PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — More than a thousand public-sector workers and retirees rallied Tuesday at the Rhode Island Statehouse in opposition to a proposed overhaul of the state's vastly underfunded pension system.
Teachers, firefighters, police officers and other state and municipal employees waved signs, chanted and cheered as speakers called on lawmakers to either defeat the legislation or significantly alter it to reduce the impact on retirement benefits.
"They want to change the rules, when so many of us are one, two, three years from retiring," said Neil Barker, a 64-year-old state social worker from Coventry, R.I., who attended the rally. "They need to think carefully about what it is they're doing before they cause problems for a lot of people."
Lawmakers are now considering the proposal from Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Treasurer Gina Raimondo which aims to save billions of dollars in future years by suspending automatic cost-of-living pension increases for many workers for up to 19 years, raising retirement ages and creating a benefit system that combines pensions with 401(k)-type accounts.
Public-sector unions have vowed to sue if lawmakers adopt the plan as written.
Raimondo, a Democrat, and Chafee, an independent, argue that if nothing is done state and municipal governments will have to raise taxes and slash services to offset runaway pension costs. The state-run pension system now faces a $7 billion unfunded liability.
The House and Senate finance committees' plan to return to the Statehouse on Wednesday to weigh several proposed amendments to the bill. Raimondo said she will introduce small, technical tweaks to the legislation but will fight attempts to remove key provisions, such as the suspension of automatic increases.
The committees are scheduled to vote on the proposal Thursday, a move which would send the measure to the full General Assembly.
The state-run retirement system covers 66,000 current and retired state workers, judges, teachers and state police and many municipal workers.
The Rhode Island Retirement Security Coalition, which represents state and municipal workers and teachers, organized Tuesday's rally.