Thursday, July 21, 2011

Letter to Governor Chafee and public pensions

Below you will find my recent letter to Governor Chafee that addresses problems with the actions taken in Central Falls regarding the stripping of publicly earned pensions. While the jury is still out on this, it was important for me to state my position and hope that government does the right thing. We can't exist like Germany in the 1930's with wealth being stripped from a select group of people. In Germany, it was the Jews while in America, it seems to be the public employees. Republicans continue to scapegoat public employees and it needs to stop. Besides the attack on public pensions, this year in Rhode Island all longevity increases for state employees was stricken from the law. In Rhode Island, employees enjoyed a 5% bump in pay 4 times throughout their career. That right was taken away without negotiation. Let's hope that Rhode Island's Governor can make a national statement. He has before.

The Honorable Governor Lincoln Chafee

Office of the Governor

222 State House

Providence, RI 02903-1196 July 21, 2011

Dear Governor Chafee:

I could not get much sleep last night thinking about the plight of retired public employees in Central Falls. What is currently happening is reprehensible, morally wrong and, quite possibly, illegal. This country is approaching a precipice and I think it is up to you to stand strong and correct injustice.

The consequence of government action amounts to the taking of wealth from a select group of people (public employee retirees) and reminds me of the taking of wealth from the Jews by the Germans of the 1930’s. Removing the hard earned rights to a pension will result in a waterfall of events that include; foreclosures, personal bankruptcy, inability to enjoy your last years by eating out in Central Falls restaurants, court actions involving alimony payments and significant marital stress.

Beyond the consequences, I want to talk about the legality of such takings. To begin with, the United States Constitution has established priorities for payments of public debt. The validity of the public debt of the United States…including debts incurred for payment of pensions … shall not be questioned.” U.S. Constitution, Article XIV, Section 4. While the clause uses the “United States”, Congress has clearly elevated the importance of paying pensions when considering the public debt. If I read this amendment like most people read the second amendment (eliminating part of the sentence) than the taking of pensions is unconstitutional.

I want to look a little closer at the Rhode Island Constitution and Article 1, Section 2 says a whole lot. I’m talking here about tax burdens being equally distributed. “…the burdens of the state ought to be fairly distributed among its citizens…” Confiscating wealth of retirees is an unfair distribution of the burden of debt. Government has its way to correct short budgets through taxation. This taxation should be equally shared by all and retirees should not have to folk over half of their earned pensions. By doing so, the public employee becomes the scapegoat, stripped of earned benefits, robbed of their future and paying a higher tax levy to government.

Additionally, Rhode Island has not exhausted its taxing potential and laws that eliminate the sales tax from the boats and yachts that line Narragansett Bay is not constitutionally sound. In this instance, wealthy citizens that can afford the toys of the Bay are excluded from taxation forcing higher burdens on everyone else.

Furthermore, when discussing options for solving pension issues for state employees, the Rhode Island Constitution is very clear. “No ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, shall be passed” RI Constitution, Article 1, Section 12. It is my strong belief that retiree agreements in state government must be met. I have no problem with amending the system for future retirees, but existing retirees should not be obligated to pay a higher tax burden. The Constitution of RI is clear; the burden must be shared equally.

Governor Chafee; I have seen you stand tall many times in the past. I could never forget you standing tall in the Senate when it came to Iraq. I remember you standing tall on the changing of the name of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations by pointing out that the U.S. Constitution would have to be changed. You brought this to light after years of hemming and hawing in this state. I fully appreciate your understanding of constitutional law.

I am no lawyer, but what is occurring now in Rhode Island will spread throughout this country. We need to be making statements about the importance of maintaining the public trust. I was almost denied a mortgage refinance because the bank held feelings that public pensions may be pulled. We need you to stand tall and do what is right. Please do what is morally right. Protect public pensions and share the burden of taxation to fix the problems. Please make a statement now that gets the attention of everyone across this country. You have done it before and I hope you will do it again. I’m counting on you. You are my friend.



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