Selling Pension Reform: The No-Blame Game

When traveling the state and talking to various union groups, it’s understandable–politically, yes, but also pragmatically–that General Treasurer Gina Raimondo is refraining from playing the blame game (well, except for various “politicians” of the past). She needs unions on board to make reform happen and if the rank and file can understand the scope of the problem and be persuaded that there is no malice in reform, then perhaps union leadership will not resist. So, we have this:

[S]he stressed that politics, not public employees, are to blame for a “broken” pension system that is endangering the security of their retirements, while also threatening to crush taxpayers with billions of dollars of debt.
“If there’s anything to blame, it’s politics,” Raimondo told more than 300 members of Local 580 of the Service Employees International Union gathered at the Cranston Portuguese Club off Elmwood Avenue. “For decades, politics has trumped honest, financial accounting.
“The fault does not lie with you. …You have done nothing wrong. You have played by the rules,” she said. “The fault lies with a poorly designed [pension] system that has been faltering for decades.”

She’s correct in that union members did nothing explicitly wrong in paying into the pension system crafted and promised by their leadership and mostly Democratic politicians. But she’s also glossing over things. After all, union members did have a role to play in the “politics” she condemns. They are, at the least, implicitly responsible for the current pension mess for supporting and electing the union leadership and Democratic politicians that crafted this fiasco. The same leaders who don’t necessarily play by the same rules.:

Both of the SEIU’s national pension plans issued “critical status letters” to their members in 2009​—​the Pension Protection Act requires such letters to be issued when funds can cover less than 65 percent of their obligations. The SEIU, however, maintains a separate pension plan for its national officers that was funded at 98.3 percent, according to the latest data.

Or actively undermine Raimondo’s proposals while standing right next to her:

Frank Flynn, the president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, told his retirees that the potential pension cuts that Raimondo outlined a day earlier, including a suspension of cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for retirees are “just examples. They are not recommendations at this point,” he said.

For Raimondo, it’s certainly easier in the short-term to suggest to people that they are victims than to tell them they are at least partially to blame for the events that have led to their current problem. For union members, it’s easier being a victim than confronting the fact that you were naive, duped or made bad choices in trusting who you did with your future.
As for the politics, in the long term, if real reform happens, then this soft-sell tour may not insulate Raimondo from union ire (though it will ultimately be the General Assembly’s stamp on the reform). Then again, there is no historical or political reason to believe that the General Assembly will be proactive, so, while I don’t doubt her sincerity at all, politically it looks like she’ll be able to present herself as a pro-union, “pragmatic progressive” reformer and maintain her future political viability.

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ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

Just wait until Gina steps out of her dog and pony tour and has to do the heavy lifting. These understanding “not to blame” union members will scream bloody murder. The corrupt union leaders will spring into action…here we go again. There are too many people with interests in maintaining the status quo that have the GA in their pocket. Real reform?……To be decided.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

What heavy lifting? She did her part, she made the recommendations, now it’s up to the GA to implement them.

michael
michael
10 years ago

You know gang, in all seriousness, our entire society is on the brink of collapse. Those cheering for the naive dupes, aka at “The Unions” to lose their pensions are in effect cheering for their own demise.
When I actually stop and think of our economy, and how intricately tied just about everything is to the government, and how most public and private sector jobs are directly tied to government spending it gets too much, and I put my head in the sand and keep on plugging along, with no real idea how to fix such a complicated mess.
The General Assembly doesn’t have a chance of fixing this either, nor does Gina Raimondo. Everybody involved is spinning right now, waiting for something big to happen. In my opinion, that big event will be the total collapse of our country, probably within my lifetime, definitely my kids. And everybody is going to suffer, not just “The Unions.”

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“When I actually stop and think of our economy, and how intricately tied just about everything is to the government, and how most public and private sector jobs are directly tied to government spending it gets too much, and I put my head in the sand and keep on plugging along, with no real idea how to fix such a complicated mess.”
Start cutting those ties, for starters.
RI public union employees are similar to the victims of Madoff’s ponzi investment scheme. They didn’t techically do anything illegal or morally wrong (excluding all the disability scammers), but greed won out over intelligence and led them to overlook the glaringly obvious problems with the free lunch package being offerred to them. The fact that it was government offering these gold-plated deals just made it look all the more legitimate, like how Madoff was squeaky clean according to the SEC. An old saying comes to mind – “You can’t con an honest man.”

bob
bob
10 years ago

great post!

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

Right Patrick. She kicked the beautiful can down the road in a very sensitive way. “No one is to blame” you see. Only “Politics” are to blame. Politicians are not humans and neither are their needy constituents. This is all so unfair and make believe. Why don’t we just print some money (like Hussein Obama and the Federal Reserve) and make it go away.

