing and that there is a potential that any settlement may have an increased cost from a budgetary perspective,” he told WPRI.com.

Marcello said lawmakers were not given any timeline of when a possible settlement is expected to be finalized, and expressed frustration about the lack of information being shared with lawmakers.

“We’re all in the dark, and from my perspective I am concerned – from an institutional perspective – about a court kind of bootstrapping or telling the legislature what to do,” he said. “To me, there’s a huge separation-of-powers issue. … I’m not happy about the fact that the settlement is being done behind closed doors after having sat through all those previous [pension] hearings.”

“There’s no question in my mind we don’t have to approve any settlement,” he added. “We do not have to do it.”

Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, said the discussion of the settlement at the caucus was “very thin on details,” which left a number of his colleagues “anxious” about what’s coming down the pike.

“The fact that people are so unable to tell us anything makes you – it’s like the thing where somebody says, ‘I can’t tell you about it now’ – you really start to worry that there’s something there,” Handy told WPRI.com.

There are signs a settlement may be coming together.

Lawyers are scheduled to brief Taft-Carter on the progress of their talks for a ninth time later this month, and in August a union leader revealed that the plaintiffs have formed a subcommittee to communicate with workers and retirees about the terms of a settlement. Raimondo, meanwhile, is expected to run for governor next year.

Handy said a key question is how legislators would be expected to handle a draft settlement once it was given to them for their approval by Chafee, Raimondo and the unions. “The struggle would be, can we make changes?” he said. “If a judge says, ‘This is what you need to do,’ obviously we’re still the legislature. We still have that power to do what we need to do.”

“But on the other hand, does it completely upend and start everything over again if we don’t do exactly word for word?” Handy continued. “That’s where my uncertainty is right now.”

House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, who is a lawyer, questioned why Taft-Carter ordered the executive branch to negotiate a settlement that needs the legislative branch’s approval.

“The first and most fundamental condition to a successful mediation is that the people with the power to decide the issue and agree to a binding arrangement be in the room and central to the negotiations,” Newberry told Anchor Rising last month. “That is clearly not happening with this ongoing mediation process.”

Nunes recalled that he drafted three possible amendments to the original 2011 pension bill but was told not to introduce them because “we can’t change this – we already had negotiations, we’ve already done due diligence, this is the way it has to be.”

“Don’t come back a year later or two years later and say, no, we had second thoughts, now we’re going to renegotiate this,” he said. “Don’t tell me we can’t change it and then come back two years later and tell us, no, we can’t change it again.”

“This is why we have separation of powers,” Nunes said. “The judiciary cannot force the legislative branch to change a law that was already enacted. Unless it was unconstitutional and has already been ruled, the judiciary cannot force us to change a law. … The judiciary, short of ruling the thing unconstitutional and striking down the entire law, can’t force us to change a law through negotiations.”

Despite his own concerns, Nunes said he expects House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed will be able to cobble together enough votes to win approval of any pension settlement reached by Chafee, Raimondo and the unions. But Fox himself has expressed concerns about reopening the debate.

“If there’s changes, to what degree and and what [do] the variables look like, and what does it do to erode those savings, and who pays the price?” Fox said on WPRI 12′s Newsmakers last month. “If it comes back to the House and the Senate it’s not going to be about, ‘Let’s review what their settlement might be’ – you reopen the whole pension. It’s a law.”

“We’re not at the table negotiating this, nor should we be, but once you reopen the pension, you reopen it all,” he said.

Fox, D-Providence, emphasized that any settlement which comes out of the mediation process would be subject to change by the 113 elected lawmakers.

“Every representative has a right to put an amendment in,” Fox said. “Every representative has a right to demand that we do anything. And how do you stop them without me looking like the imperial speaker who says, ‘All we can vote on is this’? How do you control that? Nor should you control it, because that’s what democracy details.”

“So there’s a lot of anxiety over it, and we’re not part of it,” he said. “There’s a gag order, so I don’t know what terms they’re talking about.” Legislators would need to review the financial impact of the changes, as well, he said, adding that it “is not a simple exercise.”

