Riley: How to Fix Narragansett - And All RI Municipal Pension Issues
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
An increasingly large component of current taxes is used to pay for promises made to employees that will be paid in 20 years or so. The work of a ten-year employee has been paid for in salary, but part of the promise is that employee will receive 75% or more of the highest salary in his career, in 20 years and then for another 20 years, plus future healthcare costs.
Who should pay for current employees promised benefits? In theory, the consumer of the services and their total cost should pay. That is the current taxpayer. But in reality, not only do current taxpayers not pay the full cost of services neither did their recent predecessors and now we have legacy costs that go unpaid for generations.
Doesn’t this generation owe it to their children and grandchildren to fully pay for services already rendered? Why do we knowingly and blindly pass on these costs? They are not going to go away, in fact, the problem grows larger every day.
Recently I overheard a town councilman so proud that property taxes were only going up 1.5% this year. Narragansett has gained a reputation for having low tax rates (I think it’s more accurate to say high assessments) but anyway, the typical election year lie is I keep your taxes low.
While true on the face of it, the truth is town officials consciously do not fund future health care cost and have $40+ million in unfunded liabilities in the pension plan. Who is going to pay for that $100 million in tax obligations? Narragansett could decide to contribute even less annually to the pensions of town hall workers, fire, and police and thus lower current citizens property taxes even more.
What is moral or fair? Should current citizens pay the bill for already earned pensions or pass it along to Narragansett citizens of 2026. Maybe we should eliminate taxes for pensions altogether. We will just pay current salaries and hope things work out. Maybe you plan to move before the crisis hits and you want a homestead rebate now as Narragansett Council recently passed.
Narragansett elected officials have known about the pension crisis on the horizon since 2005 when I first started advocating action. Like many cities in Rhode Island, elected officials claim to be tax efficient and continue to make unpayable promises to unions with no intent to deal with the problem of actually funding both past and current promises.
The right thing for Narragansett to do is put all new hires in a defined 401K style defined contribution plan and close all defined benefit plans and then increase property taxes at least 4%. The bulk of tax increases should go to funding pension obligations in the form of an annual additional cash funding fee until the pension funding ratio exceeds 75%.
If every town did this, they would be properly assigning current taxpayers more responsibility for the people they have elected and the swindle they have pulled with our knowledge.
Related Slideshow: The Power List - Politics, 2016
Kate Coyne-McCoy - In baseball, they call them all around superstars - five tool athletes.
McCoy, who once ran for Congress, is a strong political organizer for EMILY’s List, a proven fundraiser for Raimondo’s PAC, strong with the media, and is a top lobbyist.
She is manages to balance being a partisan with her all-around effectiveness. McCoy can do it all.
Lenny Lopes - Whether you’re looking for someone to navigate the halls of the State House, manage your public relations image, or execute a contract, Lopes can do it all.
The affable and well-liked former Chief of Staff to then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch (and prior to that, Legal Counsel to Lt. Governor Charlie Fogarty) had joined forces with Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West before striking out on his own with The Victor Group, taking on such heavyweight clients as Lifespan and online gaming behemoths Fanduel and DraftKings, and more niche healthcare accounts — including the medical marijuana Rhode Island Growers Coalition.
Lopes was tapped this past spring following the tourism debacle by Havas PR to help navigate their way through the Rhode Island waters, and ultimately defend their performance and reputation to stave off their contract cancelation for now. If you’re hired to be a PR firm’s de facto PR brain, you must be on your game.
Two Coast Operative
Matt Lopes - With more than 20 different lobbying agreement Lopes has emerged as a premiere influencer in Rhode Island. His clients range from Dunkin’ Donuts to Amgen to the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.
While managing one of the biggest lobbying practices he is often on the West Coast -- he is a nationally recognized Special Master for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, overseeing prison reform and compliance.
He plays with the big boys on both coasts. Easy for a guy who was a star athlete in high school and at Dartmouth.
Don Sweitzer - IGT (formerly GTECH) super lobbyist plays the game at most every level, with big ties to the Clinton organization that go all the way back to Sweitzer playing a key role with Clinton-Gore in 1992.
Sweitzer’s contacts span the political spectrum - despite his Democratic pedigree, don’t count him out if Donald Trump wins the Presidency as Sweitzer worked for Paul Manafort back in the early 1990s.
Reportedly, Raimondo asked him to serve as her chief of staff - he gracefully declined.
Segal, Bell and Regunberg - These three young Brown grads are emerging as the leaders in progressive causes in Rhode Island and across the United States. David Segal, who served on the City Council in Providence and as a State Rep, failed in a 2010 effort for Congress losing to David Cicilline in the Democratic primary.
In 2016, Segal along with Aaron Regunberg emerged as a powerful force in trying to kill of the Super-Delegate structure in the Democratic primary.
Sam Bell is leading a major effort to re-calibrate the Democratic party to the left the election season. We will know just how good Bell is after September 13’s Democratic primary - Bell is overseeing more than a dozen progressive candidates' campaigns.
