PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Despite a number of changes made in recent years, our exclusive WPRI 12 poll shows Rhode Islanders still don't think lawmakers have gone far enough in overhauling the state's public pension system.
- Nesi's Notes: How the poll is conducted
The poll found 64 percent of likely voters think the General Assembly should make more changes to the pension system to reduce benefits and cut costs. Only 23 percent believe enough has been done and 13 percent are not sure.
Eyewitness News will release more results from the poll – including the latest numbers showing who's leading the hotly contested race for governor – starting during Wednesday's 6 p.m. newscast.
WPRI 12's survey of 500 voters, which was conducted last Wednesday through Sunday, found broad support in the state for altering the public pension system across both genders and different age groups.
"It shows everyone realizes we can't keep giving away things," said Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming.
Lawmakers have altered the pension system four times since 2005 to save money with changes to eligibility ages, benefit levels and cost-of-living adjustments.
- Target 12: Probing Pensions
As of June 30, Rhode Island had set aside $6.9 billion to cover an estimated $11.4 billion worth of pension benefits promised to retirees through 2029, according to state actuaries Gabriel Roeder Smith & Co. The plan covers about 50,000 current and former state workers and teachers.
Republicans were the strongest backers of changes to the pension system in our WPRI 12 poll, with 78 percent in favor, followed by independents, 69 percent of whom supported the idea.
The weakest support was among Democrats and households with a union member, public or private. Even there, though, 53 percent of Democrats support changing the pension system and 49 percent of union households backed it.
Union households were the most likely subgroup to say enough pension changes had been made, with 36 percent thinking lawmakers have done enough to alter the system.
- Campaign 2010: RI Governor's Race
The candidates for governor told Eyewitness News the findings did not surprise them. "Voters get it," said General Treasurer Frank Caprio, the Democratic candidate whose office oversees the pension system.
Caprio suggested the state should switch to a hybrid system that combines a limited defined-benefit with a 401(k)-style plan, and that benefits could be altered for some workers already vested in the system.
Independent Lincoln Chafee has suggested a similar plan, where new and recently hired government workers would be enrolled in a similar hybrid plan. Those with five to 10 years on the job would have that option, as well. Longer-tenured workers would keep their current benefits.
Republican John Robitaille said the state's estimate of its pension liabilities "grossly understated" how underfunded the plan is because it relies on an overly optimistic forecast of future investment returns.
Robitaille wants to freeze pension benefits for current workers at the amount they have accrued so far, then shift them into 401(k)-like plan. "We have to stop the bleeding," he said.
Moderate Party candidate Ken Block said the problem is the state's 30-year plan for getting the pension system properly funded is unaffordable. He said if elected he would work with stakeholders to craft a 10-year plan to get the system in order.
Copyright WPRI 12
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