The General Assembly Line for Pensions
Have you spotted the line of argument that members of the General Assembly have devised for explaining why legislators who benefit from public-sector pensions are free to vote to changes to the system? Here’s retired NEA member and recently elected representative from East Providence (whose pension comes in at $54,512, annually):
Echoed Duffy Messier: “Everyone I talk to understands that something’s got to be done and … if the COLA is reduced or frozen for a while, if that’s the worst, then they are fine with it.”
Duffy Messier said she would have qualms voting if it “was going to affect me positively,” but that is not what she anticipates.
And here it’s put a little differently:
Dawson Hodgson, R-North Kingstown, acknowledged that “nothing compels” a legislator to do [recuse], and that several legislators have publicly indicated their intention “to do the right thing and … vote against their self-interest,” which was how he described a vote to suspend or reduce, at least temporarily, the annual cost-of-living increases of up to 3 percent the state currently provides its retirees.
The problem is that a suspension or reduction in cost of living adjustments (COLAs) is nowhere near adequate, so self-interested legislators would, in effect, be voting in a way that affects them positively by voting for a measure that isn’t as dramatic as it really has to be. The question isn’t giving pensioners more versus giving them less; it’s the amount of negative change.
Sadly, even Hodgson appears to be indicating that my predictions for the General Assembly’s “reform” might be more accurate than I’d like:
… reamortization with some sort of tax increase (perhaps pushed through local governments and property taxes) and a mild reduction in benefit levels for future retirees — such as an additional year or two before they can retire or a couple more years of salary folded into the calculation for benefit amount.
I should have added some adjustment to COLAs, but doing so doesn’t change the overall… bleak… picture.