The men vying to succeed Gina Raimondo as Rhode Island’s general treasurer are all supporting the proposed settlement she recently announced that would end unions’ legal challenge to the 2011 pension law.
The three Democrats running for treasurer are former Treasurer Frank Caprio, former Internal Auditor Ernie Almonte, and political newcomer Seth Magaziner. No Republican has entered the race so far.
Almonte spoke out Wednesday in a Providence Journal op-ed, describing the settlement as possibly “the best short-term option” while also criticizing how long lawmakers allowed the pension problem to fester.
“This is a worthwhile settlement because it achieves significant savings without costly litigation and uncertainty,” Almonte, who raised red flags about the pension problem as internal auditor, wrote. “But it also highlights the true cost of continuing to delay making difficult decisions that will shape our state’s future.”
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The campaigns of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo exchanged fire Tuesday about the two Democrats’ records on pensions, signaling Rhode Island’s ongoing battle over retirement benefits will be a battleground in this year’s primary for governor.
“Not only has the mayor failed to solve Providence’s pension problem, for most of his term he was too busy to bother with it,” Raimondo campaign manager Eric Hyers told WPRI.com. “He skipped 80% of the meetings of the board that oversees the city’s pension fund in the first half of his term.”
“We’re not surprised that she’s attacking him now since her constantly evolving positions and statements prove that she will say or do anything to get elected,” Taveras campaign manager Danny Kedem told WPRI.com.
Preparations for a September trial in the union lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s landmark 2011 pension overhaul are still happening despite the high-profile announcement of a proposed settlement to end the suit.
Court spokesman Craig Berke confirmed Monday that the Sept. 15 start date for the pension lawsuit trial remains in place. R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter set the date on Feb. 12, just hours after the first press conference to announce the pension settlement was abruptly postponed.
Berke told WPRI.com that if the proposed settlement hasn’t been approved by Sept. 15 – which would require affirmative votes by workers, retirees and state lawmakers – the trial will begin as scheduled.
Judge Taft-Carter ordered lawyers on both sides of the pension suit to begin coming up with an agreed-upon schedule for the pre-trial discovery phase when evidence will be collected. The judge also ordered that discovery should be completed by 30 days before Sept. 15.
The trial, like the settlement, would cover not only unions’ challenge to the 2011 pension overhaul but also their earlier suit opposing pension cuts enacted by the General Assembly in 2009 and 2010. The two sides presumably could still complete a settlement and end the litigation after the trial begins, however.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A top Wall Street ratings agency is throwing its support behind the proposed pension settlement deal reached earlier this month by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Treasurer Gina Raimondo and the state’s labor unions.
The analysts from Moody’s Investors Service acknowledged, however, that some of Rhode Island’s more cash-strapped local governments could struggle to fund the higher costs called for under the pension settlement, singling out Woonsocket and Providence.
• Related: 10 ways to look at the proposed RI pension settlement (Feb. 20)
(chart: Moody’s Investors Service)
J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94, Rhode Island’s largest public-employees union, sent an email to his members Thursday laying out what happens next in the pension settlement process.
Downey reports that every eligible worker or retiree “will soon receive a mail ballot” allowing them to vote on whether to proceed with the settlement, though he didn’t provide any specific dates or deadlines. There are six blocs of voters, including state workers and teachers, and if more than 50% of members of any of the six blocs vote against the settlement, it’s off.
“Consistent with class action litigation, members who accept the proposed settlement are not required to take any action, as unreturned ballots shall be considered as agreeing with the settlement,” Downey also notes – meaning anyone who doesn’t return a ballot will be counted as a “yes” vote on the settlement.
The pension settlement is complicated. And so, naturally, are opinions about it.
Political controversies are often cast in black-and-white terms – you’re either for something or against it. But on many issues there’s a much wider range of possible opinions. It’s more of a gradation than a clear line.
The pension settlement is a great example of that. I’ve seen more than a half-dozen different opinions about it that vary based on the premises about pensions people start with as well as whether they’re emphasizing the fiscal or legal impacts of the deal. I’ve listed each one below – to be clear, though, these opinions aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and this list isn’t exhaustive.
Add more opinions in the comments section below!
