Last year was a watershed in terms of the General Assembly and statewide officeholders taking direct, concerted and courageous action on a difficult issue.
For the first time in recent memory, elected officials crafted a comprehensive, long-term solution to the problem of state-worker pension liabilities well short of full funding. They should be congratulated for doing much more than making little fixes around the margins.
Unfortunately, 2012 is no time to rest on well-deserved laurels.
This year’s legislative session will present even more complex challenges – unfunded municipal-worker pensions being the biggest problem that needs to be tackled.
State officeholders are not going to be able to craft a single solution to the issue, largely because municipal pensions were arrived at through the collective bargaining process between towns and cities, and their employees.
Each municipality has a unique set of issues, and fixing the problem must include the workers and administrators, who oftentimes haven’t done a good job of making deals that fit under the heading of sustainable (Providence’s pension plan is 34 percent funded at the moment).
The declaration of bankruptcy by Central Falls and the ongoing state involvement in East Providence’s finances (which could lead to a bankruptcy declaration itself) should have made clear that the old way of doing things just isn’t going to work.
What the General Assembly and the governor can do, however, is help develop tools that towns and cities can use, as well as be quick to implement them. This is no time to take a go-slow approach. The economic health of the state remains in the balance. •