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Rhode Island Dem Fights Unions Over Pensions

A Democratic candidate for governor of Rhode Island is facing union criticism over her public pension overhaul.

Gina Raimondo has been using her 2011 work to reduce the pension program’s unfunded while state treasurer as a sign she is the best choice for governor, but the reforms aren’t universally embraced, the Associated Press reports.

Raimondo will be facing tough competition in the Democratic primary, which includes Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Clay Pell, the grandson of longtime Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell of Pell Grants fame.

Pell, who has garnered support from the state’s largest teachers union, called her pension program mishandled.

Additionally, Taveras said that he wouldn’t have supported her program.

If Raimondo wins the primary, she will have to face either Cranston Mayor Allan Fung or businessman Ken Block on the Republican side.

While treasurer, Raimondo was able to successfully push her pension reform program through the state legislature, which effectively stopped annual cost-of-living increases, raised retirement ages and shifted benefits to a hybrid-style plan.

The program garnered national attention and advocates have used it as a model for other states but public-sector unions were not on board with Raimondo’s efforts.

According to the Associated Press, these public-sector unions along with retirees sued over this pension program. After a settlement agreement fell apart the pension reform has been stuck in the courts.

Paul Doughty, the president of Providence Fire Fighters IAFF Local 799, didn’t like the process of how Raimondo went about making the pension reforms. That despite her forming a special advisory group which include labor, he felt the group wasn’t really collaborating and just did what she wanted.

“I think that’s a little disingenuous to say that that truly represents collaboration,” Doughty told the AP.

Nevertheless, many liberal Democrats have been willing to contemplate pension reforms because the high costs of paying out benefits to retirees is starting to compete with other budget priorities. The issue may begin to divide Democrats in other states.

The Rhode Island Democratic primary will take place on Sept. 9.

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