Editorial: The end of contract give-and-take

Posted 11/27/19

A Rhode Island threesome of municipal unions, lawmakers and flip-flopping governor threw property taxpayers under the bus again recently when they teamed up to strip any vestige of …

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Editorial: The end of contract give-and-take

Posted

A Rhode Island threesome of municipal unions, lawmakers and flip-flopping governor threw property taxpayers under the bus again recently when they teamed up to strip any vestige of ‘give-and-take’ from town contract talks.

Which is why it was heartening to learn that over a dozen cities and towns — Little Compton, Barrington and Bristol among them — have sued in an attempt to restore a semblance of fair play to the process.

Even by Ocean State standards, this one was a stunner. The new law declares that municipal contracts for teachers and others continue automatically when town and union are unable to reach a deal. Towns cannot then — ever again — cut salary and benefits, no matter how awful the economy, how broke the town or burdensome the tax rate.

Towns call it “the financially irresponsible lifetime contracts law” and say it sends them into ‘negotiations’ with one hand tied behind their back.

It certainly sets the stage for a most curious and lopsided contest. Teachers, for instance, can come in as always and make any demands they choose — nice raise, sweeter pension, smaller health co-pay …

Since towns can’t meaningfully threaten to cut these, ‘middle ground’ must always lie somewhere on the union side of the equation. Lost in this charade is any hope by taxpayers of relief from some of the nation’s highest rates.

Oddly, Governor Gina Raimondo vetoed just such a bill in 2017, writing, “Current Rhode Island law protects the taxpayers from being obligated indefinitely for contract provisions that, in the future, may not be affordable … The proposed legislation before me extinguishes this existing protection, hurting the public’s position in contract negotiations, and placing taxpayers at risk of being forever locked into contractual provisions they can no longer afford.”

The bill she signed this time (with 2018 reelection endorsements by the National Education Association of RI and other unions apparently fresh in mind) is little changed but her concern for ‘placing taxpayers at risk’ has diminished.

Voters would do well to remember this next time candidates for senator and representative come courting support as ‘defenders of the property taxpayer.’ Their stance on this bill speaks volumes.

Municipal workers, whose pay and benefits stack up most favorably against those who pay the bills (and colleagues in other states), were doing quite nicely before this legislative meddling.

Not so Rhode Island, its towns, taxpayers and businesses. It’s now up to the courts to restore a bit of equity and common sense to a stacked process.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.