By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN – After a months-long struggle for pension reform in Rhode Island seemingly came to an end last week, area union leaders have just four words in response to the passing of the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act:
“We'll see you in court”.
Despite objections, however, Governor Lincoln Chafee feels positive about the legislation as a way of getting the state’s fiscal areas in order.
Chafee says his goal throughout the entire process has been to provide retirement security through reforms that are “fair” to the three main interested parties: retirees, current employees and taxpayers.
“While this legislation will ensure retirement security for retirees and current workers in state-operated pension plans, many Rhode Islanders will see reduced benefits and will face a retirement different than the one they had planned,” Chafee stated in a press release last week.
The new legislation, according to Chafee, will save taxpayers approximately $4 billion over the next 24 years; keep costs steady and predictable for taxpayers while sharing the risk among all groups; provide retirement security to all public employees; immediately reduce the unfunded liability by about $3 billion and bring the funding status of the state-administered pension system from 48 percent to over 60 percent funded.
North Kingstown Town Manager Michael Embury said NK makes out better with this reform than without.
“Even though it’s positive for the town," he said. "the reform still has financial implications that will have an adverse effect on the 2013 budget.”
Embury explained that the last actuarial numbers he received still require a sizable increase in the combined town/school contribution.
“What that number finally turns out to be will have to wait until we receive updated data from the Treasurer’s Office or MERS,” he said.
North Kingstown School Superintendent Dr. Philip Auger is happy the reform passed because it will take a “great deal” of financial pressure off the school district but he cautions that there is still a great deal of information to come out.
North Kingstown's fire union, meanwhile, isn’t as happy about the new reform and many local fire departments feels the negative impact the bill will have needs to be revisited by the legislature.
Specifically, for North Kingstown firefighters Local 1651, the new pension legislation has created an environment where some firefighters will be forced to work well into their sixties and possibly beyond to receive their pension.
“This bill, if left unchanged, may also force many of the fire department’s senior and most experienced officers to pursue an earlier retirement than they intended, which will further stress the system,” Local 1651 Union President Lt. Raymond Furtado said. “I know many legislators share these concerns, and I am hopeful that common sense and practicality will ultimately prevail.”