9/30/11

Will Legislators Vote to Pinch Their Own Pensions?

Once again, the Providence Journal is shining its light in every direction on the multi-dimensional pension reform issue. The paper’s most recent contribution to our better understanding of all that’s involved was the 9-24 front-page story on just how many legislators have a “personal stake” in the pension system based on years of service either as former state or municipal employees or as long-serving legislators. As the paper discovered, more than half of them are collecting a pension or are in line to do so. And that raises the inevitable question: how can they separate their own stake in retirement income from their supposed role as unbiased legislators tasked to do what’s right for the state, which should include scaling back some of the benefits?

Should they not recuse themselves from voting on pension reform legislation? Not according to the RI Ethics Commission, which just ruled otherwise in a decision that’s hard to square with its mission to keep them all honest. That decision, on a 6-3 vote, declared that legislators with ties to the unions could freely negotiate and vote on union contractual issues and not find themselves facing an ethical overstep. Shame on the Ethics Commission, which seems to have a Pollyanna view of the real world or is just plain afraid to exercise its responsibilities at this point.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how legislators tied directly to the pension system will end up voting. After all, who receiving a pension or in line for one would find it easy to vote to end an annual pay raise?