Providence Mayor Angel Taveras now joins General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Central Falls receiver Bob Flanders in a very exclusive group of Rhode Islanders. You’ve heard of the Promise Keepers, right? Well, these three are the promise breakers.
All three have asked retirees, in no uncertain terms, to give up a portion of the post-employment benefits that they previously negotiated for and agreed upon. They asked for a contractual mulligan, if you will.
Not that Taveras, Raimondo and Flanders don’t each have difficult situations to deal with – they do. But while fiscal health is important, so is being known as a community that keeps its word. And at this rate, Rhode Island is in grave danger of being known as the state where contracts are made to be broken.
This won’t serve the state well in any future negotiation, even if it’s with a big company looking for a tax incentive to relocate here. If we did it to the people who served and protected us, they might reason, why would they not also do it to us?
But on a more elemental level, faith in government is really all that holds us together as a civic community. Once we can’t trust our government to keep its word, all bets (and social contracts) are off. I’m not saying we’re there, or even close, but we should certainly do whatever we can do to avoid that path altogether.
Give Taveras credit here. Of the three promise breakers, he has leaned the least on the contractual mulligan strategy. Before going to the retirees, he raised taxes significantly and fought hard to raise revenue through other means, most notably by begging the colleges and hospitals to ante up as well.
And he has been pretty honest about his ask. When I asked him prior to Saturday how he felt about asking for such concessions, he was pretty blunt about it: “A lot of people have gone forward based on promises that have been made and most of them have kept their side of the bargain. Obviously the city is at this point saying we need to change our side of the bargain and that is always a difficult thing.”
At his plea to retirees on Saturday, he repeated several times, I’m told, that his ask was by no means fair. He repeated it to Ted Nesi later in the day.
Raimondo, on the other hand, sold her pension-cutting plan under the banner of being fair, that is when she wasn’t fist-pumping to the pro-business crowd. And Flanders … well, I’d be surprised if the concept of fair ever even occurred to him. He simply threatened to behead retirees if they didn’t agree to his pension-slashing terms. Seriously, he told them “a hair cut is better than a beheading.”
In the short term, Taveras’ more humanistic approach may save fewer dollars. But it’s little wonder he’s the most popular pol in the state. And in the long run, that kind of political capital can get you a lot more concessions than deception or decapitation.