That didn’t take long. On Monday came news that the proposed state pension settlement unveiled on Valentine’s Day has hit a seemingly major roadblock, with one of six groups of impacted workers and retirees – police personnel – voting to reject the deal.
Under the terms of the agreement made behind closed doors by the state and the unions, that would result in the continuation of litigation.
Maneuvering, apparently, is underway to find an alternative allowing for the settlement to proceed. The judge in the case has ordered the parties back into mediation, with a follow-up report on those talks set for April 14. A spokesman for the unions, in a statement announcing the results of the vote, emphasized that more than 70 percent of the more than 23,000 who cast ballots did not oppose the deal.
The pension issue has, since day one, been contentious, and the recent settlement – which has drawn scorn from some on both sides – was destined to be the subject of controversy. It does seem, though, that much of the anger, confusion and outright derision the agreement and its approval process have elicited in the last several weeks constitutes self inflicted damage.
The voting – a strange process in which only those opposed were asked to respond – has been marred by reports of ballots arriving in duplicate, going to the wrong home, or not coming at all. Given the “opt-in to opt-out” nature of the vote, it was also fair to wonder how fair a gauge it would be – and whether a favorable outcome was already assured.
That clearly wasn’t the case, although backers of the negotiated deal aren’t wrong to note that, ultimately, the agreement has been torpedoed by a small segment of the overall group represented by the plaintiffs. That, if anything, points to the flawed nature of the approval process, which would as outlined still have multiple steps – including judicial involvement, yet another vote and the backing of the General Assembly – remaining.
If, now, the ground rules are altered to allow the deal to proceed, the perception will be that the approval process – or, at least, the voting – was never taken seriously. Many, if they haven’t already, will assume the settlement will be pushed to the finish line – or as close as its backers can get it – regardless of what else happens.
Monday’s developments also make even slimmer the odds that state lawmakers, in an election year, will take up the settlement for debate and approval. New House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, in his public comments, has certainly seemed anything but eager to address the matter anytime soon.
The pension issue is of enormous importance to this state. There are billions of dollars on the line, along with thousands of livelihoods. Some challenge the very legality of reforms, while others believe the state made needless concessions through negotiations. Many on both sides want to see the issue decided in court, providing a definitive conclusion.
These are serious questions, warranting serious debate. Sadly, what’s at the forefront now is a flawed process.