Monique
Editor
10 years ago

“Why don’t we just print some money (like Hussein Obama and the Federal Reserve) and make it go away.”
Funny, just yesterday, I was thinking it’s a damn good thing that states CANNOT print money ’cause Rhode Island would have a printing press going 24/7, especially in the wake of Treasurer Raimondo sounding the pension alarm so vigorously.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

“She kicked the beautiful can down the road in a very sensitive way.”
She did? It sounds to me that if they enact everything she suggested, that we’d have a better system.
“No one is to blame” you see”
Who cares who is to blame. Many of those who are to blame are dead. Rather than obsessing over who’s to blame, let’s simply fix it.
Regardless, what is the heavy lifting that she needs to do? Your post makes it sound like there’s more for her to do, like pass a law. Treasurers don’t do that.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

Very correct Patrick. Treasurers don’t do that. Who does? Pretty soon everyone will be dead…just the way it goes. I haven’t heard any ideas from you so you can keep copying and pasting ad infinitum.It’s not a blame game it’s an accountability game. If no one is accountable the abuses (is that too cruel a word Patrick?)and oversights get repeated.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

“Very correct Patrick. Treasurers don’t do that. Who does? ”
Umm, the General Assembly. The legislative branch.
Ok, so let’s “hold people accountable”. Then what? Arrest them? Sue them? Everyone knows who’s responsible for this, the politicians who signed the deals and the politicians who never properly funded the deals they signed. What more do we need to know? If you want specific names, then simply look at every elected GA member, every city council, every mayor for the last 40 years. Need more specificity than that?
In the meantime, I’m looking for the problem to be fixed.

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

“Just wait until Gina steps out of her dog and pony tour and has to do the heavy lifting.”
Not so fast. Gina is in a ‘no lose’ situation. She doesn’t need to do any heavy lifting. This is entirely up to the GA. She is soft pedaling responsibility so she can get those clowns to pass her reform. If they pass it she’s a hero, if not, they’re the goats for not listening. Either way, she comes out smelling like a rose.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

UMMMMMMM Patrick…guess what? The GA is going to solve the problem. Know how? They are going to raise taxes. Yours if you are still in RI. Gina is coming out smelling like a rose Max. Yes that’s just what is needed more aromatic politicians. If a pattern of responsibility is not addressed then the problem will repeat. RI will soft pedal all the way to bankruptcy ala Central falls and maybe Providence.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Anthony, I’ll ask you again, what do you want to do with the blame? Arrest them? Sue them? Once someone can definitively say “Bill Murphy was responsible for this during this time frame, so we’re assigning x% of responsibility to him, now we’re going to …”
What are we going to do to him?
You used to live here, you remember how the voters are, ignorant and apathetic. For that reason, I don’t care to point fingers. The people who know there’s a problem know who caused it. So let’s get on to fixing it.

Sully
Sully
10 years ago

I consider myself to be pretty fiscally conservative and I have no complaints about the job Raimondo is doing. In less than a year, she got the Retirement Board to lower the assumed rate of return (its still high, but at least it has been lowed), has been honest in addressing the total pension unfunded liability, which is new, and proposed some pretty forward thinking and fiscally responsible ideas. I understand the cynicism, but I think that thus far she has earned the right to try to put her plan in motion.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
10 years ago

If they pass it she’s a hero, if not, they’re the goats for not listening. Either way, she comes out smelling like a rose.
Posted by Max Diesel at May 26, 2011 10:51 AM
Ah, now here’s an A student.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

Agreed Patrick…let’s fix it. My opinion is that the “fix” is already in. The taxpayers will bear the brunt as usual. Gina is the messenger. The GA will deliver the goods and the taxpayer will pay for the solution. Economic growth will be stifled and on we go. Why is RI and the GA going to change it’s pattern of behavior at this point?

Monique
Editor
10 years ago

” Why is RI and the GA going to change it’s pattern of behavior at this point?”
Because, ANTHONY, we can now actually see the point at which pension and other checks start bouncing. When (not if) that happens, all of the baloney about property rights and maybe we should wait for court rulings before we act will mean absolutely nothing.
It has fallen to this General Assembly to deal with this crisis. If they fail to do so, the people that THEY PURPORT TO CARE ABOUT MOST OF ALL (public labor) will pay the price, and a very high one, indeed.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

“It has fallen to this General Assembly to deal with this crisis. If they fail to do so, the people that THEY PURPORT TO CARE ABOUT MOST OF ALL (public labor) will pay the price, and a very high one, indeed”
monique,
Very common sense. Now if common sense can only be implemented. How long have you lived in RI? You are shaking the foundations on which this State is now set. Most of the good,secure jobs are State jobs and their ilk….avec pensions. Let the earthquake begin.

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