It was inevitable that once we passed through Labor Day and the unofficial end to summer the debate over pension reform would begin to heat up. I am now publicly part of that debate. You may have seen by now one of the billboards or the buses with my Lookout messages calling, in no uncertain terms, for pension reform. I am doing this because I believe we MUST have comprehensive pension reform this year – reform that preserves the system (though not without substantial changes) while making it affordable to RI taxpayers on a long-term basis. Anything less will threaten our state’s fiscal survival. And yes, the situation is that crucial. You can expect to hear more from me on this vital issue.
Now there’s an AARP campaign beginning on radio and in print warning state employees and pensioners that pension reform may end up directly affecting how much they will take home in retirement pay. And a new union-backed video campaign has started on YouTube. This could be just the start of a spread-the-fear campaign as labor interests push back against the very comprehensive reform we so desperately need.
I do not know if current retirees will have to give something back, and I would hope that they won’t have to, but some giveback is indeed possible, however unfortunate. We simply cannot afford the projected costs of the system as it is presently structured, and the last thing RI taxpayers – and RI cities and towns – can afford is to have a deal come out of the legislative debate that preserves benefits by pushing the responsibility to pay for them onto the backs of taxpayers. That’s the real danger.
Somehow there has to be a better solution than that after this process works through the legislature, but we shall see. It remains to be seen how much of a battle union interests will put up and whether and where they will compromise. If they start organizing rallies and begin denouncing Gina Raimondo for the recommendations she delivers, we will know we’re in for a real struggle.
If that happens, taxpayers have to unite or this might end up costing us the shirts off their backs.