Riley: I Would Endorse a Sale of Providence Water Supply with Strict State Oversight
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
PWS (Providence Water Supply Board) is a long-lived asset providing services to 75,000 ratepayers in and around Providence. There are several public and private sources of water around the state. This long-lived asset is well matched to provide upfront and continuous funding to shore up the Providence pension plans. It is logical to reduce annual funding costs of the pension system to allow Providence more flexibility in budgeting.
The best way to approach this solution is for the State of Rhode Island, through oversight laws, take control over Providence and then negotiate an asset sale deal with the Narragansett Bay Commission.
The State would require substantial city pension reform far beyond the minor reform that took place under Taveras in 2013. Elorza would be placed on the bench for a few years while the State negotiated these terms. Elorza and his current team are clearly not capable or worthy of handling this. Elorza has made zero progress in negotiating any reforms, despite several reports that he funded suggesting this “grand bargain” was critical.
Alternatively, under state oversight (re-org) overseers will have much more leverage to impose needed reforms such as requiring all future workers participating in hybrid or 401k type plans or reducing the current caps on retirement compensation. There are numerous ways to reduce future pension costs that don’t hurt current workers and retirees.
There is ample evidence that an asset sale can work if the money raised is used judiciously. Obviously, the money must go toward paying off Providence pension debt. I would consider some pre-funding of the huge OPEB obligations. This asset sale will work if Providence can receive more than $300 million. The likelihood of receiving that amount is well argued in the Elorza funded MRV Valuation here.
And also counter-argued in this fabulous blog by Johanna Harris.
Assuming $300 million can be raised, and reforms are made after completing an independent forensic audit and restricting the money raised to reducing Providence’s pension liability, then every Rhode Islander will benefit. The State revenue director can impose his will without an official bankruptcy and be in a superior bargaining position with the unions. The goal would be to make the city more financially viable and sustainable. The overseers could more efficiently address problems while avoiding the messy delays of union/mayor politics. It would be a big mistake to approve this sale for implementation by the Mayor and/or Council.
As Reason Foundation put it in 2015, combining asset sales with comprehensive, prospective pension reform are complementary strategies. Asset sales alone are an insufficient solution to long-term pension debt. Rather, they should be paired with prospective, structural reforms to pension systems—primarily shifting new hires away from defined-benefit pensions to defined-contribution, 401(k)-style plans that are more sustainable financially and reduce or eliminate the prospect for new unfunded pension liabilities. Otherwise, without structural reforms to unsustainable pension systems, at some future point pensions debts could easily rise again, and taxpayers would have nothing to show for the asset sales/leases.
Who can argue with improving our state capital’s finances not only temporarily with one-time fixes but rather combined with reforms that can only be only achieved through state oversight. It’s time for our Governor to do whats right and avoid a hasty one time fix implemented by a fairly incompetent Mayor flush with new cash to do whatever he wants with it.
Related Slideshow: GoLocal: Benchmark Poll, October 2017
Next year, in November of 2018, there will be a statewide general election for Governor and many other state offices. How likely is it that you will vote in this election?
Will you definitely be voting, will you probably be voting, are you 50-50...
Definitely be voting: 78%
Probably be voting: 13%
What would you say is the number one problem facing Rhode Island that you would like the Governor to address?
Jobs and economy: 21%
State budget: 9%
Corruption/Public integrity: .8%
Don’t know: .9%
Recently, a proposal has been made to permit the issuance of $81 million in bonds by the State to build a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox. If there was an election today on this issue, would you vote to approve or reject issuing $81 million in financing supported moral obligation bonds to build the stadium?
Net: Approve: 28%
Definitely approve: 15%
Probably approve: 14%
Net: Reject: 67%
Probably reject: 19%
Definitely reject: 48%
Don't know: 4%
The next question is about the total income of YOUR HOUSEHOLD for the PAST 12 MONTHS. Please include your income PLUS the income of all members living in your household (including cohabiting partners and armed forces members living at home).
$50,000 or less: 27%
More $50,000 but less than $75,000: 13%
More $75,000 but less than $100,000: 13%
More $100,000 but less than $150,000: 17%
$150,000 or more: 13%
Don't know/refused: 17%
What particular ethnic group or nationality - such as English, French, Italian, Irish, Latino, Jewish, African American, and so forth - do you consider yourself a part of or feel closest to?
Black or African American: 6%
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