Judge: Challenges to Rhode Island pension overhaul will move forward

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Rhode Island’s 2011 pension overhaul—considered to be the most sweeping pension reform law in the country—has had its fair share of legal challenges.

A number of public sector unions and retiree groups currently have suits pending against the law, and their arguments, as with similar cases in other state, center on provisions in the state constitution that protect pensions as contracts.

Rhode Island was hoping that those arguments wouldn’t hold water and requested to have the cases thrown out. But Superior Court Associate Justice Sarah Taft-Carter ruled today that the unions’ arguments are too strong to simply dismiss.

From the Washington Times:

Unions and retirees have argued that their pension benefits constituted an implied contract, while the state disputes that. Taft-Carter notes in her decision that unlike some other states, Rhode Island’s constitution and law do not explicitly state that public employees have a contractual right to their pension benefits.

But she writes that other factors support it being a contract, such as the fact that workers have served the public for a required number of years and contributed a required percentage of their salaries to the pension system in return for pension benefits.

“A valid contract exists between plaintiffs and the state, entitling plaintiffs to their pension benefits,” she wrote.

Taft-Carter notes that her standard for reviewing the state’s motion to dismiss was not whether the lawsuit is likely to succeed, but rather to assume the allegations are true, and examine the facts in a light favorable to the unions and retirees.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Treasurer Gina Raimondo said in a joint statement that they expected the judge’s decision and are now preparing for trial.

 

Photo Credit: Governor Chafee via Flickr Creative Commons License

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