Goldberg, Walsh, Ryan and Murphy - These four veteran lobbyists know the pass codes to just about every private office in the State House. For decades they have been the go-to guys. Regardless of who is in power Bob Goldberg, Joe Walsh, Mike Ryan and Bill Murphy are always in vogue.
Only Ryan was not an elected official. Murphy ran the House for a decade, Goldberg had pulled off one of the greatest political coups when he lead a small band of GOP senators and split the Dems to take power, and Walsh was the almost Governor of Rhode Island in 1984.
Combined, they have the lion's share of premier clients and have collected the millions in fees to prove it.
Nicole Pollock - The new Chief-of-Staff for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza certainly has big shoes to fill, with the recent departure of both Chief Operating Officer Brett Smiley and outgoing Chief of Staff Tony Simon but Pollack has gotten off to a strong start. Following the recent summit on Kennedy Plaza co-hosted former Mayor Joe Paolino and Elorza, Paolino told GoLocal, “[Elorza’s] new Chief of Staff, I’m very impressed with.”
Pollock had joined the administration in February 2015 as Chief Innovation Officer and then served as Chief of Policy and Innovation for the administration before being tapped for the top post. Pollock had previously served in a policy and communications role for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. A graduate of Brown University, Pollock currently serves on the Board of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association and the Providence Plan.
The city has no shortage of pressing issues to tackle, from devising a plan to handle the ongoing panhandling, homelessness, and drug use issues in Kennedy Plaza, to the ever-looming issue of the protracted legal battle with the Providence Firefighters that could have monumental financial implications for the city, depending on the outcome.
Matt Bucci - The up-and-comer on Governor Raimondo’s staff was in the mix for Chief of Staff or another promotion this summer, but may chose to take his skills and join the world of lobbying or grab another private sector position.
Made news when he was tied to Governor Raimondo’s ill fated and ultimately canceled trip to Davos Switzerland. Raimondo was going to spend a weekend with the beautiful people and raided the non-profit URI Foundation’s scholarship dollars to fund the trip.
The former staffer to Senator Jack Reed is widely respected. Look for news about Bucci in the near future. Too talented to not make a leap soon.
Chris Hunter - The strategy wunderkind has morphed into a well-established operative in his own right in veteran lobbyist Frank McMahon’s public affairs shop, Advocacy Solutions.
The long-time government and public relations manager for the Providence Working Waterfront Alliance, Hunter is equally adept at the State House, having snagged emerging industry client Lyft and engaged in the hand-to-hand combat that comes with lobbying for the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools.
Election seasons in particular are where Hunter’s know-how comes in handy, having managed a number of successful bond referendum in the state. Hunter is a constant presence networking around town, whether it’s hobnobbing with the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations or serving on host committees for key candidates - he’s the combination of both “who you know” and “what you know."
Nick Hemond - None may be more unabashedly and relentlessly ambitious than Hemond, who landed as an associate at powerhouse DarrowEverett in 2014.
The President of the Providence School Board lobbies at City Hall for high-profile real estate clients including Buff Chace and High Rock Management (i.e. the ownership of the Superman Building) and at the State House for labor interests (RI FOP, RI Carpenters Local Union 94), Big Health (the Hospital Association of Rhode Island) and rounding it out with such interests as AAA, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, and infrastructure firm AECOM.
If that doesn’t sound like a full load, toss in a slew of crisis communications clients in the way of bars and clubs in varying degrees of trouble (read: stabbings, shootings) before the Providence Board of Licenses. Having so many fingers in so many pies (and some of which could appear somewhat conflicting) has raised eyebrows, but in the meantime if Hemond is winning, the checks keep coming.
Leo Skenyon - The seasoned political operative is the man behind the man. Serving as Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, Skenyon helped navigate a more than treacherous legislative session which saw Finance Chair Representative Ray Gallison resign, Representative John Carnevale found ineligible to run at his purported address in Providence, and a slew of financial and ethics issues for a number of Democrats.
The Speaker however emerged from the session having tackled the thorny issue of community service grants, and what had seemed up until this year a nearly impossible task, putting ethics reform — and oversight of the Assembly by the Ethics Commission — before voters this November.
Skenyon has weathered many a political season before, having been the former Chief of Staff to then-Senate Majority Leader Jack Revens in the 1980s, and then a former top aide to Governor Bruce Sundlun and U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell. Now, his boss faces both a Republican and Independent challenger in the general election in November.
Joe Shekarchi - The Chair of the House Labor Committee is running unopposed this year in District 23 in Warwick, marking just the third election season for the powerful politician-lawyer, who first won in 2012.
Given his fundraising prowess, however, one would think that Shekarchi accrued his war chest over a longer tenure, with over $528,000 cash on hand as of the second quarter of 2016, making him far and away the most flush General Assembly member (by way of comparison, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello reported just over $365,000 cash on hand for the same period; Governor Gina Raimondo had $1.4 million.)
It was managing money that helped establish him on the map as a seasoned statewide political operative — he was the campaign manager for statewide operations for Raimondo when she ran for General Treasurer in 2010. With a number of successes in business and on the Hill, keep an eye on Shekarchi's future plans.
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