Other lawmakers said the debate over any proposed settlement would give the General Assembly an opportunity to revisit the pension changes made in 2011, and potentially craft a better law.

“I think those of us who were there when it passed, that immediate feeling of ‘I hope I never have to go through that again’ is the preeminent one,” Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-Narragansett, told WPRI.com. “But I think the reality is there are some improvements, if there are settlements to be had, that I would like to see included.”

Tanzi said she hoped lawmakers would “look for opportunities to kind of bring those lower-end individuals to be able to receive their COLA [cost-of-living adjustment] benefits earlier than those who were the higher earners,” suggesting pensions worth less than $35,000 annually as a possible cutoff.

At the same time, Tanzi also expressed uncertainty about how much scope there will be for lawmakers to make changes once a settlement is reached. “If this is a negotiated settlement then the two sides have come together, so how much leeway do we really have and how much is justifiable to advocate for beyond that?” she asked.

Rep. Spencer Dickinson, D-South Kingstown, said among his Democratic colleagues at last week’s caucus, “the sentiment was, we’ve dealt with this, we hope we don’t see it again on the floor.” But, he said, “That wouldn’t necessarily be my sentiment.”

Dickinson suggested a compromise could be to adjust the size of pension benefits based on the measured increase in the cost-of-living since the year a retiree stopped working, with a focus on pensions worth up to somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 a year.

“If you retired in 1990, look at year 2013, see what in 23 years has changed, the value of the dollar in 1990, and get [the same purchasing power] 23 years later in 2013,” he said.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi


Lawyers brief judge for 8th time on RI pension lawsuit talks

September 30th, 2013 at 11:14 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Lawyers briefed the Rhode Island judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging the state’s 2011 pension overhaul for an eighth time Monday about the progress of their court-ordered mediation to settle the suit.

Attorneys on both sides of the case met Monday morning at Kent County Superior Court in Warwick with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, who is handling the suit, court spokesman Craig Berke said. Last December, Taft-Carter ordered the state and the unions into a formal mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service behind closed doors.

The latest update happened amid growing signs that the two sides are getting closer to reaching a settlement.

(more…)


Unions taking steps to prepare for RI pension suit settlement

September 25th, 2013 at 12:51 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State and local government unions hope to start spreading the word this fall about a successful settlement to end their lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s landmark 2011 pension law without a trial, a labor leader has revealed.

“A subcommittee of the plaintiff groups has been formed to begin to discuss member communications with the expectation that a successful conclusion to negotiations, if achieved, will allow us to begin to inform our members,” Roger Boudreau, president of the Rhode Island American Federation of Teachers’ retirees chapter and a member of the state Retirement Board, wrote in a member newsletter.

Read the rest of this story »

• Related: Lawyers brief judge for 7th time on RI pension lawsuit talks (Sept. 5)


Lawyers brief judge for 7th time on RI pension lawsuit talks

September 5th, 2013 at 6:39 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Lawyers briefed the Rhode Island judge overseeing a union lawsuit challenging the state’s 2011 pension overhaul for a seventh time Thursday about the progress of their court-ordered mediation to settle the suit.

Attorneys on both sides of the case met Thursday afternoon with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, who is handling the suit, court spokesman Craig Berke said. Last December, Taft-Carter ordered the state and the unions into a formal mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The status conference took place amid growing buzz in State House circles that Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Treasurer Gina Raimondo are moving toward a negotiated settlement of the pension suit, despite concerns expressed by Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed about whether a deal is the right move.

“We’re making progress on our pension negotiations, so we can stay out of litigation – expensive litigation – and [not] risk the possibility of losing a court case, which none of us want to do,” Chafee said Wednesday at the news conference where he announced he won’t seek a second term. “We’re making progress there.”

Taft-Carter has scheduled the next status conference for later this month, on Sept. 30 at 9 a.m. The previous six status conferences were held on Aug. 6, May 17, April 22, March 25, Feb. 28 and Feb. 1.

