When Governor Chafee and Treasurer Raimondo released the names of the 12 members of their pension advisory group on Wednesday, it was a bit of a surprise to see that one of them was Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who in recent months has criticized both Chafee and Raimondo for their handling of the pension issue.
In an interview, Fung told WPRI.com he was “honored” when Raimondo called and asked him to be on the panel. He is the only municipal official in the group. Fung, Raimondo and former Auditor General Ernie Almonte – another panel member – all spoke at a URI forum on pensions last month.
“It’s so critically important to have a voice to make sure that these reforms, first of all, include the municipalities, and second of all, that it is the right type of reform to get us on the right track going forward,” Fung said. “I’m going to make sure that when they do the comprehensive reform, that the local piece has to be included, as well.”
The mayor repeated the concern he’s expressed in the past that discussion of the pension issue in Rhode Island frequently ignores the problems of 36 locally administered pension plans in cities like Cranston, Providence and Warwick. They’re “the ones that are really struggling with paying the bills,” and the 36 plans’ benefit structures cannot be changed without state legislation, Fung said.
One reason Raimondo asked Fung to join the panel may be because his city has both locally administered plans and others that are part of the state-run MERS system, the mayor said. He also negotiated an agreement with the city’s Teamsters to switch new employees to a 401(k)-style plan.
After speaking with the treasurer, Fung said he’s “hopeful” she and the governor will pay attention to the advisory group’s suggestions. He also said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that labor leaders on the panel will be on the same page as him.
“I hope union members are more willing to come to the table to provide real solutions and are not there to block or obstruct them,” Fung said.
You can hear more about the mayor’s thoughts on the pension issue in this March interview.
(photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)