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The time for pension reform is upon us, as the state readies for the coming special session of the General Assembly, scheduled to take place soon after Columbus Day.
To recap for those who have not been in Rhode Island for the last couple years – the state’s public-employee pension funds are staring at unfunded liabilities of about $9 billion. By fiscal 2013 (as in, the next fiscal year), 16 cents of every dollar collected from Ocean State taxpayers will go to covering the accrued and future obligations of state pensioners. And soon after that, the number will grow to more than one-quarter of tax revenue.
In a state that has persistently high unemployment and that has been forced to continue scaling back investment in its physical and intellectual infrastructure, those numbers are not good news.
As any business knows, it is rare that growth can come without investment. Thus the only solution is for the state to loosen the stranglehold that these pension obligations have on its ability to direct resources to its universities, its roads and bridges, and its entrepreneurial class, many with great ideas but a paucity of capital.
Leading the reform charge has been General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, who has done yeoman’s work in pushing the reform agenda. But she will need help, including from Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, that is focused and unyielding on the goal of fixing this issue right now. Call the governor at 222-2080 and impress upon him the urgency of the matter. Call your state representatives, too.
We stand at a moment that will determine the economic future of Rhode Island. •