An Update on the Rhode Island Pension Debacle
I learned about the pension debacle in Rhode Island from a security guard in a parking garage in upstate New York. We were chatting about retirement when he asked where I originally came from. His next statement caught me off guard as he related the news about attacks on teachers’ pensions in Rhode Island.
It took a few days to have the news confirmed by reading an article on possible pension cuts in The Journal (“Unions gain ground in pension reform war after judge’s ruling,” September 14, 2011). That Rhode Island was planning to renege on legal promises made to its retirees made sense in the context of an article I had previously read in The New York Times that noted Central Falls was planning to drastically reduce the pensions of retired police officers, firefighters, and other workers in that city (“Faltering Rhode Island City Tests Vows to Pensioners,” August 13, 2011). The juggernaut to strip pensions benefits from retired teachers, retired state workers, and city and town retirees in Rhode Island was on!
Meanwhile, in the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island’s Compass newsletter (Summer 2011), State Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo writes that “It is in no one’s best interest to delay fixing the problem (referring to the $7 billion shortfall for “already accrued benefits”). Of course, this so-called “fixing” refers to the attempted theft of benefits already promised to retirees.
After 30 years working as a teacher in Rhode Island, I hardly think that I, and thousands like me, should be penalized by bad investment decisions of The Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island, decades of poor judgment concerning pension benefits, the notoriously dysfunctional state government, and the disastrous lack of economic planning. Also, retired state workers and retired teachers and future retirees ought not to have to pay the price for the ill-advised early retirement disaster of the late 1980s in Rhode Island that caused serious problems in funding future retirement payouts, a situation now worsened by the “Great” Recession.
Times have never been better for wealthy Rhode Islanders and big Rhode Island corporations. The same is true throughout the rest of the nation. But of course, there is no state and national will to tax those at the top of their game, so those in the middle class and working class are being made scapegoats for the national (and state) tax parties that have been going on since the Reagan administration.
Rhode Island officials, bent on attacking retired state workers’ and teachers’ benefits, have focused on the 3 percent yearly Cost-of-Living Adjustment (C.O.L.A.). Those officials ought to try to survive in the current economy with the astronomical prices of basic consumer items. Some of these same officials need to try looking for work after retirement, as the economy has cast off millions of older workers, treating them as disposable.
On October 23, 2011, Rhode Island’s general treasurer, Gina Raimondo, was back in the news (“The Little State With a Big Mess,” The New York Times). Ms. Raimondo campaigned and won election on an anti-pension platform. Bond holders would be protected, but those unlucky enough to have given their entire working lives in service to the people of the state would be disposable. The latter is no surprise from an elected official with an Ivy League pedigree, a member of the same elite crew based on Wall Street that has visited havoc across the nation’s entire economy. Near the end of The Times article, Ms. Raimondo states that “I feel your anger,” speaking to retired Rhode Islanders at one of the recent forums on the pension debacle. Ms. Raimondo, you have no idea!
Any average retired worker coming into Rhode Island with the intent to steal the same amount as is being planned by the state government would be tossed into prison and the key would be thrown away!
Nationally, there’s lots of energy being poured into the anti-union movement and the anti-teacher movement. Threats to in-service and retired teachers’ future and present retirement benefits are but one facet of this anti-union and anti-teacher movement that seeks to portray everything public as evil and everything private as good. Teachers across the nation take hits because they are the most visible segment of public sector unions. While the economic race to the bottom proceeds in Rhode Island and in the rest of the nation, state government seeks to hoist its dysfunction onto the backs of those who labored for decades with the promise of pensions and some measure of dignity.