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Side of the Rhode: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in RI Politics?

Friday, February 07, 2014


HOT: Larry Merlo, President + CEO of CVS

Every Friday, Dan Lawlor breaks down who's rising and who's falling in the world of Rhode Island politics. Check out who made the lists this week.


Larry Merlo/CVS - "Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose," said Merlo, President and CEO of CVS, in a bold statement for public health. The Woonsocket-based pharmacy (please locate some corporate offices in the abandoned buildings on Main St!) did the right thing and is removing tobacco products from all of its stores starting in October . According to RI Kids Count, in 2011, 11% of Rhode Island high school youth reported smoking cigarettes. Speaking of which...

Elizabeth Burke Bryant/Rhode Island Kids Count - RI Kids Count is 20 years young and recently invited Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman to celebrate! RI Kids Count is dedicated to providing "the best available data" on all things related to the well-being of young people. In addition, "The organization produces a quarterly Issue Brief Series, hosts a monthly cable television program, and publishes the annual Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook." Non-partisan, hardworking, and advocating for a better quality of life for young people and their families- keep up the important work!

Vote Lab! - "The general appearance of a ballot can scare people even before they vote." With that trend in mind, a slew of artistic and functional re-designs of the state's ballots were drafted through the Vote Lab at RISD, a course taught by Ben Shaykin, and inspired by two RISD seniors, Keela Potter and Kelsey Lim. Potter and Lim originally founded RISD Votes and interned with the Board of Elections last summer on a STEAM fellowship to improve ballot design. Other student findings included, "Arrow marking is not as intuitive as filling in a circle," and "Barely anybody understands straight party voting."

Dr. Sandra Enos and Ariana Alicea - Enos, a Sociology Professor at Bryant University, and Alicea, of Adoption RI and a graduate of the foster care system, have published a new book, Peek into My Pain: Reveal My Strength, complied with the writings of 22 teenagers who participated in URI's Star Academy in July 2012, a program to support college access among young people in foster care. Enos mentioned, “One of the students – O. Patrick in the book - when we asked him to tell his story, he said, ‘I have a story to tell but I don’t know why it would be important. That question really echoed with me. I think these kids need to tell their story in a relatively safe way and to be confident that somebody is paying attention...it takes a village to raise a foster child; let’s build that village.” You can order a copy here.

RI Coalition for the Homeless - This past week, over 150 people gathered at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul to attend the annual Memorial Service to remember homeless individuals who died in the past year. The life stories of 30 people, including beloved homelessness activist John Joyce, were celebrated. It is possible to end chronic homelessness in this state... the question is will we spend the 3.4 million a year to do?

The late Otis Pike - "I was tired of being told lies," the former American Congressman from New York once remarked. Pike was a champion of disclosure and revealed CIA and NSA abuses, from wiretaps to coups, in the 1970s. Would that our own Congressman Langevin, who receives thousands in campaign contributions from the defense industry he is tasked with overseeing, follow the late Pike's example.

George Holland II - George Holland was a 17 year old football player at Central High School, a dedicated boyfriend, and older brother. This past week he was shot to death, becoming the city's third homicide victim. His Coach, Peter Rios, told the Journal, “He was a team player. He had leadership skills and he would take the younger kids under his wing.” We remember him.


Gina Raimondo - The Wall Street Journal criticized Raimondo's State Investment Commission recent decision to divest from Daniel Loeb's Third Point LLC hedge fund as a politically motivated gesture to please opponents of charter schools, which Loeb, a billionaire, supports. The WSJ writes, "The decision is curious because Third happens to be the state's top-performing hedge fund.. Third Point yielded 24.7% over the last year while the retirement system returned 14%...if the commission were purely concerned with market risks and volatility, it would be reducing its overall exposure to equities. Instead, the commission's equity exposure had modestly increased."

$44 million - As GoLocal reported, the state spends over $738 million on private contractors, primarily for social services and infrastructure. However, state financed gambling made out well, too. The state paid over $44 million to GTECH in fiscal year 2013 to oversee "lottery technology products and services," making the "gaming" firm the #4 compensated state contractor.

Overdoses - " There were 27 overdose deaths in the state in January, up from 18 in January 2013 and 15 each in January 2012 and 2011," WPRO reports. As GoLocalProv's Kate Nagle reported last fall, "Rhode Island has the 13th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States -- and highest in New England."

