How Buddy Cianci predicted Providence’s pension crisis – and then made it worse

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Shortly after 2 p.m. on Sept. 17, 1996, then-Windfall Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. sat in small convention room on the third flooring of Metropolis Corridor munching on low-fats cookies as he was delivered beautiful information.

After years of unsuccessful authorized battles preventing the beneficiant retirement advantages awarded to a gaggle of former public security staff, new calculations confirmed Cianci wanted to greater than double Windfall’s annual contribution to the town’s pension system in his subsequent price range, from $19 million to $forty two million. And the funds would have to be elevated yearly.

“I feel the unions should be made conscious of this,” Cianci advised the Board of Funding Commissioners, the panel tasked with investing Windfall’s pension cash. “I imply, the town will not exist if we’ve got to provide you with this type of cash.”

Cianci, who served as chair of the investment board, was one of only 11 people in Committee Room A when he made his dire prediction that day. But like most public meetings in City Hall, this one was recorded and archived. The city clerk’s office is now in the process of publishing the recordings of many meetings online, shedding new light on how Providence got into such deep financial trouble that some have raised the prospect Rhode Island’s capital will go bankrupt.

A Target 12 review of more than 60 hours of newly-released recordings of investment board meetings between 1995 and 2002 shows Cianci and other officials were well aware then that the city’s unfunded pension liability was spiraling out of control, but none of the ideas they had for rescuing the system ever materialized.

Instead, records show the city failed to contribute more than $88 million it owed the pension system during that eight-year period, even as Cianci was reporting rosy annual operating surpluses every single year. In reality, if officials had made the full required payment to the retirement fund in each of those years, seven of Cianci’s final eight years in office would have resulted in deficits.

“The city was underpaying its pension system by about $15 million a year,” current Mayor Jorge Elorza told Target 12 in a recent interview. “Those underpayments, they add up.”

Now Elorza — the Democrat who defeated Cianci when he attempted to return to City Hall in 2014 — is…

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