2017-07-27 / News

Governor vetoes bill automatically extending municipal labor deals

Nota was one of several who opposed move

Gov. Gina Raimondo has vetoed a bill rebuked by Jamestown’s chief executive while signing legislation co-sponsored by the town’s lone state lawmaker.

While signing 82 pieces of legislation into law July 18, the Democratic governor rejected the labor bill that would automatically extend contracts for municipal employees and teachers.

According to the vetoed measure, the contract would be renewed indefinitely if a new agreement were not reached by its expiration date. Raimondo said the termination clause is the motivating factor for parties to come together.

“If the parties do not complete negotiations prior to the contract expiration, they should be able to extend contracts temporarily if both parties agree,” Raimondo said. “In the overwhelming majority of cases, this is what happens.”

However, the governor argued, this legislation goes much further. “It ties the hands of our municipal leaders and ultimately binds our taxpayers to contracts that would never end. Rhode Island already has some of the highest property taxes in the country and I cannot support legislation that would increase this burden on everyday Rhode Islanders.”

Current law prohibits municipalities from signing a labor contract that extends for more than three years. The evergreen proposal would contradict that law.

“There is a reason why this is our current practice,” she said. “This law protects the taxpayers from being obligated indefinitely for contract provisions that, in the future, may not be affordable.”

Town Administrator Andy Nota was among a contingent of municipal officials to push for the veto.

“Negotiations on such issues are held at the local level in all of our cities and towns, and such relations are built over time based on many variables,” Nota said. “Such matters should be left to those sitting at the table.”

According to the governor’s spokesman, David Ortiz, the bill raised near unanimous concern from mayors and town managers throughout the Ocean State.

“I am very pleased with the governor’s leadership on this issue,” Nota said. “It was unfortunate that many of the state’s elected officials and municipal and school department leaders had to spend significant time objecting to the legislature’s involvement.”

To override a veto, the state constitution requires three-fifths of the vote in both chambers. With full membership, that is 45 of the 75 House representatives and 23 of the 38 senators. The measure passed 60-3 in the House with 12 members not voting. Rep. Deb Ruggiero, a Democrat who serves Jamestown and Middletown, voted in favor of the bill. In the upper chamber, the bill passed 23-7 with six senators not voting and one recusal. The 38th vote belongs to Teresa Paiva Weed’s vacated seat, which represents Jamestown and Newport.

While Raimondo disagreed with Ruggiero’s support for evergreen contracts, the governor did stand behind the lawmaker’s cosponsored bill to extend renewable energy. The new law allows remote net metering at schools, hospitals and nonprofit organizations, including churches.

Net metering allows the owners of green energy to receive credit for the power they feed into the electric grid. Remote net metering is an arrangement that allows kilowatt-hours generated from one site to be credited toward energy consumption at a different site.

Until last year, state law allowed only municipalities to participate in remote net metering. In 2016, lawmakers expanded the program to “community remote net metering,” which included affordable housing developments and residential partnerships that split the credits.

This measure, proponents have argued, encourages Rhode Islanders to invest in the development of renewable energy while opening access to facilities that are not in the best location for wind or solar. These investments allow more institutions to reduce their energy costs while helping Rhode Island meet its goals for clean energy by using less power from fossil fuels.

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