House Speaker Gordon D. Fox barely has time to exhale. The legislative session just ended in June with the passage of a $7.7 billion state budget, and now he’s looking ahead to a special session in the fall to tackle the state’s pension problems. Fox recently spoke with Providence Business News about the 2011 session, his dealings with Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and, of course, pensions.
PBN: There’s been a lot of talk about how the state can’t put off pension reform any longer. Can you assure the public something will happen this year?
FOX: I think we’re going to have to, when you see numbers. This General Assembly has proven that it has the willingness to attack problems, especially problems that I see as speaker as a detriment to building a sound business community. … We understand that unless something happens with pensions, (a) you will not have a pension system for people when they need it most and (b) it will have a continued detrimental impact on the state’s ability to perform and provide the basic services like education, public safety and infrastructure because that money is going to pay for the past, not the future. And that’s going to have a direct, detrimental impact on our ability to compete in the business [world]. … You can’t tax your way out of this problem. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t raise taxes fast enough to meet some of these pension obligations. So we have to do something.
PBN: How would you prefer to see the pension problem rectified? Do you have some ideas?
FOX: What I’ve agreed to with [R.I. Treasurer Gina Raimondo] is using her expertise as head of the pension system to come up with ideas – and she’s come up with this working group – to present a plan to attack a problem that seems to grow exponentially. … I have my own ideas, but I’d rather not say where I’d like to see it go, or where we’re willing to go, in deference to the experts we have working on it now.