2011-09-22 / News

From the State House

BY DEB RUGGIERO BY DEB RUGGIERO Greetings, friends and neighbors. Hope you enjoyed the summer. Thanks for the emails, phone calls, and stopping me at McQuade’s to talk about your interests and concerns regarding pension reform and the new renewable energy laws. I value your input.

It’s been a pleasure to work on your behalf at the State House. As we seek to turn our economy around and create new jobs, my legislative initiatives regarding developing a “green economy” have been signed by the governor and are now law.

These initiatives, which many of you worked with me on, are some of the most comprehensive and cohesive in the nation. Rhode Island leapfrogs from being a laggard to a leader in renewable energy.

I’ll be facilitating a discussion with Ken Payne of the Office of Energy, Julian Dash of the Economic Development Corporation, and Chris Kearns of Alteris Renewables on Friday, Sept. 30, from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the Middletown Town Hall on the benefit of the new laws to small business and municipalities.

EDC and OER have $5.1 million available to business and municipalities for energy efficient and renewable energy projects and improvements. You’re welcome to attend. Call the Newport Chamber at 847- 1608 or visit newportchamber.com.

Meanwhile, pension reform is another topic that has percolated all summer culminating with the governor and treasurer’s pension legislation being heard in a special mid-October legislative session. We’re tasked with finding a balance between retirement security and affordability. As Treasurer Gina Raimondo stated, an insolvent and unsustainable pension system affects the state’s bond rating and that gravely impacts taxpayers and pensioners.

The current unfunded liability of $6.8 billion has been brewing since 1974 when legislators didn’t fund the system and state workers could “buy credits” and retire as early as age 53. Since 2007, the economy crashed and investment returns, including the pension fund, rapidly spiraled downward. Another concern is that there are 24,650 active workers paying into the pension fund, yet 21,635 retirees are accessing benefits. That 1:1 ratio is unsustainable.

Some of the recommendations from the Pension Review Board include raising the retirement age, suspending cost-of-living increases, creating a hybrid plan of defined benefit and defined contribution, and re-amortizing the pension fund. It’s likely the legislation that the governor and treasurer submit will be a combination of these ideas.

One thing is certain: Doing nothing is not an option. Long-term liabilities require long-term solutions. Next year the cost of the pension fund will be $315 million and in 2016 it will be $1.2 billion. That’s money that could be going to education, fixing roads and bridge maintenance – all vital to our economy.

We’ve all experienced the increased costs of food, oil and gas; it impacts people on pensions as well as struggling families. Seniors collecting Social Security will tell you they haven’t had a cost-of-living increase in four years. Many neighbors have taken pay cuts just to keep their jobs to continue to pay the mortgage.

These are unprecedented economic times. We must have a sustainable pension fund for the future of all Rhode Islanders. Please call me at 423-0444 or email me at rep-ruggie ro@rilin.state.ri.us.

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.” — Emily Dickinson

Deb Ruggiero represents Jamestown and Middletown in the state House of Representatives.

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