Amidst the rubble known as the RI economy, there was a beacon, a ray of hope. It was called pension reform. Hailed as a shining, national example of how to address an unsustainable state pension, RI’s leaders basked in the warmth of this national glow. But alas, nothing good ever seems to last in the smallest state in the union. Could the RI pension mediation settlement be any more of an embarrassment?
From the sublime to the ridiculous to the sublime.
At first it seemed ridiculous that, after the legislature performed its duty in passing pension reform, a judge failed to hear the lawsuit brought by Labor, and ordered mediation. As a result of that mediation the judge created a very odd situation whereby the mediation talks did not include those parties who actually hold the authority to enact the results of the mediation, nor did the judge include other important parties affected by any mediation settlement, namely, the mayors of the cities and towns that will have to pay for the mediated settlement.Then, in spite of a gag order placed on all parties involved in the mediation so that neither the taxpayers nor the legislature would be privy to this mediation process, it was apparently completely acceptable that someone on Labor’s side allegedly disregarded the gag order, according to sources close to the situation, and ultimately the public union rank and file were kept apprised of the mediation developments. To what degree information was shared we may never know, but it is certainly noteworthy, and if accurate a most egregious affront to our legislators. Now, our fearless leaders in this debacle, Governor Chafee and Treasurer Raimondo, both agree that it is perfectly acceptable to allow a very odd method of voting to occur as six unions each try to obtain a majority vote to accept the mediated settlement deal. What better way to ensure a favorable outcome than to “help” the “yes” votes along. All parties to this mediated settlement, including the Governor and the Treasurer, are in agreement that when the vote is taken, any union member not voting will automatically be counted as a “yes” vote. Astounding!
The last hope for RI taxpayers will be our General Assembly.They can vote against this settlement, let the pension reform remain intact, and allow the unions to continue a lawsuit, which, clearly, they are concerned that they won’t win. Please contact Speaker Fox and Senate President Paiva Weed and let them know you do not want them to pass legislation that would impact the 2011 pension reform. Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, please read our GoLocalProv article on the pension settlement here.
Back in the saddle.
Year after year, the politicians have promised that the economy is Job 1.Yet, year after year the same bills are introduced. The bills that will move RI’s economy forward and help create jobs, keep our educated children from leaving the state, and retain the wealth of our elder citizens are ignored (see the few bills highlighted in green below). Instead, the General Assembly is weighed down with bills that continue to benefit self interest groups (behold the sea of red below). This wastes time and resources around the state. RI will never move forward without the pro economic bills moving forward and a stop to bills that further drive RI’s economy into the ground.
Next week looks to be a regurgitation of many bills to either dismantle education reform or tie the hands of municipal governments when it comes to public unions. There are numerous bills to undo education reform - bills to delay or prohibit the use of standardized testing as part of the requirement for graduation, to prohibit using the results of testing as a mechanism, in part, to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers, and bills to reduce the frequency of teacher evaluations.
Then there are the usual labor bills, introduced year after year, that try to shore up labor power - bills that inhibit the ability of a city or town to privatize their government services in an effort to reduce costs and therefore taxes. Hopefully, the General Assembly remembers that government does not exist to be a job factory; it exists to provide services to taxpayers in the most efficient and cost effective manner. Then there is the bill that tries to tie the hands of the cities & towns when it comes to defending labor disputes. Imagine telling anyone they have the right to go to court to settle a problem, but the state will tell you how much you are allowed to spend on defending yourself.
Another blow to taxpayers that is sailing right through the General Assembly.
House bill (H 7345), sponsored by Finance Chair Melo, allows municipalities to borrow money without voter approval for projects that are financed through the state’s new municipal road and bridge revolving fund. It was passed in committee just before the break and is scheduled for a House vote this week.The Senate bill, sponsored by Finance Chair DaPonte, is up for a hearing this week. Most likely it too will sail through the Senate and move on to a vote. With both chairmen of the Finance Committees, it seems this legislation is destined to pass.
So many municipalities are in debt with their pension and post retirement benefit liabilities, they simply cannot afford more debt through bond issuances. What do you think about leaving taxpayers out of the loop when it comes to cities and towns taking on more debt? Please contact Chairmen Melo and Chairman DaPonte ASAP and let them know.
LEGISLATIVE BILLS THIS WEEK: 2/24/14 - 2/28/14
GREEN = SUPPORT RED = OPPOSE
TUE, FEB 25
Room 205, Rise (4:30)
H 7293 Rehashed from last year, ties the hands of municipal government by capping the legal fees cities and towns are allowed to expend on labor contract disputes.
H 7390 Keeps the cost of government contracts down, this bill raises the minimum threshold for paying prevailing wages on public works contracts.
Room 313, Rise (4:30)
S 2281 Reduces the regulatory burden placed on businesses, this bill creates a joint committee to review and repeal onerous and burdensome regulations that provide little benefit to the state as a whole.
S 2382 Requires a photo ID for food stamps to help reduce fraud.
Room 101, Rise (4:30)
H 7313 Prohibits the use of public welfare funds for the purchase of alcohol, lottery tickets, tobacco and other non essential products and services.
WED, FEB 26
Room 101, Rise (4:30)
H 7095 Delays the implementation of standardized testing.
H 7096 Reduces the frequency of teacher evaluations.
H 7146 Delays the implementation of standardized testing, prohibits the use as a graduation requirement, prohibits use to evaluate teachers or determine rates of pay, promotions, or terminations.
H 7256 Prohibits the use of standardized testing as part of the basis for graduation before 2019.
H 7327 Resolution to delay standardized testing used as a graduation requirement.
THU, FEB 27
Room 203, Rise (4:30)
H 7469 Inhibits the ability of municipal governments to privatize government services.
Room 211, 2:30 pm and continuing at the Rise
S 2399 Removes the will of the people by allowing municipalities to borrow money without their approval if the municipality borrows through the state municipal road and bridge revolving fund.