What the Pension Reform Vote Tells us About the Current State of the Legislature
The “Article 16” vote, which apparently was the litmus test for organized labor’s support of sitting legislators, was a vote on limiting cost-of-living increases to the first $35,000 of benefits for state employees, teachers, judges and “justices” who retired after September 2009 (see pg. 138). Before the full article was voted on, there was also a vote on an amendment submitted by Rep. Gregory Schadone (which failed) that would have eliminated cost-of-living increases for any state employee, teacher, judge or justice hired after this year’s budget went into effect (see pg. 126).
The combination of the two votes provides an informative look at the current make-up of the Rhode Island House, and how the November general election will impact near-future decisions to be made regarding the major fiscal and governance issues confronting Rhode Island.
Two yes or no votes can always be divided into four groups. In this case, the four groups are:
Group #1: Reps who voted no on the amendment to eliminate COLAs for new hires, and no on the overall Article limiting COLAs to the first $35,000 for new retirees: [Carnevale, Carter, DaSilva, DeSimone, Diaz, Fellela, Fierro, Giannini, Guthrie, Handy, Messier, Palumbo, San Bento, Savage, Segal, Slater, Sullivan, Ucci, Walsh, Wasylyk].
Group #1.5: Not present for the vote on the amendment to eliminate COLAs for new hires, and no on the overall budget Article limiting COLAs to $35,000 for new retirees: [Rice A].
Group #2: Reps who voted no on the amendment to eliminate COLAs for new hires, but yes on the overall Article limiting COLAs to the first $35,000 for new retirees: [The Honorable Speaker Fox, Ajello, Almeida, Caprio, Coderre, Costantino, Edwards, Gablinske, Gallison, Gemma, Jackson, Lally, Martin, Mattiello, McCauley, Melo, Murphy, Naughton, O’Neill, Pacheco, Petrarca, Rice M., Ruggiero, Serpa, Shallcross, Silva, Vaudreuil, Williams, Williamson].
Group #3: Reps who voted yes on the amendment to eliminate COLAs for new hires, and yes on the overall Article limiting COLAs to the first $35,000 for new retirees: [Baldelli-Hunt, Brien, Driver, Ehrhardt, Ferri*, Hearn, Kennedy*, Marcello, Trillo, Winfield].
Group #4: Reps who voted yes on the amendment to eliminate COLAs for new hires, and no on the overall article to limit COLAs to the first $35,000 for new retirees: [Azzinaro, Corvese, Jacquard, Lima, Loughlin, MacBeth*, Malik, Menard, Newberry, Pollard, Schadone, Watson].
Initially, there were 20 reps in group #1, the no-pension-reform group. Due to primary defeats (Fierro, Wasylyk) and retirements (Giannini, Segal, Sullivan) it currently stands at 15. Group #2, who supported the COLA change, started with 29 reps. Due to the loss of the 5 seats claimed by organized labor as its targeted victories (Caprio, Gablinske, Gemma, M. Rice, Shallcross-Smith) plus Almeida and Vaudreuil also through primaries, plus the retirements of Costantino, Murphy, Pacheco and Williamson, it currently stands at 18. (Someone will have to ask Rep. Amy Rice which group she belongs to).
Group #3 is pretty obviously reps who supported the pension reform they could get, but still potentially in favor of more. Group #4 is potentially the most eclectic, allowing for the possibilities of both very strategic (vote for an amendment, but against the bill, and claim to be on both sides) and very principled (vote against a bill that you could support, but doesn’t go far enough) voting.
Organized labor’s goal is to have as many people join Group #1 as possible, either by electing new reps who hold Group #1 positions, or by scaring old reps from other groups (but mainly group #2) into Group #1. The primary results and the claims made in their wake show that partial loyalty on the pension issue isn’t good enough; labor leadership in RI wants representatives who are going to pretty much oppose any move at pension reform.
38 seats are needed to have a lock on the business of the House. The Group #1 bloc is at least 20 seats away from that. On the the other hand, members of Group #2, seeing what happened to five of their comrades, may be tempted to trade other issues to remain in good-graces of the Democratic party’s traditional special-interest base, e.g. will you let me make up for my pension vote from last year by voting for binding arbitration this year. It’s something to watch out for, meaning that a relevant set of questions that Rhode Island voters have to ask themselves in this election cycle is…
- Whether they can trust potential new reps to stay safely out of Group #1’s orbit and make fiscally and economically sensible decisions for all of Rhode Island…
- Whether the current reps from outside of Group #1 — especially those from Group #2 — can be trusted not to be frightened into going along to get along with Group #1, and…
- Whether the state will ultimately be better off by electing new reps, not so enmeshed in the current system.