Nick Kettle - "I'm not going to apologize or complain about the rough and tumble politics that is Coventry," State Senator Nick Kettle told the Journal upon revelation that he and a State House staffer created a fake Facebook profile to criticize State Representative Scott Guthrie. To be competitive, the GOP team needs to stop wasting time through choir preaching like Kettle's spitball politics, and do productive actions like fundraise to compensate the goals of their new Director of Strategic Initiatives, Luis Vargas , who is tasked to organize and outreach with Latino voters.

William Gorman - As the Journal reports , the former Warwick Tree Service owner was ordered to pay a $150,000 fine for breaching a settlement with Edgar Velasquez, an undocumented worker who was injured on the job. When Velasquez sought damages for the injury to his face, to avoid payment, Gorman called Immigration officials to have Velasquez deported. The state noted that whatever fine they collect from Gorman, Velasquez will receive no part of it. Horrible.

Bill Murphy - Once again, former Speaker Murphy is accepting a $50,000 payment from Advance America to lobby against efforts to cap interest rates on payday loans at 36%, rates which can now reach 260%, the highest, by far, in New England. Back in 2003, Murphy told the Phoenix, "I'm not going to shrink from the responsibility. I'm not going to hide." Show responsibility by returning Advance America's money, and stop blocking this common sense reform.


Related Slideshow: Providence Pension Liability

A new report shows that Providence’s pension fund—even after the recent reform—is still in trouble. The below slides break out the key numbers for the pension fund, including the unfunded liability, the assumed and actual rates of return, the current level of benefits, and how long it will take the city to pay off the unfunded liability. Figures are current as of July 1, 2013 and are taken from the new Jan. 31 actuarial report from Segal Consulting.

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Unfunded Liability in 2013

Total Liability: $1.2 billion

Actuarial Assets: $380.4 million

Unfunded Liability: $831.5 million

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Unfunded Liability in 2011

Total Liability: $1.2 billion

Actuarial Assets: $380.4 million

Unfunded Liability: $831.5 million

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Percent Funded in 2013

Funding Ratio: The ratio of the amount of actuarial assets to the amount owed.

Funding ratio in 2013: 31.39%

Percent unfunded in 2013: 68.61%

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Percent Funded in 2011

Funding Ratio: The ratio of the amount of actuarial assets to the amount owed.

Funding ratio in 2011: 31.94%

Percent unfunded in 2011: 68.06%

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Rate of Return

Former Assumed Rate of Return: 8.5%

New Assumed Rate of Return: 8.25%

What the state’s assumed rate of return is: 7.5%

What Moody’s Investors Service says the assumed rate of return should be: 5.5%

What investor Warren Buffet says the assumed rate of return should be: 6%

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Actual Return on Investment

Actual Market Return in FY 2012: 1.49%

Actual Market Return in FY 2013: 11.35%

Current Assumed Rate of Return: 6.42%

Average Market Rate of Return for FY 12 and FY 13: 8.25%

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Impact of Lower Rates of Return

$72 million:The city unfunded liability increased by this amount when the city lowered its assumed rate of return by a quarter of a percentage point, from 8.5% to 8.25%

$506.2 million: The estimated increase in the unfunded liability were the city to use the 6% assumed rate of return recommended by Moody’s Investors Service.

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Retiree Pay – Fire and Police

Number on Active Duty: 834

Average Annual Pay: $61,325

Number of Retirees: 587

Average Retiree Age: 65.3

Average Retiree Annual Pay: $40,512

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Disability Pensions – Fire and Police

Number on Disability: 418

Average Age: 64.8

Average Annual Pay: $59,028

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Retiree Pay – Other City Workers

Number of City Workers: 2,164

Average Annual Pay: $38,687

Number of Retirees: 1,453

Average Retiree Age: 72

Average Retiree Annual Pay: $18,252

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Disability Pensions – Other City Workers

Number on Disability: 88

Average Age: 66.8

Average Annual Pay: $18,684

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Current Cost of Pension Fund

For 2013

City Contribution: $58.1 million

Employees Contribution: $10.9 million

Net Investment Return: $18.1 million

Cost of Retiree Benefits: $95.4 million

Note: Net investment return is the return on investments after investment and administrative fees have been paid.

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Cost of Pension Fund in 10 Years

Normal Cost: $9.8 million

Additional Cost Because

of Unfunded Liability: $84 million

Total Annual Cost: $94.3 million

Note: Total figure for the year includes a small second payment for the deferred liability.

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Cost of Pension Fund in 20 Years

Normal Cost: $13.9 million

Additional Cost Because

of Unfunded Liability: $118.5 million

Total Cost: $132.4 million

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Paying Off Unfunded Liability

Average annual increase: 3.5%

Number of additional years to pay off: 27

Fiscal year unfunded liability to be paid off by: 2040


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