PAWTUCKET – General Treasurer Gina Raimondo still isn’t making any commitments to run for governor next year, but she told the Pawtucket Rotary Club Thursday that, if she does run her top priority would be to create job opportunities for Rhode Island.
Noting that the statistic quoted for unemployment in Rhode Island is above 9 percent (9.1), Raimondo told the Rotarians that if you count people with part-time jobs who want full-time employment, the rate is actually closer to 17 percent.
“That is the issue,” she said. “How many people do you know who say, ‘there are no jobs here for our kids, all my kids are leaving’?”
The Democrat pledged that “If I run and if I win, I will take all the skill and passion” that she has put toward pension reform and apply it to bringing down the unemployment rate.
In a brief speech followed by a question-and-answer session, Raimondo said she is sticking to a schedule of making a decision on the governor’s race “by the end of the year.”
If she were to make a bid for governor, the field of opponents has started to take shape.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, a Democrat, and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a Republican, have each announced their bids in the past two weeks. Declared candidate Ken Block, who announced his candidacy months ago, recently revealed that he will run as a Republican.
That leaves Raimondo and Clay Pell, the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell as potential candidates who have yet to take the plunge.
Asked after the event if there is a possibility that she could still run for a second term as treasurer, Raimondo told The Times, “of course.”
One question from the audience concerned the heat she has taken for what have been called excessive fees the state is paying to managers of hedge funds and for other alternative investments.
“I do think it is important to realize where the criticism is coming from,” Raimondo said. “The union leadership has spent tens of thousands of dollars to come after me. The reports you are reading in the paper isn’t necessarily true. It should be seen for what it is, a paid-for political hit job.
“Our allocation to alternative assets is slightly less the average pension funds around the country,” she asserted. “It’s all about what you are going to get for your fees. If you pay fees to protect yourself from the downside, then it is money well spent.
“For example, in 2008 and 2009, when the market crashed, the state pension system lost nearly $2 billion in value,” Raimondo said, adding that if the pension fund money were allocated then the way it is now, “we would have saved $500 million.”
She told the group that is her job to protect the pension system and, with the way the fund’s assets are now invested, “we will lose less money the next time the market crashes.”
Last year, she said, the pension fund earned 11 percent “net of all fees and expenses.”
Protecting the value of the fund is important, Raimondo said, pointing to the pain created when Central Falls went bankrupt and slashed the pension payments to retirees.
“In Central Falls, they went to people who are 70 and 80 years old and cut their pensions in half,” she said. As a result, “these people are losing their homes, they can’t buy their groceries, they can’t pay for health care.”
Raimondo said, “it is really sad that politicians have anything to do with pensions. There shouldn’t be politics involved with anybody’s pension.”
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