PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — General Treasurer James Diossa on Tuesday announced the 11 members of a high-profile panel tasked with revisiting Rhode Island’s 2011 pension overhaul, with an eye on potentially boosting benefits for retirees.
As part of this year’s state budget, General Assembly leaders directed the treasurer to create a Pension Advisory Working Group and have its members come up with recommendations for lawmakers by next March, in time to be considered for the next state budget.
“A thorough review of the restructured pension programs will assist in determining if the stated goals of the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011 are being met, as well as inform any changes that may be needed to improve the pension programs and address any unintended consequences of the Act and any impacts on the ability of the state to attract and retain a stable workforce,” lawmakers wrote in the budget.
The 2011 overhaul, championed by then-Treasurer Gina Raimondo and signed by then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee, drew national attention for freezing existing pensioners’ annual cost-of-living increases and moving current workers to a hybrid system.
The changes were condemned by many unions and rank-and-file retirees, but in 2015 a settlement was reached that softened some of the original law’s provisions in exchange for ending litigation to overturn it. The final agreement locked in roughly $4 billion in savings for taxpayers.
In recent years, however, there has been growing momentum in the General Assembly to take another look at the pension changes, partly in response to continued protests from retirees who say their income isn’t keeping up without annual cost-of-living hikes. A private Facebook group called Advocates for COLA Restoration and Pension Reform has attracted roughly 1,500 members.
The pension plan for state employees was about 59% funded as of June 30, 2022, with a shortfall of about $2 billion, according to the most recent data available.
“As general treasurer, it is my duty to protect Rhode Island’s assets and strengthen the state’s financial position, beginning with the $10.5 billion in assets in our pension system,” said Diossa, a Democrat elected last November, in a statement.
He continued, “This working group will review the impact of the Retirement Security Act of 2011 and ensure that we continue to protect Rhode Island retirees, public employees, and taxpayers going forward.”
The 11 members appointed to the working group are:
- Ernie Almonte, Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns
- Eric Atwater, Aon PLC
- Patrick Crowley, Rhode Island AFL-CIO
- Michael DiBiase, Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council
- Thomas Huestis, Public Resources Advisory Group
- John P. Maguire, Employees’ Retirement System of R.I. board (teacher representative)
- Laura Quinby, BC Center for Retirement Research (designee for Alicia Munnell)
- George Nee, Rhode Island AFL-CIO
- Edinaldo Tebaldi, Bryant University
- Jonathan Womer, R.I. Department of Administration
Diossa said the working group plans to hold six public meetings, all at 4 p.m. at the State House, on the following dates: Nov. 2, Nov. 30, Dec. 14, Jan. 17, Jan. 31 and Feb. 21.
A spokesperson for the treasurer’s office said the group’s chairperson will be announced at its first public meeting early next month.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.