TOM WARD - On PawSox and pensions

TOM WARD - On PawSox and pensions

As a person who’s fiscally conservative in my politics, business, and life, I don’t like wasting money, and I hate it even more when politicians do. But sometimes, you have to spend a bit on arts, sports and culture. Why do middle class families go to Disney World instead of putting that money in the college fund and buying a kiddie pool instead? Because sometimes, you just need a bit of fun.

Even with all of Rhode Island’s troubles, this conservative supports the building of a new stadium as home for the Pawtucket Red Sox. Yes it bothers me that we spent a lot on McCoy Stadium only two decades ago. But it’s in the wrong place, and always was. With the end in sight for Apex downtown, an opportunity opens up for a stadium and park right off I-95. Frankly, I think that will help. “Out of sight ... out of mind” applies to McCoy Stadium, but that won’t be the case here.

I expect a spin-off of offices and restaurants, and I’m confident that the entrepreneurs in Pawtucket’s growing craft beer business will find a way to dovetail with the stadium and its fans.

Like my friend Arlene Violet, I do wonder if baseball is fading a bit. For the fans of the future, kids, the slowness of the game might fare poorly against video games. But the baseball gods know this, and are working on the game’s evolution. Hell, if I listened to “experts,” this newspaper would have died a decade ago. Somehow, it didn’t.

I completely disagree with those who compare this to 38 Studios and the taxpayer loss of about $75 million. The comparison of a hopeful video gamer and an established baseball team with a 40-year record is ridiculous. If the PawSox fail five years after building a stadium, I’ll eat my shirt. It won’t happen.

I support the new PawSox stadium, and urge legislators to do the same.

Fatima pension

Something has gone wrong with the pension plan for those who spent their careers at St. Joseph and Our Lady of Fatima hospitals. They are calling the plan “orphaned,” as in “pensioners are taking their benefits out, but nobody is putting money back in.”

How did this happen? First, how is it that a pension plan – any pension plan – that funds the retirement of more than 2,700 people goes “off the radar?” Who watches out for things like this? Hopefully, that’s what we’ll all find out in the next several months as Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio calls for an investigation.

In the meantime, I will admit my bias for my Church, and come to the defense of Bishop Thomas Tobin, a man who I think is being unfairly tarred. Please, spare me the sanctimonious talk from the moral and ethical high ground. Facts only, please. Show me evidence of his malfeasance, and he will lose my support. So far, though, this is what we know from Ethan Shorey’s story here last week, as well as articles in R.I. Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.

• The Diocese began the plan in 1965, and sold the hospital in 2009. Tobin told R.I. Catholic, the newspaper he is publisher of, that the “St. Joseph Health Board recognized a good number of years ago that this community hospital ... could no longer exist by itself.” It was sold, he said, “for the purpose of saving it.”

• At that time, the pension plan was 92 percent funded, and passed along to its new partners, CharterCARE.

• The Diocese has not managed the hospitals, or pension, since 2009. “The only role we have maintained,” says the bishop, is “to ensure the Catholic identity and mission from a spiritual point of view” at the hospitals.

• In 2014, the hospitals were sold again to the for-profit Prospect Medical Holdings. That sale was carefully vetted by the attorney general’s office, the Department of Health, the governing boards, and by the nurse’s union, which voiced its support.

• In 2014, Prospect added $14 million to the plan, bringing it up to 90 percent funded. Today, the plan is still 75 percent funded, but few dollars are being added.

Sadly, in the wake of the horrible clergy sex scandals of the past, it is now all too easy to point fingers at the Roman Catholic Church. “Guilty until proven innocent” is the new normal in secular America, and the cross the Church has been made to bear. Bishop Tobin claims he handed over a sound pension plan, and that it has been out of his purview since 2009. Time will tell. In the meantime, let’s get our facts straight and see if there’s a way to help the pensioners.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze.


Tom, some corrections
The hospital merged with Roger Williams in 2009 to become Charter Care. It was not sold until 2014.
The Pension was seriously underfunded in 2009. All the Actuary reports are on the Receiver’s website.
When the Hospital sold all of their assets to Prospect in 2014 they made a bad deal. The Pension was underfunded with no revenue coming in; which was a recipe for failure.
St Joseph Health Services of RI is the Corporation that filed for Receivership of the Pension