April 22, 2010

The Biggest Faction in the General Assembly

Marc Comtois

In today's ProJo story about the General Assembly and pension reform, one sentence jumps out and explains the root problem at the heart of trying to change things here in Rhode Island:

At least half, 55 of the 113 lawmakers, have a publicly-financed pension, or between 1 and 33 years of credit toward a possible pension from a city-, town- or state-financed pension fund in Rhode Island.
At least half of the members of the GA have pulled a pay-check from taxpayer dollars and still have friends or relatives doing the same. They're naturally going to be reluctant to take "bread from the mouths" of themselves or their own. Perhaps this is a fair illustration of their general attitude:
Rep. Mary Duffy Messier of Pawtucket, a recently retired fifth-grade teacher, was also on the losing side of the 42-to-29 House vote to limit the COLAs paid future retirees to the first $35,000 in retirement pay.

"It is not a lot of money, not compared to the governor's pension, let's say, from Cookson America," said Messier of her own $4,542 a month pension after 35 years in the classroom.

While acknowledging "the pension system is in a bad way," she said she still could not vote to cut the benefits of future retirees because "I know the hard work that teachers put in, and I know all the aggravation they go through with parents and administrators, and now their jobs are going to be on the line if their test scores don't come through...I think it's kind of unfair to them."

But, apparently, it's not unfair to take money from taxpayers--who live with 401(k)s and co-share/pay health plans--to prop up more-than-generous benefit packages for public employees who, on average, already make more than the average Joe. It's reverse Robin Hood.

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"It is not a lot of money, not compared to the governor's pension, let's say, from Cookson America,"

Yet it's more than 80% of my friends with advanced degrees make working here in the private sector. That's right, it's better to be a retired teacher here than a working stiff trying to put down roots.

When our public employees determine 'fairness' on comparisons to millionaires, we have a problem.

On a sidenote, I find it interesting that my incumbent Senator (John McBurney) has made the news so many times this week... Not only is he getting totally free health care from the state, but it appears he takes the buyout from the city. On top of that, he earns the full legislative salary -and- collects the full legislative pension. Did I mention that he runs a very profitable law firm, as well?

Posted by: mangeek at April 22, 2010 12:36 PM

So last week Rep. Karen MacBeth put in an amendment to the supplemental budget that would have required all Assemblypeople to pay 15% of their health insurance. Fox and the rest of them got all aflutter because they worried that voting on it would violate conflict of interest and ethics. They didn't even want to vote to table it for fear of conflict of interest and ethics. However 55 of them are direct beneficiaries of the state's pension plans yet only Kilmartin is aware that they're voting on their own benefits? And even then, it was because his wife is a direct beneficiary?

This is absolutely ridiculous.

Posted by: Patrick at April 22, 2010 12:40 PM

This is great reporting... I wonder how many legislators have children or spouses who are public employees as well. I know it would be -very- hard not to vote for giving your wife or kids more money or better benefits. Anyone have an 'in' at the journal who could do that digging? I want to see a full-page matrix of possible ties between every elected state official and things like pensions and family ties to government jobs.

Posted by: mangeek at April 22, 2010 12:48 PM

We need to move to the New Hampshire model. State legislators are paid $100/year for a two year term. No pension, no benefits. Everyone has a real job, votes are more like volunteer work. Also, the large size of the legislative body makes legislators more accountable and familiar to their constituents. Not surprisingly, New Hampshire has the lowest corruption and the most fiscally responsible legislature out of the Northeastern states.

Posted by: Dan at April 22, 2010 1:21 PM

I agree with Dan, i never could figure out why the GA is so powerful. More of them paid less spreads the power around. It's kind of like high school there now, the big clique has all the power and the rest either are part of it or sit out and watch their efforts die in committee.

More people spending less time at the GA where the stakes are not as high just makes sense. One group wouldn't be in control.

Posted by: michael at April 22, 2010 1:59 PM

How about this:

A unicameral state Assembly with 100 members and a 4 two-year term limit.

The Speaker is term limited to 1 term as Speaker.

$100 a year stipend, no benefits, no mileage or any other kind of reinbursements.

And make the races non-partisan. What does it matter anyway if someone is a Democrat or Republican? Then, people will have to explain their opinions on issues like "I'm for the unions!" or "I'm for smaller government!" instead of "I'm a Democrat!"

Posted by: Patrick at April 22, 2010 2:17 PM

Then why did we all think shrinking the size of the GA was such a great idea? It didn't remove the problem children, and now more power is concentrated in fewer hands. That wasn't what we all wanted, was it?

Posted by: rhody at April 22, 2010 2:21 PM

I'm not sure why they get paid or get benefits at all.

I'm a Regular Joe with a Regular Job, filed to run for GA, and I'm planning on saying no to the insurance and the buyout. I'll take the salary, though; I estimate that the $15K I'll get paid will roughly cancel-out the events I'll have to attend, beefed-up wardrobe, and expected charitable donations.

Also, why are incumbents allowed to collect tens of thousands of dollars for races where there are no challengers? I think 'reform' would include not being able to raise money (except for a small amount required to pay the expenses of a non-campaign) if you're not being challenged.

Posted by: mangeek at April 22, 2010 3:19 PM

Rhody has said a true thing. No, it isn't what we all wanted, but it was exactly what the special interests wanted. And now they've had it for a while, and the state has run out of other peoples' money. This is why the only answer is the replace nearly all of the GA with citizens who are not beholden to the government-employee unions and the poverty pimps.

Posted by: BobN at April 22, 2010 7:24 PM

I can't believe it-Rhody's right.He must've ate some bad shellfish and undergone a metamorphosis.Seriously,state legislators should only get NO salary and free parking.That's it.I'd like that job.Beholden to no one but the ones which brung me to the dance.
David Segal would quit tomorrow to get an actual job with medical coverage-it would be a first for him-can you imagine the slugs jumping ship?George Nee and Kate Brewster would probably run a car with the garage door closed and them inside.Oh,well.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 22, 2010 9:36 PM
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