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Pension settlement breakdown challenges candidate’s campaign strategy

Union vote raises questions for General Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s gubernatorial campaign

The proposed settlement to end the battle over Rhode Island’s pension overhaul unveiled in February by Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo was ultimately voted down Monday. Following the November 2011 legislation overhauling the state’s pension system in an attempt to close the projected pension deficit, state unions filed a lawsuit against Rhode Island.

The proposed pension settlement, described by Chafee and Raimondo as a solution preferable to bringing the case to court, was rejected by 61 percent of police officers in the state’s unions who were eligible to vote on the matter, WPRI reported.

Raimondo first made national headlines in 2011 with this widely contested pension overhaul. This week’s defeat comes in the midst of a new phase of Raimondo’s gubernatorial campaign, after she released a series of four policy proposals on manufacturing, infrastructure, workforce development and tourism as part of her economic plan designed to promote job growth. Raimondo has not yet released the details of the fifth and final policy proposal in her plan.

In the aftermath of the vote, Raimondo clashed with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, one of Raimondo’s opponents in the Sep. 9 primary.

“Had Treasurer Raimondo chosen to sit down with labor in 2011, rather than waiting until a court ordered her to negotiate, we may have saved Rhode Island two and a half years of litigation with no end in sight,” said Taveras’ campaign spokeswoman Dawn Bergantino, according to Rhode Isand Public Radio.

“The mayor missed 80 percent of pension meetings during the first half of his term,” Raimondo’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, said in response, according to Rhode Island Public Radio. Providence’s “pension fund is $700 million short of what it needs to pay retirees and is funded at a lower percentage than when he took office and after his pension ‘reform.’”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block called the pension settlement “an embarrassing chapter in Rhode Island’s history,” placing partial blame on the mediation between the unions and Democratic politicians, which aimed to “work out an agreement behind closed doors to change the law,” in a March 25 Providence Journal op-ed.

While other Democratic gubernatorial candidates contractor Todd Giroux and political newcomer Clay Pell have not released any extensive policy plans, Taveras has promoted three proposals over the past several months on early childhood education,  pay equity for women in the state and a hike of the state’s minimum wage.


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