TOM WARD - For taxpayers, pensioners, invest 'our' money wisely

TOM WARD - For taxpayers, pensioners, invest 'our' money wisely

Well, it looks like we're going to have quite a race for state officers in Rhode Island next year. With term-limited Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis being forced from their offices, as well as a likely vacancy in Gen. Treasurer Gina Raimondo's office, things will get pretty lively.

Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, a Democrat, is expected to make his formal announcement for lieutenant governor next Wednesday, Nov. 13, in Providence.

As for the governor's race, in the past few weeks we've had Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, a Democrat, announce that he's in. Ken Block, a businessman and founder of the Moderate Party, has put that third-party effort behind him and will run for the Republican nomination against Cranston Mayor Alan Fung, who announced Monday. And North Providence's Mollis, who's indicated an interest in the lieutenant governor's seat, held a summer fundraiser that raised about $45,000, his latest campaign finance report shows.

All eyes remain on Raimondo, a Democrat and the architect of the state's 2011 pension reform. Her campaign war chest of $2.3 million far outguns other candidates.

Oops. Maybe I shouldn't have used the word "outguns." We learned recently that Raimondo - or the State Investment Commission which she chairs, more correctly - will be taking $2 million of the state's pension funds away from United Sporting Companies, a distributor of firearms as well as hunting supplies. The money will go instead to other investments.

I have noted here on more than one occasion that I was very impressed two years ago by what the courageous Raimondo pulled off with pension reform. Using simple mathematics, she thoughtfully brought both the Democrat General Assembly and state pensioners to the unmistakable conclusion that the pension system would eventually go broke, ruining pensioners at a point in their lives when they could least afford benefit cuts. Labor leaders fought for the status quo, and by default, much higher taxes. In the end, pensioners had their annual cost-of-living (COLA) raises taken away until the pension fund gets stronger. On top of that, new teachers and state employees are in new plans which will force them to work longer and offer far less in benefits down the road.

Because of Raimondo's work, Rhode Island taxpayers have already saved hundreds of millions of dollars, not having been made to pay "the tax increases that never were." Huge tax increases would have been forced on all of us in 2011 without pension reform, tax increases could come back should labor prevail over the state and Raimondo in their court challenge.

But I want to get back to guns, and any investments that are made on behalf of pensioners. My feeling: Raimondo ought to be investing in the best-run companies that offer the best possible returns. (Candidate Block agrees.) If those investments are in guns, or tobacco, or liquor, so be it. Call me greedy and insensitive if you like, but I don't think political correctness has any place in investing. Why? Because I want our pension fund to grow, and grow as rapidly as possible. When the fund becomes stronger, pensioners can start getting cost-of-living adjustments again (though frankly, COLA benefits should be limited to the lower-paid pensioners, at least at the start).

I understand the emotion around the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But you don't see Connecticut kicking the very successful Sturm, Ruger & Co. out of the state. Sturm, Ruger's stock has gone up 110 percent in the past two years. Altria, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, is up 37 percent (with another 10 percent in dividends). Liquor maker Diageo is up 50 percent. "Warmonger" Lockheed Martin's stock is up 80 percent. Do we avoid them, too?

Said Raimondo about the state's divestment of money from United Sporting: "I feel strongly about this. There are better, safer ways to make money."

I sure hope she's right. Political correctness be damned! Pensioners - and taxpayers - deserve the best possible outcomes with that money - our money.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers