Gina Raimondo is out of town, but her allies are still here to defend the pension law.
Engage Rhode Island, the deep-pocketed advocacy group that helped Raimondo pass the pension changes, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon criticizing Governor Chafee for talking with union leaders Tuesday about a potential settlement of their lawsuit challenging the law.
The unsigned statement said EngageRI is “concerned” by Chafee’s “apparent change of heart” on “a bill he signed into law just a year ago,” and is “saddened to hear of his desire to give away the retirement security of thousands of Rhode Islanders behind closed doors.”
EngageRI’s statement pushed back at the idea that unions weren’t given a chance to influence the process, and said it’s “unfortunate that Governor Chafee would want to subvert this open and public process by talking with union leadership behind closed doors.”
Raimondo released a statement shortly afterwards that, unlike EngageRI’s, only referenced the governor indirectly. “It is not the time for closed-door meetings. This is not a time for politics,” she said.
“If at some point the court asks the state to sit down to try and reach a settlement, we will do so in good faith,” Raimondo said. “In the meantime, Treasury will continue to work diligently to defend the important work done by the General Assembly.”
House Speaker Gordon Fox also weighed in against Chafee’s initiative. “It is not appropriate for me to negotiate legislation that was passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor,” he said. “The time to negotiate was during the 30 hours of public hearings that were conducted by the legislature.”
In response, Chafee issued a statement of his own: “I have confidence in the state’s legal case. But a strong case does not guarantee a win.” The governor also said, “I have been disappointed that state leaders in a position to engage in reasonable discussions have chosen not to do so.”
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, the last of the four principals in the pension drama, opted to stay out of the fray on Wednesday. “She is going to decline comment at this point in time,” Senate spokesman Greg Pare told WPRI.com.
Full statements from all parties after the jump.
• Related: Barro: RI came closer than most but didn’t fix pension problem (Dec. 4)
This post has been updated.
Treasurer Raimondo statement
“I have great respect for the judicial system and we now must let this process unfold in an orderly and transparent way. We owe that to the people of Rhode Island. It is not the time for closed-door meetings. This is not a time for politics. This is too important to the future of Rhode Island.
“It’s now the job of the judicial branch to evaluate the legislation passed by the General Assembly, and we should let it do its work. If at some point the court asks the state to sit down to try and reach a settlement, we will do so in good faith. In the meantime, Treasury will continue to work diligently to defend the important work done by the General Assembly.
“It is important to pause and remember that the passage of the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act represented the culmination of 11 months of thoughtful, fact-based analysis and input from retirees, employees and taxpayers across Rhode Island, as well as national pension and legal experts. It was carefully designed by the General Assembly in an effort to save our state-administered retirement system.”
Speaker Fox statement
“It is not appropriate for me to negotiate legislation that was passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor. The time to negotiate was during the 30 hours of public hearings that were conducted by the legislature.
“We always anticipated that there would be a legal challenge to this comprehensive law,” Fox continued. “This law is critical to securing the state’s retirement system and placing Rhode Island on sound financial footing now and into the future. The matter is now in the hands of the judiciary, where it will be appropriately decided.”
Governor Chafee statement
“I have confidence in the state’s legal case. But a strong case does not guarantee a win. I am therefore reluctant to rely exclusively on the uncertain outcomes of litigation. The most prudent approach is to continue to aggressively press the state’s case in court while, at the same time, exploring reasonable settlement options that could yield favorable alternatives in the best interest of the taxpayers. Engaging in settlement discussions is a near-universal practice during high-stakes litigation.
“Some have said that now is not the time for negotiation. I disagree. The state has leverage only so long as there is still uncertainty as to the outcome of this case – a time period that grows shorter with each passing day.
“I have great respect for the judicial system. Indeed, thoughtful discussions and settlement negotiations are an integral part of that system. All or nothing is not the only course, as any judge will tell you.
“I have been disappointed that state leaders in a position to engage in reasonable discussions have chosen not to do so. There is no harm in talking, but the consequences of failing to talk could be tremendous, in a case where a loss – in the Treasurer’s own words – would be a “fiscal calamity.” It is my continued hope that other state leaders will join me in working to find common ground to protect the interests of Rhode Island taxpayers and the retirement security of all public employees.”
“We are concerned by Governor Chafee’s apparent change of heart on RIRSA, a bill he signed into law just a year ago. Further, we are saddened to hear of his desire to give away the retirement security of thousands of Rhode Islanders behind closed doors. There was – and remains – an open and transparent policy, legislative and legal process that has been followed by all parties involved. This process included “Truth in Numbers,” numerous public meetings, input from the Pension Advisory Group, General Assembly informational sessions, dozens of hours of public testimony and finally, the legislative process itself.
“RIRSA is Rhode Island law and it is unfortunate that Governor Chafee would want to subvert this open and public process by talking with union leadership behind closed doors. As the court cases move forward, we are confident that the provisions in RIRSA are sound and we trust in our legal system that the outcome will be just.”