From Whence the Pension Reform Problem in Rhode Island
Ed Achorn’s most recent column highlights how little has changed in the public discussion of pension reform. This snippet, from a 2005 column of his, caught my eye in particular:
“Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, responded to last week’s cries for pension reform by dismissing it all as a partisan plot.
“‘Republicans support pension reform. Well, yeah. Where’s the story? Where’s the news?’ he asked.”
The photograph of an ostrich accompanying the essay is apt. Ultimately, there are no surprises, in this; it’s just that Rhode Islanders have been told to ignore such problems until the checks are literally nearing the point of not being written and then to expect one-time fixes and tax increases. That’s the cycle that our current collection of elected officials are likely to pursue now, and it’s a cycle that simply has to end.
It was also interesting to come across the name of a politician whom Governor Chafee tiptoed through revolving-door ethics rules to hire, with Achorn describing a 2003 essay:
Many legislators dismissed growing annual pension costs as small potatoes. I wrote: “$20 million-plus is still worth debate in most people’s books. And the costs are exploding: Pension contributions for state workers and teachers are slated to go up $60 million in the next year, says Mr. Carcieri. This would seem to present a crisis that cannot be ignored.”
(Now, in 2011, of course, the state confronts pension costs growing by hundreds of millions of dollars a year.)
Steven Costantino, then vice chairman of the House Finance Committee, accused the pension reformers of trying to stir up emotions. “You simply can’t cherry-pick an issue which is a hot button or a good sound bite,” he said.
Frankly, the only hope for Rhode Island is if voters begin teaching politicians that there can be consequences for their actions, which lesson has thus far been left to public sector unions to impart.