• Related: EngageRI: Why the law is OK (March 18) | Prof: Law may be unconstitutional (Dec. 24)


Judge gets 5th update since February on RI pension talks

May 17th, 2013 at 2:46 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

There’s still no news about the status of talks happening behind closed doors between lawyers for for the state and public-sector labor unions who are working to resolve the fight over Rhode Island’s landmark 2011 pension law without going to trial.

Attorneys on both sides of the case met Friday afternoon with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, who is handling the suit, court spokesman Craig Berke told WPRI.com. In December, she ordered the state and the unions into a formal mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The lawyers met with Taft-Carter in her chambers for about 20 minutes to update her on the progress of the mediation process, Berke said. The parties have said they aren’t allowed to detail their discussions publicly. Friday’s meeting was the fifth status conference on the pension talks since February.

Taft-Carter has scheduled the next status conference for June 7, Berke said.

Update, July 24: The June 7 status conference was postponed until Aug. 6.

• Related: EngageRI: Why the law is OK (March 18) | Prof: Law may be unconstitutional (Dec. 24)


Judge gets another update on mediation in RI pension lawsuit

April 22nd, 2013 at 3:12 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Lawyers for the state and public-sector labor unions are apparently still talking behind closed doors in an effort to resolve the fight over Rhode Island’s landmark 2011 pension law without going to trial.

Lawyers on both sides of the case met Monday afternoon with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, who is handling the suit. In December, she ordered the state and the unions into a formal mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The lawyers met with Taft-Carter in her chambers for about 45 minutes and updated her on the mediation process’s progress, court spokesman Craig Berke told WPRI.com. The parties have said they aren’t allowed to detail their discussions publicly. This was the fourth status conference on the pension talks since February.

Taft-Carter has scheduled the next status conference for May 17 at 2 p.m., Berke said.

• Related: EngageRI: Why the law is OK (March 18) | Prof: Law may be unconstitutional (Dec. 24)


Calif. congresswoman headlining LA fundraiser for Taveras

April 8th, 2013 at 3:22 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Dan McGowan

He may not be ready to confirm that he’s running for governor in 2014, but Providence Mayor Angel Taveras certainly appears to be putting the pieces together for a statewide campaign.

Taveras is in Los Angeles today where Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is hosting a fundraising for the first-term mayor, according to campaign finance director Peter Baptista. Records show Sanchez previously contributed $1,000 to Taveras’s mayoral campaign in 2010.

In addition to the fundraiser, Baptista said Taveras plans to meet with “major Democratic donors” while he’s in California.

Taveras had just over $413,000 in his campaign account as of Dec. 31, trailing only General Treasurer and likely Democratic primary opponent Gina Raimondo among those considering a run for governor. Raimondo had $1.36 million in her war chest by the end of 2012.

The fundraising trip out west comes a week after the Providence City Council unanimously approved a pension settlement with the city’s police and fire unions and retirees that Taveras says will save the city $18 million. If they do run against each either, Taveras will likely tout his pension changes efforts over Raimondo’s statewide reforms, which are currently tied up in court.

Aside from Taveras and Raimondo, Cranston Mayor Allen Fung, former Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty, former Congressman Bob Weygand and Moderate Party Chairman Ken Block are considering a run for the state’s top job. Gov. Lincoln Chafee has indicated he intends to seek re-election.

Chafee on Monday was named the most vulnerable governor in country for 2014 by the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan


Mediation still going to resolve RI pension lawsuit, judge told

March 25th, 2013 at 4:15 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Lawyers for the state and public-sector labor unions continue to talk behind closed doors about whether they can resolve the fight over Rhode Island’s landmark 2011 pension law without going to trial.

Lawyers on both sides of the case met Monday morning with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, who is handling the suit. In December, she ordered the state and the unions into a formal mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The lawyers met with Taft-Carter in her chambers for about a half-hour and updated her on the mediation process’s progress, court spokesman Craig Berke told WPRI.com. The parties say they aren’t allowed to detail their discussions publicly.

Taft-Carter has scheduled the next status conference for April 22 at 2 p.m., Berke said.

