The poor prospects for a pension settlement

Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter has ordered negotiations over a union lawsuit challenging the state's landmark pension reform bill.

I'd be surprised, though, if there's a pre-trial settlement.

Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who pushed the bill through the General Assembly and built a national reputation as a can-do pol in the process, has just released a statement saying she'll negotiate in "good faith." But she also emphasized the virtues of the bill - as passed - and the strength of the state's legal case.

Pension reform, meticulously built over an 11-month period, is Raimondo's signature achievement. And as she nears an expected gubernatorial run, it's difficult to imagine her acceding to a significantly watered-down law - particularly with her team so confident of the measure's constitutionality.

Bending now would be especially difficult given that Governor Chafee, a likely rival in the governor's race, so publicly called for voluntary negotiations before the judge's order - and Raimondo so publicly rejected the idea.

Indeed, the treasurer has projected competence and strength until now. Bowing to an unpopular rival would damage the brand.

There are also practical hurdles to a settlement. The state and the unions could, in theory, hammer out a deal. But neither has the power to make that deal the law of the land. They'd have to ask a third party - a General Assembly which expended significant political capital passing pension reform - to amend its prior work. Not an insurmountable problem, by any means, but surely an awkward one.

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