Christmas comes once a month

By Arlene Violet
Posted 12/4/19

Kudos to Katherine Gregg of the Providence Journal  for her recent column about the top 100 highest public pensions in the state. With the highest pension a whopping $209,000 its recipient would …

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Christmas comes once a month


Kudos to Katherine Gregg of the Providence Journal  for her recent column about the top 100 highest public pensions in the state. With the highest pension a whopping $209,000 its recipient would have had to accumulate about $25-30 million to spin off such largesse were she in the private sector. All 100 beneficiaries of the state largesse collected 6 figure pensions and had their health care paid until at least until Medicare kicked in, if not actually for life. Many made it into the multi-millionaires’ club in collecting the pension.

Nothing except the acquiescence of the public really comes as a surprise. In its heyday the General Assembly legislators conveyed pensions to one another with abandon. One was able to collect pension credits for his years in grammar school for passing out milk at recess. Another received credit for not serving in the military because he was rejected for his flat feet. Legislators routinely took care of family members. Former Speaker of the House Matthew Smith got 10 years of credit for his sister who stayed home from her teaching job to raise her children. I could give multiple more examples but you get the point.

Lest the reader think that those shenanigans were only done during the bygone days, just last year several legislators filed a bill to award “stipends” to over 30,000 retirees in order to get around past reform that required the public pension to be funded 80 percent before COLAs kicked in. At the time the state employees fund had dipped to 52.9 percent and the teachers’ pension to 54.9 percent, despite the infusion of an additional $2 billion by taxpayers. 

Other efforts have been ongoing to elude reform. Then-representative John Carnevale, a tax-free disability pensioner, tried to exempt police and firefighters from COLAs and to do away with waiting to age 55 to collect a pension. Another Pawtucket legislator wanted capitol police and DEM police to retire after 20 years as well. Another Coventry legislator who was a public union retiree wanted to lift out a large swath of his brethren from any constraints.

Additionally, municipal governments are creaking at the knees with burgeoning pension and health care obligations. Simply put, some Rhode Islanders are living far beyond the taxpayers' ability to pay. The debate really isn’t about what public employees deserve; it’s about how much more can the citizens cough up.

Even now the time to vest for a pension is 8 years, down from 10. That means that the high-paying, six figure administrative jobs passed out by the Governor will entitle her administration to get whopping pensions after 8 years of service. This is also true for those in state offices who stay with a re-elected incumbent during their tenure.
In case the reader thinks we are going backwards, you would be right. Ken Block is doing a forensic audit that will blow the lid off all this largesse, but…

In the past the public has become aware of the pension folly and simply shrugged. Christmas continues every month (and I’m not talking about the public employees whose pensions are well-deserved for their hard work at minimal pay) for the high-rollers. The only reality check will be when the day of reckoning arrives. Everybody will  be in the soup.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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