Who wins? Who loses?

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  December 29, 2010

Union officials are hoping their work pays off with an expansion of binding arbitration to settle contract disputes and with a law that would make it more difficult for construction companies, package-delivery firms, and other businesses to classify workers as contractors rather than full-time employees entitled to full benefits.

Chafee has voiced public support for some of the labor agenda — binding arbitration, for instance — but insists that he will not be a sop for union concerns. One possible point of conflict: pension reform.

While Democratic gubernatorial nominee Frank Caprio called for transition from a fixed-pension to a 401(k)-style pension for all state employees, Chafee did not go quite so far. He suggested that long-serving employees are entitled to the benefits they have long expected, while new employees and those with less than five years on the job should be enrolled in a hybrid system including 401(k)-style elements.

But even that proposal may not fly with labor. George Nee, president of the state AFL-CIO, says he understands that pension reform is "not going away." But after a series of changes over the last five years that have cut into retiree benefits, he suggests that public employees may have given enough already. "Quite frankly," Nee says, "it's time to start looking at other places."

After this fall's elections, legislators are sure to take Nee's advice seriously.

But change may be inevitable when it comes to creaking municipal pensions — a problem laid bare by Central Falls' fiscal crisis and surging media attention on near-bankrupt cities and towns across the country.


IMMIGRANTS

Chafee says his first act upon taking office will be lifting Governor Carcieri's controversial executive order cracking down on illegal immigration — making undocumented workers and Latinos fearing racial profiling among the clearest winners in the November election.

But this may be a one-off victory for one of the state's poorest populations, given the sizable deficits faced by the state and the almost inevitable cuts in social services.


ENVIRONMENT

Environmentalists are pleased with the ascension of Chafee, given the governor-elect's strong support for green causes as a US Senator.

Near the top of the agenda for activists: strengthening the Coastal Resources Management Council, an important regulatory agency that has been hamstrung since the separation-of-powers amendment was affixed to the state constitution in 2004 — stripping the legislature of the right to appoint to the 16-member board and leaving several vacancies on the panel.

Environmentalists also want the Chafee Administration to protect the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), which has taken some sharp budget blows in recent years.

John Torgan, director of advocacy for Save the Bay, says the early signals out of the Chafee camp are good — not the least of them, the appointment of Rhode Island Nature Conservancy Director Janet Coit, who enjoys broad support in the environmental community, as head of DEM.


BUSINESS

Business and economic development were at the center of Caprio and Republican nominee John Robitaille's gubernatorial campaigns. But not so much for Chafee, the man who won.

That has some in corporate Rhode Island wary of the incoming governor. Of particular concern: a proposed expansion of the sales tax to cover currently exempt items like food and clothing.

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