raimondo-chafee

Dems angling to succeed Raimondo all back pension deal

February 26th, 2014 at 12:53 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

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.”

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Despite settlement, pension lawsuit trial still set for Sept. 15

February 24th, 2014 at 3:42 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

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.


Moody’s backs RI pension settlement as ‘credit positive’

February 24th, 2014 at 12:51 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Moodys RI pension settlement cropBy Ted Nesi

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.

Read the rest of this story »

• Related: 10 ways to look at the proposed RI pension settlement (Feb. 20)

(chart: Moody’s Investors Service)


Watch: Answering your questions on the pension settlement

February 21st, 2014 at 5:53 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site


10 ways to look at the proposed RI pension settlement

February 20th, 2014 at 12:32 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

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.

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Why the pension settlement may save even more than $3.9B

February 19th, 2014 at 6:12 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

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.

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Chart: Comparing Raimondo, Fung and Taveras on pensions

February 18th, 2014 at 12:39 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

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.

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Chart: RI’s pension shortfall, with and without the settlement

February 17th, 2014 at 9:41 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island’s unfunded pension liability has taken a wild ride over the last few years. Take a look:

RI pension liability - 2009 to settlementIt 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.

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RI pension settlement would add $232M to shortfall

February 14th, 2014 at 4:27 pm by under Nesi's Notes

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.

Read the rest of this story »

More coverage of the pension debate on Nesi’s Notes:


Retirement Board OKs pension settlement; terms coming

February 14th, 2014 at 2:42 pm by under Nesi's Notes

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.

Read the rest of this story »


WPRI.com will stream the 4:15 pension press conference live

February 14th, 2014 at 12:02 pm by under Nesi's Notes

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.

Here’s our article about today’s announcement – it will be updated as events develop.


RI pension settlement press conference now set for Friday

February 13th, 2014 at 2:15 pm by under Nesi's Notes

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 desk@wpri.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.

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Retirement Board may vote Friday on RI pension settlement

February 12th, 2014 at 2:55 pm by under Nesi's Notes

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.

Read the rest of this story »


Sept. 15 trial date set in pensuit lawsuit; no settlement yet

February 12th, 2014 at 11:12 am by under Nesi's Notes

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.

Read the rest of this story »


RI pension settlement news conference abruptly canceled

February 12th, 2014 at 8:21 am by under Nesi's Notes

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.”

Read the rest of this story »

• 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.

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New WPRI/Projo Poll: 46% of primary voters back pension law

February 11th, 2014 at 5:00 pm by under Nesi's Notes

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.

Read the rest of this story »

• Interactive: Dig into the full results and crosstabs for the new WPRI/Journal poll

Tomorrow at 5 a.m. – find out whether Raimondo, Taveras or Pell holds the lead among primary voters.


RI pension settlement to be unveiled Wednesday

February 10th, 2014 at 11:23 am by under Nesi's Notes

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.

Read the rest of this story »


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.

Read the rest of this story »


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.

Read the rest of this story »


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.

Read the rest of this story »

• 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)


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.


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)


Watch Newsmakers: Treasurer Gina Raimondo

October 27th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes


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