If you asked Rhode Island’s political and business leaders to name the No. 1 fiscal issue facing the state, taxes, plugging the $331 million fiscal 2012 deficit and jobs/economic development would all rightly get their share of votes.
But to General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, there’s one issue that tops them all – a massive unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion that annually steals an increasing share of resources that might otherwise be directed to resolve other budget ills.
The time for minor fixes around the edges, designed to appease public-employee unions, is over, she says. Only comprehensive reform, which by definition will likely include changes in benefits the state has already promised, will reverse the worsening cycle of annual budget deficits plaguing Rhode Island and, yes, other states.
Since her election, Raimondo has delivered the same sobering message at every opportunity, most recently last week at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s annual economic-outlook luncheon.
We applaud her use of the bully pulpit of her office to draw attention to long-term implications of a problem only recently quantified. But that is only the first step. The governor, lawmakers and state business leaders need to take action and turn Raimondo’s message into reform that drowns out self-interest in favor of the collective good.
The state’s long-term fiscal health depends on it. •