Ralph White, Fiscal Conservative

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I attended another meeting of the Special Commission on Pension Reform this week and was entertained, as always.

– The representative from the Auditor’s office had his delicate sensitivities hurt by the chair’s statement that if anyone wanted to defend termination pensions, they should be prepared to do so at the meeting.

– PERAC Commissioner Joe Connarton crudely mocked the Vice Chair of the Commission Peter Diamond (a professor at MIT with some experience in the topic). The irony of the situation was that Diamond was trying to make room in the discussion for a proposal from one of the state’s labor unions.

– The Chair of the Commission Alicia Munnell repeatedly referred to Kyle Cheney, a journalist with State House News Service, as “some blogger”.

[CORRECTION: A reliable source informs that my comment above is unfair to Mr. Cheney and possibly Ms. Munnell. Apparently, Ms. Munnell was referring to a post from my esteemed colleague, Liam Day, which contained a quote from Mr. Cheney’s article. Sorry about the error. ]

– Once again, the tenor of the discussion was reluctant and halting. Most everyone seemed interested in not concluding anything (even an interim report that contained ‘nothing’ was rejected) and pointing out the difficult questions around each piece of reform.

– My colleague, who has several years experience in state government (in another state), said he had never seen anything like it.

But the most interesting part of the meeting for me was a series of statements by Ralph White, head of MassRetirees. We’ve butted heads in the past, particularly over last year’s attempt to increase the COLA base (see link for our tortured take on the issue).

Mr. White walked the Commission through the history of the COLA (cost of living increase). He noted that “we recognize now is not the time for a COLA increase….we are not going to get a COLA this year or next year”.

I was particularly impressed by his repeated insistence that any increase in the COLA (or other pension benefits) “was going to be a problem for older cities”.

Given the tenor of the discussion, which included the House chair of the public service committee musing (again) that the Commission should not stick to a cost-neutral position, Mr. White’s statement was a welcome dose of fiscal and political reality.