• Related: EngageRI: Why the law is OK (March 18) | Prof: Law may be unconstitutional (Dec. 24)


Providence pension deal nearly finalized

March 6th, 2013 at 1:43 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Dan McGowan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The city is still managing its finances “like a family living paycheck to paycheck” and any retiree seeking to opt-out of a proposed pension settlement “becomes a problem,” Providence’s director of administration Michael D’Amico told a R.I. Superior Court judge Wednesday.

Read the rest of this story »


Mediation to continue in RI pension suit after judge gets update

February 28th, 2013 at 11:29 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Talks aimed at resolving organized labor’s legal challenge to Rhode Island’s landmark 2011 pension law will continue behind closed doors for now.

Lawyers for both sides of the case met Thursday morning with R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, who is handling the case. In December, she ordered the state and the unions into a formal mediation process overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The lawyers met with Taft-Carter on Thursday for a status conference that lasted about 30 minutes, court spokesman Craig Berke told WPRI.com. “Mediation is continuing,” he said. The parties aren’t allowed to discuss the progress of their discussions publicly.

Taft-Carter has scheduled the next status conference for March 25 at 9:30 a.m., Berke said.

• Related: ‘Pension law may be unconstitutional,’ RI law professor warns (Dec. 24)


Raimondo to Cranston firefighters: I respect union contracts

December 10th, 2012 at 6:01 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Hours before firefighters planned to picket her fundraiser, Treasurer Gina Raimondo reminded them that she opposed efforts last year by Governor Chafee, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and others to pass legislation suspending pension cost-of-living adjustments in their contracts.

“I do think it’s important to point out I was a staunch advocate in support of protecting and respecting collectively bargained-for agreements for those firefighters, and I still stand by that,” Raimondo told WPRI 12′s Nicole Estaphan on Monday at the State House.

Raimondo also took the opportunity to defend “the long process” that led to the pension law, and suggested Chafee is going the wrong way by holding closed-door talks with union leaders to discuss a possible settlement to end their lawsuit against it.

“Before the General Assembly passed this historic legislation they had dozens of hours of hearings and give and take and a lot of back and forth and negotiation at the time that led to the final passage of the bill,” she said. “Having said that, at some point as part of this process if the courts asks the parties to sit down and mediate we will do that in good faith.”

“I don’t know if [lawmakers] have ever spent more time on any other piece of legislation,” Raimondo added. “They held a special session. They looked at every possible scenario. The labor leaders were present for every part of the discussion.”

• Related: Firefighters organizing pension protest at Raimondo fundraiser (Dec. 10)


Firefighters organizing pension protest at Raimondo fundraiser

December 10th, 2012 at 10:31 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

• Update: Raimondo says she respects union pacts

Treasurer Gina Raimondo will have some uninvited guests at her fundraiser in Providence tonight.

Paul Valletta, president of the Cranston firefighters union, confirmed to WPRI 12′s Tim White that his members will be picketing outside a campaign fundraiser Raimondo is holding Monday night at Rick’s Roadhouse to coincide with the Patriots’ appearance on Monday Night Football.

“It’s just our way to say that we haven’t forgotten what the general treasurer did to many state workers, police officers, teachers and firefighters,” Valletta told White on Monday. “It hasn’t been forgotten that people’s lives have been changed negatively when they didn’t have to be.”

Valletta famously argued during last fall’s debate over the new pension law that Raimondo had “cooked the books” by getting the Retirement Board to change investment and actuarial forecasts in ways that worsened the pension fund’s finances. Raimondo said the new numbers were more accurate.

The R.I. State Association of Fire Fighters has asked all off-duty members to join the protest, writing in an email that it’s “very likely that she will be making a run for the governor’s seat next election.” Valletta said some police officers may show up, as well, but they don’t want to cause “a mess on the street.”

“One of the issues we are focusing on is the age issue: with the change to the pension you are going to have firefighters stay into their 60s and 70s to get a full pension,” he said.

Echoing an argument gaining steam of late, Valletta said Raimondo should have negotiated changes to the pension system at the bargaining table with organized labor rather than having state lawmakers approve the changes unilaterally.

​(photo: ProvidencesRestaurant.com)