June 23, 2005

Be Watchful

Marc Comtois

In my last post on the apparent passage of the 2006 RI State Budget in which Gov. Carcieri won important concessions, such as reducing pension benefits for state workers, I commented

. . .now is no time to let up. This is just the first battle and there is no guarantee that it has actually been won just because the politicians seem to be saying so. The foot-dragging over implementation of Separation of Powers should remind us all that nothing is ever guaranteed. If we sit back and think it's over, we may soon find that we're right back where we started. . .Let's keep the pressure on and keep supporting this Governor.
Well, it didn't take long, now, did it?
Nothing with the Assembly is set is stone until the final votes are cast -- something the state's labor unions are counting on.

"It's neither fair nor equitable," Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals said of the changes.

Other union leaders had similar responses or refused to comment.

George H. Nee, secretary/treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, wouldn't discuss the pension package yesterday afternoon as he waited outside Speaker Murphy's office, saying the unions would respond at their own news conference today.

There they will unveil suggestions "to correct the potential injustice" the Assembly's plan would bring.

Moments after the House Finance Committee approved the changes Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, said there might be more modifications.

Specifically, he said there could be a future reduction in the 8.75 percent of pre-tax salary state workers, and 9.5 percent local teachers contribute to their pensions. Language might be added, Fox said, that if in some future year the pension system is better funded -- say 80 percent of actuarial value -- then new and non-vested workers could see a quarter-percent decline in their contributions.

"At some point," Fox said, "you've got to balance the fact that employees are going to shoulder the lion's share of this."

We need keep a close eye on the Legislature in the coming days to make sure they don't slip. I suspect the Governor won't let them.