November 15, 2011

Building and Talking Pensions

Justin Katz

ABC6 has posted video of the news story in which I appeared, last week, about pensioners who make more than they did as employees.

It's too bad the reporter didn't come back an hour or so later; a shot of me trying to lift the 25' wall that she filmed me framing would have been much more dramatic. (I did get the wall up, by the way, but it took a few tries to convince my muscles that it was in their interest to perform the act in one push... and then it took a few days for them to recover.)

Thanks to reporter Abbey Niezgoda for making the long trip out to Tiverton to include me in the story.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I have looked over Justin's figures and wonder where RI stands in the scheme of things. I own some property in Attleboro, MA and spend some time there. I have taken my motorcycle to a guy there for tuning. He is retired from their school system, after 20 years as an auto shop instructor. His pension is $53,000. Whether, or not, Massachusetts is more generous than RI is without meaning in this debate. I have no "hard evidence" but it seems to me I have heard of RI teachers drawing more than 53K.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 16, 2011 7:48 AM

RI is far more generous from everything I've read and what my family members tell me (all of whom are teachers). They also had better job security and much more time off, at least until recently. RI is going bankrupt now and the MA system struggles on, so maybe they'll have the last laugh after all. Pigs are fed, but hogs are slaughtered, as the saying goes.

Posted by: Dan at November 16, 2011 8:13 AM

Notice that when the local for profit private enterprise media companies "report" about labor they do not include any interviews with those who represent labor ,but instead seek out the private enterprise corporate friendly response and without examination treat it as fact. Justin thanks the "reporter" for taking the long journey to Tiverton to get an anti labor response but why could that same reporter not include anything whatsoever from a labor viewpoint except for the brief comments of an unnamed protester right at the end of the hit piece. Thanks for the balance. It's like the make up calls in an NBA game with a lopsided score when the game is nearly over.

Posted by: phil at November 16, 2011 8:34 AM

Phil's right - the media should be publicly owned and operated. Appointed committees of experts and labor representatives can hold hearings and decide what is fair to report on each story.

They should be more forthright like you, Phil. What is the name of your fictitious business again? And you have no ties whatsoever to organized labor, isn't that what you've told us? Just a "concerned citizen."

Posted by: Dan at November 16, 2011 9:26 AM

Justin's post this morning appeared under the heading of site based announcements. It was about the media coverage of the free prosperous person's think tank's efforts to engage RI about pension reform. My response to the post about media coverage is about that same media coverage. So I stayed on topic.
If you think that business (media included) does not have an interest in securing an outcome on proposed pension reform then read this from the Providence Journal.

EngageRI, the business-backed group created to lobby for pension overhaul, spent $525,000 in October, much of it for television and radio ads, direct mail, polling and lobbying, according to a report filed with the Rhode Island Secretary of State.

The non-profit, which refuses to disclose its donors, was organized by business leaders and social-service agency chiefs to build a "positive" message for pension reform, which the General Assembly is expected to consider on Thursday.

Of that, $388,000 went to Duffy & Shanley, the public relations and advertising firm run by Jon Duffy, the new chairman of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. Much of that money was spent on advertising.

Co-chairman Edward Cooney, a Nortek executive and former North Kingstown Town Council president, declined to confirm to The Providence Journal that the group has raised or received commitments for $700,000 to $1 million, including a $200,000 reserve to spend next year to continue to advocate for pension reform and back legislators who vote for pension changes. He said that the group has raised "six figures," including a future reserve.

Posted by: phil at November 16, 2011 3:25 PM

Phil, Justin isn't just some random corporate sympathizer, he's done a tremendous amount of research and number-crunching on this issue and written about it in multiple publications. I'd guess that nobody (except Gina Raimondo) knows the facts on this issue better than Justin.

Also, Justin has been VERY moderate about his approach to this. He isn't calling people names or anything, just calmly explaining how one person can legally (and through no fault of their own) end up with $100K+ pensions, then suggesting that we rethink the idea that retirees deserve annual compounding 3% raises. What more do you want?

The other side of the argument is simple and well-understood: People were made promises and now the state might not honor them.

The numbers are so bad that even progressive politicians are begging for the right to trim retiree benefits. That should say something.

Posted by: mangeek at November 16, 2011 3:30 PM

Phil, Justin isn't just some random corporate sympathizer, he's done a tremendous amount of research and number-crunching on this issue and written about it in multiple publications. I'd guess that nobody (except Gina Raimondo) knows the facts on this issue better than Justin.

Also, Justin has been VERY moderate about his approach to this.

These are comments by Mangeek......... were you born yesterday? Too bad. Couple of days ago would have been better. Justin is a part (and parcel) of the most rightwing, anti-union, anti-gay, anti-freedom blog in RI and maybe most of the productive areas of this country. If Barry Goldwater blogged, Justin would be extremely to the wacked-out right of him.

And Mangeek... How do you know where these "facts" are coming from.

Posted by: David S at November 16, 2011 6:32 PM


Mangeek's comments were much too generous, but you merely illustrate the narrow scope of your reading.

Indeed, your "anti-freedom" accusation does little more than illustrate how the term "freedom" becomes a cipher to promote the preferences of the speaker. Tell us, exactly how much "freedom" is the Rhode Island taxpayer providing you (with money taken directly from them under penalty of law) each month?

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 16, 2011 7:50 PM


I don't think there is anything random about the selection of someone like Justin to be a business friendly think tank analyst. Who knows who funds such efforts? There are so many different groups who change their names constantly and refuse to divulge their sources of income. Although we have different ideological viewpoints I wish Justin nothing but the best. He is lucky to have a supporter such as yourself. DavidS is right in pointing out what the published Justin Katz is on the record of opposing. If you are gay in RI you may have a different idea of what freedom means as opposed to your friend's attitude. Likewise with the hardworking men and women who draw a paycheck from government.

Posted by: phil at November 16, 2011 8:53 PM

"Justin is a part (and parcel) of the most rightwing..."

Yes, but his approach with regards to this issue has been very moderate. Justin and I have had some big fights on this blog before, we disagree more often than not. But he's the voice of reason here.

While media is screaming "Can you BELIEVE there are people making more retired than they did while working!?!" Justin lays out exactly the set of well-meaning rules allow that to happen and suggests that we rethink how pensions are adjusted for Cost of Living.

There's no anti-union rhetoric, no 'pigs at the trough' name-calling. It sounds like Justin is ready to sit down at the table and make a deal. You might not like his position on this or other issues, but sitting down to negotiate with someone who's already on your side is how we got here in the first place.

Posted by: mangeek at November 17, 2011 9:07 AM

The problem is that Phil, as he came out and stated yesterday, doesn't see the pension system as rationally related to retirement needs or a safety net as the rest of us do. He explained that in his view, it is simply another form of compensation that public workers are rightfully owed. This is why he defends results that the rest of us view as patently absurd, such as pensions beyond salary, double and triple pension recipients, automatic 3% compounding COLAs not adjusted for inflation with a doubling time of 24 years, etc.

How can we reform a system if we don't agree on what the underlying purpose of the system is? We're working toward completely different ends. We're trying to make sure firemen can feed themselves and pay the electricity bill when they're 80, while people like Phil are defending the fireman's third house and fishing boat in Miami.

Posted by: Dan at November 17, 2011 9:42 AM
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