September 15, 2014
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Raimondo under attack
John Hazen-White Jr.

This is not the easiest time for Gina Raimondo.

She’s being attacked for her ties to Wall Street and how much in fees Rhode Island is paying hedge funds to manage a portion of the invested pension fund.

The fund just reported not hitting its target return, which is not surprising because the modified rate of return is still too high. This means Rhode Island taxpayers will have to put in millions more than planned to keep things sound.

Her signature accomplishment, the pension reform law of 2011, is being challenged by the state’s public employee unions in Superior Court.

And talk about going off the rails, the state has been negotiating modifications to the law at the advice of the court – a move she opposed but her ally for the original reform law, Governor Chafee, has endorsed. Apparently from what we hear, the two sides are ready to present their compromise plan any day now.

And her primary opponent, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, has a record to tout of how to work with public employee unions in order to gain concessions without resorting to legislative fiat.

First it was some guy named Edward Siedle, a former SEC lawyer and hedge fund critic, going after the general treasurer and presumed Democrat gubernatorial candidate in Forbes.com over the fees Rhode Island has been paying certain hedge funds to manage a portion of the state’s $1 billion pension fund investments.

Then it was none other than Wall Street critic Matt Taibbi – he of the now famous description of Goldman Sachs as the “giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity” – attacking her in Rolling Stone magazine for essentially being part of a Wall Street scheme to get its hands – or tentacles to keep the squid allusions going – on pension monies while moving public employees into the risky 401k’s that so many Americans are depending on for their golden years.

Tiabbi’s Sept. 26 column, “All across America, Wall Street is grabbing money meant for public workers,” complete with use of the F word in high journalistic style, accuses Raimondo of being in cahoots with Wall Street barons who are up to no good with the state’s pension fund while bankrolling her gubernatorial war chest to the tune of $2 million and counting.

Rhode Island’s pension reform of 2011, argues Taibbi, is being used as a model for other states looking to kill the “defined benefits” type plan in favor of “defined contributions” (those risky 401k’s) and are “being forced to subsidize their own political disenfranchisement.”

He says nothing, however, about the very compelling reasons for pension reform in Rhode Island and how without an overhaul, the state was simply going to go broke and all public employees – active and retired – would suffer.

Others have weighed in pro and con regarding the appropriateness of paying hedge fund managers so much money to manage their share of the state’s pension fund, so I will not comment on that issue. However, the reform legislation of 2011 was the right and necessary thing to do, and it was passed by a legislature dominated by union-friendly Democrats. Other states’ acrimonious attempts to change the landscape on pensions stemmed directly from fired up Republican legislative majorities working hand-in-glove with GOP governors.

Gina Raimondo may very well see her pension reform law unravel. As one among many who believes she had the best long-term interests of state and municipal workers in mind as well as the state’s taxpayers in formulating and presenting major reform of the state’s unsustainable pension program, I certainly hope not. But the unions, aided by an administration that obviously prefers to offer concessions than stand its ground in court, may end up claiming victory in the end, aided by a legislature – under renewed pressure – that reverses itself on the very law it passed two years ago.

So where will the money to pay for any changes come from? Any guesses?


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