Rhode Island took a major step forward in its fight against big blue on Thursday, announcing a new plan that will give local mayors much more leeway to reform the state pension plans that are driving many municipalities to the brink of bankruptcy. Boston.com reports that Governor Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, plans to allow localities to cut back on benefits and payments to retirees, end automatic salary hikes for state employees, and reduce the number of state employees mandated by law.
This is a step in the right direction for a state that has been called the “Athens of America” for its years of allowing politicians and unions to collude in raising pensions and benefits for state workers with little consideration of the state’s shaky budget. While this proposal will not be enough to undo years of myopic, expensive legislation, it is at least a sign that state politicians are aware of the problem they face and are willing to confront it.
Predictably, state unions and some politicians have vowed to fight the proposal, but a surprising number of the state’s politicians, who are mostly Democrats, have signed on. Mayors have welcomed the move, which will help them patch up their budget gaps, of which Providence’s $22 million deficit is only the most prominent example.
These cuts will be painful, but delaying them would be far worse. The basic facts can only be ignored for so long, and it’s good to see that Rhode Island has decided to face reality.