Riley: Shouldn’t Progressives Care About Intergenerational Equity in RI?
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Providence should have contributed about $55 million more by now, but they don’t have the cash. Such is the nature of perilous cash flows and accounting vagaries. Did you also know that Providence has also been horribly negligent about funding its public employee’s healthcare costs known as OPEB [Other Post-Employment Benefits]?
Providence, as a policy has chosen, not to pre-fund its healthcare costs and instead, rely on “pay as you go." Unsurprisingly, as healthcare costs have grown dramatically they have eaten into the general fund and diverted resources that could be used for other spending. Many cities in similar peril either raise taxes or reduce spending elsewhere and attempt to prefund healthcare costs through use of trusts like a “VEBA “ trust. This can save both the taxpayers and unions money and segregate benefits for the unions from the town's general fund.
At last fiscal year end, June 30, 2016, Providence stated their unfunded OPEB liability as approximately $1 billion rising to $1.5 billion by 2024. Providence Pension unfunded liability properly measured is $1.4 billion. There is a philosophical barrier to financial stability in Americas cities. Progressives believe that healthcare should not be prefunded. Sound strange? Noted Providence Progressive and first pick of Seth Magaziner for policy advisor to the Treasurer was Tom Sgouros who has espoused truly insane theories about municipal and healthcare finance.
One progressive policy expert, Tom Sgouros, says the real issue is not underfunding by Providence—or any other city, for that matter—but the spiraling cost of health care. “If medical inflation is as high over the next 50 years as these reports predict, every company in America will be paying more for health care than for salaries. Health costs will consume over half the state budget and over 20 cents of every dollar spent in America. Paying health care costs for retirees will be the least of our problems,” Sgouros added.
Hedging Their Bets
In other words, Sgouros/Magaziner is willing to bet healthcare costs can’t keep growing this fast and conclude there is no point in funding anything now for the next generations. WOW!!
I assume Mayor Elorza, a self-proclaimed progressive darling, and RI Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who is a progressive as well, are in complete agreement with the “kick the can forever” strategy. Seth went so far as to name Sgouros as his chief policy adviser. Magaziner’s selection shows that prudence and intergenerational equity, two bedrock objectives of pension and municipal finance, are not priorities.
Meanwhile, Providence has $2.5 Billion in unfunded liabilities between Pension and health care which amounts to $14,302 per capita in debt. According to the latest per capita annual income is just $21,512.
Responsible leaders would negotiate hard with unions to reduce health care costs through the use of trusts and reduced benefits. Reasonable leaders would recognize that negotiating with unions is part of the job description. We don’t need progressive “kick the can “ and avoid responsibility prescriptions, we need leaders willing to fight for their cities future and the next generation of Providence citizens.
Related Slideshow: Timeline - Rhode Island Pension Reform
GoLocalProv breaks down the sequence of events that have played out during Rhode Island's State Employee Pension Fund reform.
Governor Don Carcieri makes pension reform a top priority in his emergency budget plan. His three-point plan included:
1. An established minimum retirment age of 59 for all state and municipal employees.
2. Elimination of cost-of-living increases.
3. Conversion of new hires into a 401(k) style plan.
See WPRI's coverage of Carcieri's proposal here.
Rhode Island's state administered public employee pension system only held 48% of the assets to cover future payments to its emplyees.
"This system as designed today is fundamentally unsustainable, and it is in your best interest to fix it" - Gina Raimondo
Check out Wall Street Journal's coverage here.
Gina Raimondo defeats opponent Kernan King in the election for General Treasurer of Rhode Island using her platform to reform the structure of Rhode Island's public employee pension system. She received 201,625 votes, more than any other politician on the 2010 Rhode Island ballot.
Raimondo leads effort to reduce the state’s assumed rate of return on pension investments from 8.25 to 7.5%.
Her proposal includes plans to suspend the Cost of Living Adjustment (which allows for raises corresponding with rates of inflation for retirees), changing the retirement age to match Social Security ages, and adding a defined contribution plan.
Raimondo releases “Truth in Numbers”, a report detailing the pension crisis and offering possible solutions. She continues to work to raise public support for her proposal.
"Decades of ignoring actuarial assumptions led to lower taxpayer & employee contributions being made into the system." - Gina Raimondo (Truth in Numbers)
Read GoLocalProv's analysis of the report here.
Read the Truth in Numbers report here.
Governor Lincoln Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo present their pension reform legislation proposal before a joint session of the General Assembly.
“Our fundamental goal throughout this process has been to provide retirement security through reforms that are fair to the three main interested parties: retirees, current employees and the taxpayer…I join the General Treasurer in urging the General Assembly to take decisive action and adopt these reforms.”- Gov. Lincoln Chafee
Head of Rhode Island firefighters’ union accuses Raimondo of “cooking the books” to create a pension problem where one did not exist. Paul Valletta Jr. states that Raimondo raised Rhode Islanders’ assumed mortality rate to increase liability to the state, using data from 1994 instead of updated information from 2008, and lowered the anticipated rate of return on state investments.
“You’re going after the retirees! In this economic time, how could you possibly take a pension away?” Paul Valletta Jr (Head of RI Firefighters' Union)
Read more from the firefighters' battle with Raimondo here.
Check out the New York Times' take on RI's pension crisis here.
November 17, 2011
The Rhode Island Retirement Security Act (RIRSA) is enacted by the General Assembly with bipartisan support in both chambers. RIRSA’s passing is slated to reduce the unfunded liability of RI’s pension system and increase its funding status by $3 billion and 60% respectively, level contributions to the pension system by taxpayers, save municipalities $100 million through lessened contributions to teacher and MERS pension systems, and lower the cost of borrowing.
Read more from GoLocalProv here.
November 18, 2011
Governor Lincoln Chafee signs RIRSA into law. According to a December 2011 Brown University poll, 60% of Rhode Island residents support the reform. Following its enactment, Raimondo holds regional sessions to educate public employees on the effects of the legislation on their retirement benefits.
Read about how Rhode Islanders react to RIRSA here.
Raimondo hosts local workshops to explain the pension reforms across Rhode Island. She also receives national attention for her contributions to the state’s pension reforms. The reforms are given praise and many believe Rhode Island will serve as a template for other States’ future pension reforms.
Read about the pension workshop here.
Read Raimondo's feature in Institutional Investor here.
March - April 2012
Raimondo opposes Governor Chafee’s proposal to cut pension-funded deposits. She continued to provide workshops on the pension reforms.
December 5, 2012
Raimondo publicly opposes Governor Chafee’s meetings with union leaders in an effort to avoid judicial rulings on the pension reform package. In response, Chafee issues a statement supporting the negotiations.
Read more about Raimondo's opposition here.
Read about Chafee's statement http://www.golocalprov.com/news/new-chafee-issues-statement-supporting-pension-negotiations/">here.
Led by the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters, unions protest the 2011 pension reform outside of the Omni Providence where Governor Lincoln Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo conduct a national conference of bond investors.
Read about Raimondo's discussion of distressed municipalities here.
The pension plan comes under increased scrutiny as a result of the involvement of hedge funds and private equity firms. Reports show that $200 million of the state pension fund was lost in 2012.
"In short, impressive educational credentials and limited knowledge of investment industry realities made Raimondo ideally suited to champion private equity’s public pension money grab." - Ted Seidle (Forbes)
Read GoLocalProv's coverage of the State Pension Fund's losses here.
Read Ted Seidle's criticism of Raimondo in Forbes.
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