February 23, 2013
Another Big Ask: Woonsocket to Meet With Retirees Monday
In yesterday's dead tree edition of the Woonsocket Call (on-line edition sometimes behind a paywall), Russ Olivo reported that, on Monday, Woonsocket will meet with the city's 780 retirees. On the agenda is the fiscal necessity to shift all retirees to Medicare at age 65 and to abolish the pension COLA for the 250 retirees who are in the local pension plan - measures that were outlined in the February 12 letter to retirees from Woonsocket's Budget Commission.
The meeting will be led by State Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly and will take place at the Woonsocket High School at 3:00 pm.
In a separate but related news item, the Budget Commission is considering reducing the homestead exemption which, of course, would raise taxes on residential properties. It should be noted that in Woonsocket, residential taxes are lower than the city's commercial property taxes, which are the highest in the state. (Not a good situation for a municipality that very much needs to attract and retain businesses.)
As noted above, Woonsocket's finances are controlled by a state appointed Budget Commission, the second step of municipal receivership. The Budget Commission is looking to implement these and other measures so as to avoid the third, and last, step: appointment of a hatchet-wielding receiver.
Look, I can't easily defend tax increases, either here or anywhere in the state. Budget problems around the state mostly stem from a spending problem, not a revenue one, as witnessed by the state having the fifth highest combined state and local burden. And attempts to reduce budget expenses - SPECIFICALLY INCLUDING THE STATE'S PENSION REFORM - seem anemic at best. (All you're doing to these generous pensions is suspending the COLA? Seriously? Those of us without a pension or retirement would love to have a pension without a COLA - especially if it was inflated by maxed out overtime during our last three years of employment.)
At the same time, it is difficult not to notice the larger picture and the origins of these budget problems: yet another Rhode Island municipality (along with the state) and its retirees are now compelled to deal with and pay the price for the fiscal disaster brought about by decades of irresponsible, selfish elected officials who made or confirmed promises that were remarkably free of considerations of affordability and equitability.
The first part of the title of this post refers to the term used by Central Falls' receiver, Robert Flanders, in July, 2011, when he met with that city's retirees to discuss the reduction of their pensions, necessitated by the “horrible dilemma” of a mostly empty pension fund and imminent bankruptcy.
Under Mr. Flanders’s plan, which he calls The Big Ask, some retirees would lose almost half their benefits
How many other "Big Asks" will take place as certain municipalities attempt to clean up the mess left by their prior, and sometimes current, elected officials?