Rhode Island's multi-billion dollar pension dispute appears headed to a September 15 trial date in Superior Court after a breakdown in attempts to resolve the conflict through mediation.
Each side blamed the other for the impasse following more than a year of talks.
Ray Sullivan, spokesman for the coalition of public-employee unions in the case, says state lawyers informed the plaintiff coalition Friday morning they were ending mediation. "The plaintiffs abided by the judge’s order to explore a path to a new settlement agreement, but the state decided it would rather pursue costly and drawn out litigation rather than reach a reasonable agreement to guarantee stability and predictability to the pension system," Sullivan says in a statement. "We are now prepared to take the necessary steps in proceeding to trial."
In a joint statement, Governor Lincoln Chafee and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo blame "a small group of union members" for bringing the settlement process to a close. In a statement, they say, "We find this disappointing and frustrating. While we are disappointed this settlement was not ultimately able to come to fruition, we continue to believe that the pension changes enacted by our General Assembly are constitutional, the State has strong legal arguments to support its positions and will begin to prepare for litigation."
A proposed pension settlement announced February 14 would have preserved about 94 percent of the savings from an overhaul of the pension system spearheaded by Raimondo in 2011. The treasurer and Chafee called that preferable to a possibly adverse outcome in court.
One of six union groups that had to offer initial approval for the settlement rejected it last week.
Billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded benefits are on the line. Regardless of the outcome of a trial in Superior Court, the case is expected to eventually land with the Rhode Island Supreme Court.