Rhode Island taxpayers, long victims of outrageous schemes to benefit politically connected unions, are right to be very suspicious of a new piece of State House shenanigans, almost hidden in the rush of last-minute votes before the session ends.
A bill requiring taxpayers to put $250,000 in a second pension fund for 1,100 state workers in the Laborers International Union of North America whipped through the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday night and the Senate Wednesday before the public could grasp what was happening and respond. The skids had evidently been greased. By the time you read this, it may have become law.
The bill is the work of Governor Almond. What does he gain by ramming through this last-minute favor for that union? Could it be because the Laborers union's leaders backed his election in 1994 and 1998? Is this payback? Sen. Michael Lenihan spoke for the taxpayers, asking whether the bill could be putting Rhode Island "on the hook and making it fiscally responsible for a pension system over which it has no control."
Governor Almond's spokesperson contends this measure is harmless, that it will cost the taxpayers nothing extra, that it merely provides a "mechanism" for the state to divert to a pension fund part of the salary increases it has promised civilian employees of the state police and three other Laborers unions representing people who work in the courts, the state Department of Transportation, the Zambarano unit of the Eleanor Slater Hospital, and other smaller state agencies.
If it is so minor, why the last-minute rush, with little opportunity for public scrutiny? Why is the state involved in funneling money into a pension fund run by a union that has had longstanding ties to organized crime and whose $250,000-a-year president emeritus, Arthur Coia, is now serving probation on felony counts? Why not just leave it to the union members to spend their own money as they please, without the state's direct involvement? If this were so innocent, it surely could have withstood the light of public discussion.