- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello on Thursday called the process to reach a proposed settlement in the legal fight over Rhode Island’s pension overhaul “frustrating” and said he believes the law would withstand a challenge in court.

During a taping of Rhode Island Public Radio’s “Political Roundtable,” the newly elected speaker said he will study the proposal if it makes it to the General Assembly but he would not commit to holding a vote.

“I will certainly look at it, I will certainly consider it if it gets to us and I’ll certainly consider all options,” said Mattiello, D-Cranston.

The proposed settlement would resolve legal challenges filed by unions and retirees over the 2011 law, which hiked retirement ages and suspended pension increases in an effort to save Rhode Island an estimated $4 billion over the next 20 years.

The deal, announced in February by Gov. Lincoln Chafee and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, was the result of more than a year of closed-door settlement talks that did not include state legislators. The settlement has to be approved by public workers and retirees in a complicated voting process now underway.

If the General Assembly alters, rejects or ignores it, the settlement would be nullified and the lawsuit would proceed. A trial date has been set for Sept. 15.

“The process has been frustrating from the legislative viewpoint,” Mattiello said on “Political Roundtable,” which airs Friday. “We passed a bill that we were informed had to be designed a certain way to shore up the pension system. We were told that it would sustain legal challenge and I believe that it would - or it will.”

He said the settlement crafted during the court-ordered mediation was then effectively handed to the General Assembly, with this instruction: “You have to pass it exactly as is.”

“That’s not a typical legislative process,” he said.

Mattiello was elected speaker Tuesday after Gordon Fox’s Statehouse office and home were raided last week by federal and state authorities and he resigned the House’s top post. Fox has not commented on the investigation and authorities have declined to say whether he is a target.

Mattiello, who has installed a new leadership team, appointed new committee chairs and pledged to set a different tone, took over at the critical midpoint of the legislative session with the crafting of the state budget for the coming fiscal year still ahead.

Asked how his success should be measured, Mattiello said he had only about half the legislative session left, and that he would need more time.

“I only have 100 days,” Mattiello said on the radio segment. “I’m going to do the best I can through this session and work as hard as I can to get re-elected. I hope and anticipate being speaker in January.

“The expectation right now that the world is going to be transformed in 100 days is probably unrealistic,” he said. “I ask everybody to work with me, to stick with me, to help me, to collaborate. And we’re going to do a good job - but I need and want one entire term to make my mark.”

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