Rhode Island Pension Reform Law Sits in Legal Limbo on Three Year Anniversary – But Raimondo, Other Lawmakers Open To Settlement

Gina Raimondo

It’s been three years since Rhode Island passed into law a sweeping pension reform measure. But the law still sits in legal limbo after being challenged by labor groups.

A settlement has been hard to come by. But incoming Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo said Monday she is open to a settlement. From WPRI:

Raimondo – who initially resisted efforts to mediate, but ended up supporting the failed settlement after a judge ordered talks – suggested Monday she remains open to settling but only if she can preserve the lion’s share of the savings from the original 2011 law. The previous settlement reduced the state’s pension shortfall by $3.86 billion, about 94% of the $4.09 billion the law saved.

“As I have said numerous times, I supported the settlement agreement,” Raimondo told WPRI.com in a statement. “I would like to see that back on the table and enacted to put the lawsuits behind us. I am open to making that happen.”

But Raimondo added: “What I am not interested in is going backwards from what was agreed upon in the settlement.” The state is already projecting a budget deficit of nearly $200 million next year; it would be more than twice as high if the old pension system were still in place.

She isn’t the only Rhode Island lawmaker eager to settle and put the legal challenge behind them. From WPRI:

Seth Magaziner – the Democrat newly elected to succeed Raimondo as treasurer, who will therefore become a lead defendant in the pension suit – has long backed seeking a deal.

“I continue to be supportive of renewing settlement talks, and am hopeful that a resolution can be reached that will keep the retirement system on a secure footing and avoid lengthy and expensive litigation,” Magaziner told WPRI.com in a statement Monday.

Legislative leaders are also open to the possibility.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed have both signaled in recent days they want to reduce or eliminate taxes on retirement income, such as Social Security and pension benefits – a new perk for older residents that could help smooth the way for settling the pension suit.

“The speaker will work with all parties to help facilitate a settlement of the pension lawsuit that is in the best interests of the citizens of our state,” Larry Berman, a spokesman for Mattiello, told WPRI.com in an email Monday.

Paiva Weed spokesman Greg Pare sounded a similar note. “The Senate worked closely with Treasurer Raimondo to develop the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act, and will continue to work with her as governor,” Pare told WPRI.com in an email Monday.

The pension reform law froze COLAs and moved most employees into a hybrid system with 401(k) qualities. An actuarial analysis stated the reforms improved the funding level of the state’s pension system from 42 percent to 56 percent.