On a roughly 4-to-1 margin, retired state employees on Monday approved a settlement offer to resolve a court fight over the 2011 overhaul of the pension system. The fate of the settlement remains unclear since it still faces approval by a series of union groups, the General Assembly, and the Superior Court judge overseeing the case, Sarah Taft-Carter.
Multiple retirees leaving a closed meeting where the vote was announced say approval came on a margin of 1168 to 332 -- reflecting participation by a small fraction of state employees. Carly Iafrate, the lawyer representing retirees, declined comment, citing a gag order imposed by Taft-Carter.
Retirees who favored the deal say they liked the idea of resolving it and grasping certainty, rather than the unpredictability of a court fight that could stretch for years.
“Well, know I can plan and I know what I’m going to have and I can plan on adjustments I have to make financially to take care of my family’s future,” said retired teacher Bill Murphy.
Some other retirees attending a closed informational session at Twin River in Lincoln were sharply critical of a process they called unfair.
The latest settlement offer is similar to one narrowly rejected last year. It offers two one-time payments of $500 and bases cost of living adjustments on a slightly large amount, $30,000, as opposed to $25,000.
A series of union groups face a Friday deadline for voting on the proposed settlement. If the settlement does not move forward, a legal challenge to the 2011 pension overhaul is slated to begin in Superior Court April 20.
The 2011 overhaul reduced Rhode Island's long-term pension obligations by $4 billion -- a step that Governor Gina Raimondo -- who led the overhaul as state treasurer -- called vital for the pension plan's survival. Public-employee unions say changes to retirement ages and cost of living adjustments constituted a broken promise by the state, and they went to court to challenge it.