The original 2011 pension law wasn’t necessary. Much of the discussion about the pension law starts from an agreed-upon premise that Rhode Island had a pension funding problem in 2011 and needed to address it. But even that is contested, usually from the left. Tom Sgouros, the local activist and writer, has argued that the reason there appears to be a pension funding problem is because of the way policymakers and actuaries have decided to measure and fund those liabilities. If the framework is changed – or if the assumptions are altered, as Cranston’s Paul Valletta has colorfully noted – what appears to be a major problem on paper could, if not disappear, at least appear far more manageable. And if that’s your view, there was no need to make the sweeping changes passed in 2011 in the first place.
Much of the reporting about last week’s pension settlement has focused on the number $3.9 billion, which is the amount of savings the deal would lock in compared with the status quo before the 2011 overhaul.
But that may actually understate the amount of savings state officials would lock in by getting unions and retirees to approve the settlement. The reason is because under the terms of the deal, the unions and retirees wouldn’t just drop their lawsuits challenging the 2011 law – they’d also drop an earlier lawsuit that aims to overturn pension changes made by the General Assembly in 2009 and 2010.
The savings from the 2009 and 2010 changes weren’t included in the estimates put out during last week’s settlement announcement, which used as its baseline the unfunded pension liability at the time of the 2011 overhaul (currently estimated at $8.9 billion, including $8.3 billion for state employees and teachers). There’s no comparable estimate for the 2009 and 2010 changes available online at this time.
Three of Rhode Island’s major candidates for governor this year – Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras – have all struck deals with union members and retirees over the last two years to reduce the shortfalls in the pension funds for which they’re responsible.
So how much did they save?
In dollar terms, Raimondo obviously achieved the highest savings: a $3.9 billion cut in the state’s unfunded liability under the terms of last week’s proposed settlement, compared with a $186.4 million reduction from Taveras’s settlement and a $37.4 million reduction from Fung’s settlement. But that’s not really a fair comparison, since the two mayors were dealing with significantly smaller total liabilities.
Rhode Island PBS invited me to join the panel for last week’s edition of “A Lively Experiment,” along with Scott MacKay, Wendy Schiller and Dave Layman. The four of us carved up the new WPRI/Journal poll about the Democratic gubernatorial primary and discussed the pension settlement. Here’s the full show:
Rhode Island’s unfunded pension liability has taken a wild ride over the last few years. Take a look:
It started when Treasurer Gina Raimondo convinced the State Retirement Board to change the underlying assumptions used to estimate the liability – most notably by reducing the long-term forecast of its investment earnings from 8.25% a year to 7.5% a year, as well as by changing the mortality tables for retirees.
By Ted Nesi and Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State and union leaders on Friday unveiled a proposed settlement that would end a legal challenge to Rhode Island’s landmark pension changes by adding $232 million to the state’s unfunded shortfall and tweaking how cost-of-living increases, retirement ages and contribution rates work for state retirees and employees.
The settlement asks the General Assembly to approve a 5% increase in Rhode Island’s unfunded pension liability for state employees, teachers and some municipal workers – from $4.8 billion to $5.05 billion – in order to get the unions to drop their lawsuits over the 2011 pension law, as well as previous pension changes passed in 2009 and 2010.
More coverage of the pension debate on Nesi’s Notes:
- RI lawmakers worried about secret talks to rewrite pension law (Oct. 15)
- The legal case for the pension law (March 18) | The legal case against (Dec. 24, 2012)
- Charts: RI pension fund on track to close its shortfall by 2036 (Jan. 24, 2013)
- RI ignored stark warning about poor pension funding – in 1974 (Dec. 20, 2012)
- How lawmakers, union leaders jeopardized the RI pension fund (Dec. 19, 2012)
- Barro: RI came closer than most but didn’t fix pension problem (Dec. 4, 2012)
- Bloomberg examines the high stakes of the RI pension lawsuit (July 27, 2012)
- Q&A: Penn Law’s Skeel on RI pensions, bankruptcy and bonds (March 2, 2012)
- Analysis: Why Rhode Island passed pension reform in 2011 (Nov. 17, 2011)
- WPRI.com presents Pensions for Dummies – a one-stop guide (Oct. 17, 2011)
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s State Retirement Board on Friday voted to approve a long-awaited proposed settlement that would end labor unions’ legal fight to overturn the landmark 2011 pension overhaul, which saved taxpayers roughly $3 billion by paring back benefits for workers and retirees.
Details about the settlement will be released at a 4:15 p.m. press conference. WPRI.com will stream it live here.
It’s must-see TV for pension aficionados.
