May 6, 2011

But Who Dropped the Anchor?

Justin Katz

RI General Treasurer Gina Raimondo uses an apt metaphor to describe the significance of the state's public pension problem:

"If you remember one thing from me this afternoon, remember this," Raimondo said, speaking bluntly: "fixing this state's pension system is not an issue, it is the issue. Our state retirement debt is an anchor holding our state back and preventing our growth into the future."

She goes a bit far, to my mind, in that state and municipal governments have sunk myriad anchors over the year — of taxation, regulation, mandates, and so on. Pensions are notable because they provide a stark dollar amount of looming debt. How much the state has lost in economic activity because its policies are constructed to pool power in the hands of a few narrow classes (mostly related to tax-revenue-related employment in one way or another) is not so easily calculable.

Perhaps out of political calculation or perhaps because she's not ready to begin discarding the worldview that her progressive supporters recognized in her, Raimondo leans quickly away from the larger problem underlying the state's pension difficulties:

She acknowledged the challenge is complex and emotional. "I am extremely sympathetic to our state employees and our teachers. They did everything they were told. They have paid into the system as they were told. They have worked hard faithfully every year. It's not their fault. And we should not blame employees. The fault is that the system was designed poorly. And if you're looking for a culprit, I believe that culprit is politics."

For some 30 years, she said, elected officials extended benefits for retirees without putting enough money aside to pay for them.

Let's not soft-pedal this. Among the "everything they were told" was voting for particular candidates for political offices at both the state and municipal levels and engaging in such activities as strikes and work-to-rule in order to foster an environment favorable to their side of negotiations. (Indeed, the number of politicians who have been union members over those 30 years is probably too high to count.) With only so much they could give away to labor in the open, those friendly politicians gave away money that wouldn't come due for years to come.

The culprit may be politics, as Raimondo insists, but it has been a politics dominated by and consciously perpetuated by employees and their unions. The current crop of such politicians cannot ignore the pension problem much longer (despite the hypnotic cooing of union propagandists), and although it's possible that they'll change what needs to be changed without naming it, that outcome isn't very likely.

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This woman is a JOKE.
Bottom Line-Where's the f****** PLAN.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at May 6, 2011 8:05 AM

I remember as recently as 2 years ago, several commenters on RIFuture shouting me down together in unison when I stated that the RI pension system was unsustainable. Hull, Crowley, and a bunch of the other union shills not worth remembering over there all insisted the pension system was totally fine and that I was spreading "corporatist propaganda" and fearmongering without the facts. Guess the joke's on them, their whole house of cards is coming down now. Would have been on me too if I hadn't left the state before their little socialist experiment went to crap, because I would have been paying for their economic misunderstandings. Well, not Crowley, the misinformation he spreads is totally deliberate. Anyone who doesn't want to pay for this Ponzi scheme of Madoff-like proportions should leave RI now - the tax bills are coming. Lots of them.

Posted by: Dan at May 6, 2011 8:07 AM

The unions elect corrupt Democrats.
The corrupt Democrats pass unsustainable benefits-at the behest of the unions.
When the system collapses the unions whine, point to the corrupt Democrats "promises", never mentioning who put them in office-and why.

Am I missing anything?

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at May 6, 2011 8:12 AM

There is more to life than union politics. Being a union member does not come with a vote Democrat order. We vote for whoever we want. The Republicans don't offer many viable choices, which is the main reason there are so many Democrats running the state into the ground.

Posted by: michael at May 6, 2011 8:18 AM

I've been a union member for almost 2 decades, haven't voted democrat once in all that time. The only time I recall the union leadership speaking highly of a particular candidate was this past year...when the union president told me he was impressed by what Raimondo had to say at a union sponsored conference. I'm not seeing the whole evil union in bed with the evil democrat thing. You guys are lumping all unions together, all union membership together, and all democrats together. Pretty simplistic thinking. Things aren't always that black and white. Union membership does not define the person.

Posted by: seirra1 at May 6, 2011 8:56 AM

"You guys are lumping all unions together..."

You're also generalizing...

Posted by: Patrick at May 6, 2011 9:00 AM

POLITICS is responsible? How about human beings and their ill fated short sighted agenda driven decisions instead. Politics is a nice cop-out term. However in RI the politics has been Democrat Left for many years. Democrat Left is destuctive and unrealistic much like socialist dictatorships. Let the unions run wild and you get "connected" 25 yr. old clowns making 90,000yr. with zero real world experience.

Posted by: ANTHONY at May 6, 2011 9:10 AM

Yes the unions don't order people to "vote for the Democrat" (although if they could get "card check" for general elections they sure would)!

But remember where the union bosses send the dues money and "volunteer" / "get out the vote" support -- both in RI and nationally.

But remember Doug Gablinske.

Unions are now a creature of the public sector, and the Democrats are the party of ever bigger government.

A symbiotic relationship not unlike that of vultures and carcasses.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at May 6, 2011 9:11 AM

Patrick, I'm referring to the comments before mine and on the original post based on those I'm not the one generalizing.

Posted by: seirra1 at May 6, 2011 9:58 AM

Let's be clear - we are talking about public employee unions. They are a cancer on the financial well being of any city/town/state.
I've never seen a bigger bunch of liars in my life. Public employee unions should be illegal.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at May 6, 2011 10:19 AM

If you're not voting for the politician that's protecting your future security then you are the exception. Anthony is right on target. It's short sighted but it's also human nature. These brilliant union leaders should have seen this coming and convinced their rank and file to do something about it but instead that took the easy route by quieting the critics and promoting suck up candidates for election. We blog all day about the causes and who said what and the politicians keep grabbing headlines but where's the friggin' plan? The promising Raimondo talks a good game but we're just about talked out. Where's the friggin' plan?

Posted by: Max Diesel at May 6, 2011 2:03 PM

Former Cranston mayor Laffey was in town recently. It reminded me of what he said a couple of years ago about the pensions. He referred to R.I. general law 36-11-12, which says pensions are not part of collective bargaining. He said just send everyone a check for their effective balance and convert all employees to a 401K type of plan.

Why can't we do this?

sanford Mantell

Posted by: Sanford Mantell at May 12, 2011 8:00 PM
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