By KATHERINE GREGG
Journal State House Bureau
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Governor Carcieri is using a paid radio ad to promote his stalled, months-old proposal to save $45 million in state and local dollars by eliminating the promise of annual pension increases to future retirees.
In the ad, paid for by unidentified donors to his nonpublic TransformRIaccount, Governor Carcieri cites the projected $9.4 billion in unfunded retiree health and pension commitments, and says: "This is neither fair to the taxpayers nor sustainable without raising taxes.''
"Call your state senator and representative and tell them they must reduce these pension and retiree health benefits. Tell them you refuse to pay any more taxes to support them. The General Assembly has a responsibility to use taxpayers' hard-earned money wisely. They have an obligation to enact reforms that will make the pension system fairer and more affordable to taxpayers.
"It is time to bring our public retirement benefits in line with those of the private sector ... and it is time for real pension reform.''
The governor has leaned on his nonpublic TransformRI account since closing out his public campaign finance account a year ago, and removing himself from the limitation of state campaign finance law, which prohibits corporate donations to campaign accounts, and limits individual contributions to $1,000 per year.
According to its Web site, TransformRI is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)4, which means it is allowed to lobby and engage in campaign activity. Carcieri is the honorary chairman of the nonpublic organization.
When TransformRI financed a Carcieri campaign to promote corporate tax cuts last June, then state Democratic chairman Bill Lynch demanded that he disclose his corporate donors. Said Lynch at the time: "Rhode Islanders have a right to know which companies are behind or at least aiding the governor's media blitz to cut corporate taxes at the expense of the middle class. ... Who gave what and how much to push this corporate-tax giveaway?"
But Carcieri refused then, and he and the contact person for TransformRI, insurance company owner Anthony Bucci, refused again on Friday to disclose the donors. Bucci also refused to provide the latest IRS filing for the organization.
All Bucci would acknowledge is that the $22,000 ad buy started running on Friday on WHJJ, Lite 105 and WPRO; that "the ads were completely paid for by TransformRI,'' and that "the donors are a spectrum of individuals and non individuals.'' He refused to say if the "non individuals'' included corporations that would have been banned if the governor had been willing to abide by the state's campaign finance law.
The latest Carcieri radio ad hit the airwaves days before House and Senate budget-writers are expected to go public with their own version of the $220 million deficit-closing plan he proposed last December. His proposal relied heavily on public employee pension cuts and mid-year reductions in promised municipal and education aid.
Key lawmakers -- including House Speaker Gordon Fox -- have indicated their unwillingness to eliminate the cost-of-living-adjustment increases entirely. But with time running out to plug the current-year hole, they have acknowledged looking asking the state's actuary to run the numbers on other possible COLA-reducing alternatives.
They are also looking at a refinancing of the state's massive pension debt, to save money now by stretching the payments over a longer period of time.