Arthur Schaper: What Would You Say To Them, Treasurer Raimondo?
Friday, September 27, 2013
Young men and women dream of becoming cops, firefighters, and many of them settle down in their communities to serve as public workers in other capacities, too, whether in water works, or city energy supplies.
Public employees not only dream of setting aside their comfort for the well-being of their communities, but expect their city leaders to provide adequate funding and support for their pensions and benefits when they retire, especially for public safety officers. Firefighters on average face a lower lifespan for taking on the fires, and police officers suffer innumerable tolls to keep cities safe.
That a cash-strapped city, following irresponsible promises and inadequate funding, could walk away from those commitments: such an outcome seemed unthinkable, if not unconscionable. In eight cities, however, city leaders opted for bankruptcy protection for fear of mounting financial obligations, mostly because of lavish pension and benefits promises.
No easy retirement
Closer to home, the dream of a serene future following a committed life of service to one’s city has come to naught in Central Falls, Rhode Island.
For years, city leaders promised lavish pensions to police and fire in the small town, which one sign reports as “Small in Size, Big in Print”. In fact, the city is now “Bigger in Print” because of the Chapter Nine Bankruptcy proceedings which permitted the city to pay its bills while slashing pensions and blowing up unsustainable contracts.
Mike Geoffroy planned a justifiably easy-going retirement. He put his life on the line for his city, and he expected to be cared for following his retirement. Then came the Housing Crisis, the market crash, and the city of Central Falls was caught insolvent, making promises which the city could not pay.
Firefighters like Mike took a “haircut” for their pensions instead of a beheading, according to a former bankruptcy judge. “It was a scalping,” retorted the firefighter.
General Treasurer Gina Raimondo made the case to Rhode Island constituents that public-private pension investments would save residents’ retirement, yet the fiscal management at the local level remains unchanged, and firefighters suffer.
What would you like to tell them, Treasurer Raimondo?
Central Falls resident Paul St. George took his life in his own hands, running into burning buildings as a firefighter. The reporter covering this story for the LA Times then recounts a police officer who pled for leniency, since he had fallen in the line of duty for Central Falls residents. St. George mentioned that the city would go out of its way to look after its public employees. Lo and behold, former mayors have gone to jail for corruption, and those retired public employees either have to find more work or wonder what to do next.
What would you like to tell them, Treasurer Raimondo?
In Woonsocket, Mayor Leo Fontaine outlined a number of causes for pension problems, among other fiscal problems, including cuts from state funding over the years, pension costs health insurance costs, similar to other municipalities throughout the country.
Fontaine claims that the city has established a five-year plan to avoid bankruptcy. Then he indicted the role of the state and federal government. These problems should not be pushed onto cities and towns. An overall look at bankruptcy needs to be done. Pensions and unions need to be changed. Cities cannot afford extensive promises from decades ago. The mayor successfully worked with city unions. Not everyone is happy with these cuts, of course, but there had to be changes.
What would you like to tell them, Treasurer Raimondo? What changes have you offered? Have you stood up to your Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly to end the pension promises which no city can pay?
Providence, Rhode Island sustained massive cuts, and public funding crises linger, yet public employee unions came to the table to negotiate better funding and more pay-ins instead of larger payouts. In a matter of days, local and statewide unions will announce a settlement with the General Assembly over the 2011 pension reforms, an agreement which will permit parties to redress concerns about pension cuts, reforms, and other massive changes. Of course, Speaker Gordon Fox sounded his concerns on these developments, since the prior reforms enacted $3 billion in savings. New legislators have entered the General Assembly, and they are not up to speed on the previous reforms.
Then again, the GA has spent most of its time debating calamari and gay marriage, not sound structural reforms which can save the state money and bring back the business class.
What would you like to tell the voters in your state, Treasurer Raimondo? Are you going to renegotiate the reforms once again, this time with a penchant for the public workers unions at the expense of the public workers?
Do you really plan on running for governor, with a record of going back and forth on promises, working with the same class of corrupt politicians who made the promises which they could not pay?
Public service pays in dividends, not just for working, but for a well-paid retirement.
So, Treasurer Raimondo, what would you like to tell them?
Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Follow him on Twitter @ArthurCSchaper, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and read more at Schaper's Corner and As He Is, So Are We Ministries.
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