State and union officials are scheduled to hold a major press conference at 4:15 p.m. Friday (oy) to announce the status of negotiations over the pension lawsuit. They’re expected to reveal details about a much-anticipated proposed settlement to end the legal challenge.
If you want to watch the press conference, you’re in luck! WPRI.com will stream the press conference live on our website as it happens. Click here to watch the streaming video once the event is about to begin.
Are you a pensioner who could be affected by a settlement? WPRI 12 wants to interview you for our news coverage – please contact our assignment editors at email@example.com to share your thoughts.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It looks like the much-anticipated pension settlement may be back on track.
At least for now.
The U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), which is handling the talks between the state and the unions in the pension suit, sent a new media advisory midday Thursday announcing that a press conference will be held Friday, Feb. 14 at 4:15 p.m. in the Department of Administration building in Providence “to report on the ongoing court-ordered mediation to resolve pension litigation.”
The FMCS said the Valentine’s Day press conference is being called at “the joint request of attorneys for the state and for Rhode Island public employee unions and retirees.” The timing means the announcement is now set to happen late in the afternoon on the Friday before a long weekend.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The State Retirement Board has scheduled a special meeting for 1 p.m. Friday to discuss and possibly approve a “proposed settlement,” according to its agenda; the action had originally been expected Wednesday morning.
It’s unclear whether that means negotiators have reached an agreement. The U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), which is handling the talks between the state and the unions in the pension suit, hasn’t commented since Wednesday morning.
By Ted Nesi and Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A Rhode Island judge set a Sept. 15 trial date in the high-stakes union lawsuit over the state’s 2011 pension overhaul Wednesday morning, just hours after a much-anticipated news conference to outline a proposed settlement was abruptly called off.
In a surprising sequence of events, the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service sent reporters an email at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday announcing that the 2:30 p.m. news conference was being postponed indefinitely. Shortly thereafter, R.I. Director of Administration Richard Licht confirmed that the judge moved Wednesday morning to set Sept. 15 as the date when a trial over the pension lawsuit will start.
By Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A much-anticipated news conference scheduled for Wednesday to outline details of a proposed settlement in the state pension reform fight has been abruptly canceled, according to an email from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
“I will acknowledge that we were all expecting big news today,” Treasurer Gina Raimondo said Wednesday morning at the start of a meeting of the State Retirement Board, which was scheduled to consider – and possibly approve – the proposed settlement as part of its agenda. “There won’t be big news today.”
• Related: RI pension settlement set to be unveiled Wednesday (Feb. 10)
After the jump, read Raimondo’s full – brief – comments at the start of the hearing.
By Ted Nesi and Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Fewer than half of Democratic primary voters in Rhode Island support the 2011 pension overhaul championed by one of the party’s leading candidates for governor, Treasurer Gina Raimondo, an exclusive WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll released Tuesday shows.
The new survey of 503 likely Democratic primary voters also shows 70% of them think it’s important that a candidate for governor has prior elective experience, a key question for Raimondo rival Clay Pell, while 55% think Providence’s financial problems have been only somewhat solved by Mayor Angel Taveras, another Democratic candidate for governor, since he took office in 2011.
Tomorrow at 5 a.m. – find out whether Raimondo, Taveras or Pell holds the lead among primary voters.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A long-awaited proposal to settle a union lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s landmark 2011 pension law will be unveiled this week, officials announced Monday.
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.
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.
After a rough couple of news cycles, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung has finally gotten some good news.
In a short investor note issued last week, Moody’s Investors Service analyst Vito Galluccio praised a Jan. 9 ruling by R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter allowing Cranston to suspend pension COLAs biennially and cap them at 3%, calling the decision a “credit positive” for Rhode Island’s third-largest city.
The changes to the Police and Fire Employees’ Pension Plan of the City of Cranston (PFERS) are “credit positive for Cranston because it reduces the city’s pension liabilities, lowers the annual required contribution (ARC) to its pension plans and forces the city to fully fund its ARC in future years,” Galluccio wrote.
According to Moody’s, the changes will reduce the large shortfall in Cranston’s pre-1995 police and fire pension plan by about 10% to an estimated $261 million. By comparison, Treasurer Gina Ramondo’s 2011 state pension law reduced the state’s unfunded liability by about 41%, and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’s settlement with city retirees reduced the capital’s shortfall by about 22%.
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.
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.
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.
• Related: RI lawmakers worried about secret talks to rewrite pension law (Oct. 15)