The Deleterious Distinctions of a Disability Pension (And Their Dubious Designers)

Under Patrick’s post, Max Diesel asks

Does anyone know how much this clown’s pension was bumped with and without the disability after coming back as chief?

The answer is that, in Rhode Island, a regular pension is taxable. A disability pension is not taxable.
And this continues for the life of the retiree. But why should it? Once the employee hits retirement age, the regular pension should kick in. That provision alone would go a ways to reducing the percentage of public employees who go out on disability pensions, as Tim White illustrates in his excellent 2008 expose of Rhode Island’s disability pension problems.

The lowest overall disability rate goes to the city of Pawtucket. The rules there say police and firefighters who get hurt on-the-job collect a disability pension until their 20th year, when they would normally retire.
It then gets converted down to a less-lucrative service pension. As a result, you will find only 6 Pawtucket firefighters collecting a disability pension. No other town we examined has this provision.

Once again, as in so many other matters of fiscal policy, this is a very reasonable adjustment that elected officials on the state and local levels have inexplicably eschewed.
By the way, the Dissembler from the First District gets mentioned in White’s report, once again exaggerating an aspect of Providence’s fiscal situation.

Providence Mayor David Cicilline says, “It used to be the case that once you received a disability pension that you essentially received it forever.”
Mayor Cicilline says an ordinance passed this year [2008] aims to change that.
“We now have a revision that requires an annual certification of your disability,” says Cicilline.

So rather than addressing the problem directly by changing the policy (disability pension to be converted to regular pensions at age 65), then-Mayor Cicilline backed a half-hearted step that has done bupkis to cut back on the number of disability pensions issued. It sounded good at the time, though, didn’t it?
As for the term that Max uses to refer to Mr. Farrell, I understand that Max is very frustrated – as we all are – at this manifestation of an irresponsible and indefensible policy. It should be noted, however, that the real “clowns” here are the decades of elected officials who took a raft of fiscally criminal measures and turned them into law. Had they not done so, the door would not have been flung wide open, in this and so many other areas, for the Rhode Island taxpayer to be mugged on a remarkable scale.

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12 years ago

I think we can all agree that there are some injuries that although they may prevent you from doing police/fire work they don’t prevent you from finding meaningful, gainful employment elsewhere. But what if someone suffers the rare debilitating injury that prevents them from finding such work? Should their pensions revert to a standard retirement pension? But for their employment they wouldn’t have suffered an injury that prevents them from working at a level that supports their wife, kids, mortgage, etc. Is the problem with the ordinance Ciccilline spoke about that it fails when enforced or that no one bothered to enforce it?

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
12 years ago

Let me be clear. I don’t have a problem with ‘legitimate’ public safety disability pensions. The now former chief has clearly exacerbated the negative focus on them by taking regular retirement, returning as chief, and then taking a disability for a disease which he claims to be in remission.
As to sierra’s comment, disability recipients should be required to request permission to apply for outside employment just as if they were still employed. In those instances, the pension should be adjusted from two-thirds to at least 50 percent. They should also be required to file an affidavit stating that their new employment does not have the equivalent health care benefit.

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