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Donna Perry: Rhode Island’s Reckless Governor

Thursday, December 06, 2012


It is getting uncomfortable to watch the recklessness in which Governor Chafee is now carrying out his governorship. Just days before opening arguments for the nationally watched, high stakes court case in which the state of Rhode Island will defend its landmark pension reform law, Governor Chafee has a new whim that needs satisfying.

It turns out the Governor has been behind closed doors in “talks” with top union leaders who now, on the eve of court, are tossing around the word “settling”, rather than take their chances on the well-crafted reform law. Despite the merits of the case, despite the fact that the law was designed to actually save a drowning system that could have left retirees with far less security than they now have, despite the fact that this law is technically Chafee’s own law, since he is the Governor who signed it, Chafee is undertaking a grossly misguided strategy to “talk” with the opposition about “settling” the case and projecting insultingly false spin that he is doing so to try and “protect the taxpayers.”

What is really at work here is that this Governor could not control his own destructive tendency of governing by impulse, and acting on politically vindictive whims and adolescent like resentments that have mired his governorship. Sadly, this court case, so critically important to the long term fiscal health of the state, is just the latest example in what is now an all too familiar pattern.

He has changed course at the eleventh hour against his own legal team, and by extension, against the taxpayers of his own state, diverting attention away from the court case so that he could inject himself into the center of the drama, and so, like a kitten at the hands of the masterful wolf, he is in “talks” with Bob Walsh and other union leaders.

It should probably not be a surprise, because after all, Chafee’s governorship has been largely about whims of the moment, and out of the mainstream pursuits (going against federal law and U.S. Attorney prosecutors to spend taxpayers’ money to protect a killer; suing a former state employee/EDC Director in connection to 38 Studios, just as examples) and far less about a strategic, consistent, stick to the roadmap style of governing. But his actions this week have the potential of causing harm to the state—and its’ taxpayers--- on a level that could be unprecedented, because it could very well result in the unraveling of the law, which is on course to save billions in coming years.

Chafee claims to be fretting about the “legal cost” if the case goes forward ring hallow. Saving communities across the state over $100 million this year in pension contributions and shaving off roughly $3 billion from the unfunded liability over two decades will surely balance out whatever legal costs the case incurs. More outrageous and troubling is the tone and personal nature of the comments made against the state Treasurer by Chafee this week in an interview to a reporter. Chafee’s comments about Gina Raimondo, the brains and strategic vision behind the historic reconstruction of the state’s pension system, reveal the depths of his adolescent like jealousy of the Treasurer’s clear ability to lead and deliver a solution to the deeply unfunded troubled pension system, and the national praise that it garnered.

A key point that seems to now elude Chafee is that the formulas in the new law saved and strengthened the system, which was headed for insolvency if the reform had not been enacted. Make no mistake about it: if the Governor’s sloppy machinations to appease union heads for his own 2014 political ambitions result in a dismantling of the law, it will be revealed over time that he worked against the best interests of the retirees, as well as the taxpayers.

There is little track record on the part of union leadership that would indicate they have ever had the taxpayers’ best interests at heart. That Chafee would now conspire with them, 48 hours before the launch of his own state’s court case to defend a more stable, fairer pension system for retirees and taxpayers alike, is a breathtaking political betrayal. Taxpayers are watching and they won’t forget.

Donna Perry is Executive Director of RISC, RI Statewide Coalition


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There is a state statute that he may be violating if he does sit down and start talking with the unions.

§ 36-11-12 Retirement system matters excluded from collective bargaining. – Any and all matters relating to the employees' retirement system of the state of Rhode Island are excluded as negotiable items in the collective bargaining process.

This guy is acting like he was in Warwick - panders to the unions.

Comment #1 by Gov- stench on 2012 12 06

The court does not decide cases based upon whether or not the parties have negotiated. In fact, encouraging negotiated settlements happens all the time. As far adolescent behavior goes, the governor's critics have been the most obvious offenders. This is a high stakes situation and the best opporortunity to negotiate is before critical issues are decided by the court. Once an issue is decided, the victor may dig in. Since the court will not decide this matter on whether or not there has been settlement discussions, the premise of this narrative is faulty. Moreover, given the personal, resentful vehemence of the Governor's critics, it's hard to view the criticism as constructive or objective. Both sides face some real risks and a moment of uncertainty. That is precisely when you negotiate.

Comment #2 by Michael Gardiner on 2012 12 06

Chafee is a liberal....does this shock anyone?

Comment #3 by Silence Dogood on 2012 12 06

most lawyers would say.... never hurts to talk...

in this case, even if there is a 1% chance that the state loses....there is still a chance and the result is a catastrophe...

maybe the differences are not a big deal.

Comment #4 by jon paycheck on 2012 12 06

If Mr Chafee's intentions were pure , we wouldn't be so aware of his attempts...we have a rudderless Governor

Comment #5 by michael riley on 2012 12 06

Chafee signed the Retirement Security Act into law in November 2011.

What is he doing "negotiating" behind closed doors now? I'm afraid Donna Perry explains the behavior too well in this article.

Chafee, get out of the way and let the case go forward.

Comment #6 by Art West on 2012 12 06

If the pension reform legislation is overthrown, everyone loses, and the battle won't be over. It will be fought again on a different hill. If the state wins, we still have a pension reform with a 46% chance of success but a real blow to moral among a lot of state workers. The pension reform legislation will be a guaranteed success if it brings the parties to a negotiated that truly works for both parties. Admittedly, this a dream of Camelot, but it is possible for a negotiated settlement to be more agreeable to all parties than a legislative solution that had some risks of failure to it as well. Mayor Tavares pointed out very correctly that if the parties don't like the negotiation, they can just walk away and say " see you in court." The goal here is not to win this argument or bash Governor Chafee or make enemies out of the Treasurer and the Governor. It is to solve the problem of pension reform and nobody ever said the legislation was perfect. So negotiations can't hurt. Whatever comes from the negotiations, if anything, is going to have to achieve the ends of the legislation. If the Union negotiators can propose a better way to achieve those ends, and secure to the state and the people a guarantee they will never be at the mercy of a pensioned class again, than I'd hear them.

Comment #7 by Michael Gardiner on 2012 12 06

Ah, the paid punditry of Donna DePetro-Perry. Will we find the Koch brothers signature on your pay check?

Comment #8 by Real Clear on 2012 12 10

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