January 9, 2007

James Davey: Life Does Go On, Even When You’re Not Being Taxed to Death

Carroll Andrew Morse

Former State Representative James Davey sends Rhode Islanders a civic-postcard (actually a letter-to-the-editor in the Projo) from his new home in North Carolina…

In a Jan. 3 story, Cranston Fire Chief Richard Delgado was quoted as saying, in response to Mayor Michael Napolitano’s possible proposal to cut all departments’ spending by 5 percent, that: “It’d be very difficult. We’re down to bare bones.”

I suggest Chief Delgado contact the Cary, N.C., fire chief for suggested cost-saving measures. Cary has a population of 110,000 compared with Cranston’s 80,000, yet Cary’s fire department budget is 60 percent less, at $15.4 million, compared with Cranston’s $24.6 million.

Of course, the fact that there are no public-sector unions in North Carolina is a major reason Cary’s costs — and taxes — are much lower than Cranston’s….I also compared the police budgets. Cranston’s, including the animal control function, is $17.7 million. Cary’s, including the animal control function, is 15 percent less, at $15.4 million. How does Cary do it and still be acclaimed as one of the 10 safest cities in America for six years in a row?

Projo columnist Edward Achorn gives his thoughts on Representative Davey’s letter in today's paper...
Which state is more interested in serving the common interest, rather than the special interests? Which state is drawing in the middle class? Which is losing middle-class taxpayers? Which state is creating more jobs? Which is attracting more tax-paying retirees?

One doesn’t require an advanced degree in economics to answer those questions.

The problem with Rhode Island government has never been a lack of tax dollars. It’s governance. Until the state is better governed, its middle-class citizens will confront strong incentives to leave, in spite of all the things they love about this delightful and beautiful state.

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Management studies need to be made in government.However the will and desire need to be present to do them and get that information.There are those who obviously will discourage or fight them.In Rhode Island they would be difficult to do for obvious political reasons!
Since education is the bulk of local property taxes this is not mentioned.A couple of years ago I moved to cut two million dollars from the Chariho budget while local area Town Council members just essentially watched!I had just months earlier lost re-election to my Hopkinton Town Council seat.
The real kicker the Chair of the Chariho Regional School Committee who was visibly upset followed me out in the parking lot!Then at a later workshop which I did not attend I was critcized for not telling them where to make the cuts.As you know the schools get a bottom line budget.They can and do move things around in their budget.The school establishment which frequently likes to cite contractual and mandated costs in their budget never really wants to identify them!
Scott Bill Hirst
Member,Hopkinton,R.I.,Town Council,1996-2004;

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at January 9, 2007 11:00 AM

Perhaps the great disparity has to do with the fact that the average cost to the citizens of Cranston for each member of the Cranston Firefighters Union is $100,000 - BEFORE any overtime. When you include overtime, the average cost to the citizens of Cranston is well into six figures - for FIREFIGHTERS!
Now I have nothing against firefighters, but I am going to suggest that if Cranston advertised for qualified individuals to fill those jobs at 60% of the current pay and benefits, they would have a line from Edgewood to City Hall. With a full pension paid after working for only twenty years, I think they could fill those jobs for far less cost to the taxpayers, without losing one iota of service. Think about that for a second - a guy gets on the department at age 22, he retires at 42, and after 7 years of retirement the COLA's in his union contract bring his retirement pay back to what he was paid while working, and it's up from there - for the rest of his life. Are they crazy!? Is that really fair?
And, why can the city of Cranston NOT save that money for their taxpayers? It is the universal answer to all municipalities' financial woes - it's the unions, stupid! All over this state the unions are fleecing the taxpayers. The only thing they don't have is a gun.

Posted by: JSheehan at January 9, 2007 11:18 AM

Hell, most of Cranston could be very well served by VOLUNTEER firefighters. My father has been a volunteer for 25 years and I even did it for a couple of years before joining the service. You get exceptionally skilled people who do it ONLY because they love it at ZERO cost to the taxpayer after equipment upkeep.

Posted by: Greg at January 9, 2007 11:24 AM

Mr. Davey was probably one of the best state reps we ever had, even if he was only with us a short time.

I wish him very well in North Carolina, where the grass grows green, the streets are clean, and the taxes are low.

This state sometimes seems beyond "hope" -- to borrow the state motto. I often ask myself "why am I still here in RI?" I guess I'm a glutton for punishment.

Posted by: Will at January 9, 2007 1:28 PM


My wife and I have already seriously begun the "Why don't we move to Attleboro?" conversation. The commute to work isn't significantly affected, but our wallets sure are.

Posted by: Greg at January 9, 2007 1:33 PM

I live about a mile from Seekonk, MA myself, so I've definitely thought of fleeing. I intentionally shop there all the time, because if it's lower sales tax -- and to deprive our state of revenue to waste. Our family contracting business already has fled RI. We used to be based in East Providence, but now we're based out of Seekonk. The difference is even larger for businesses than it is for individuals. Check out the differences in the number and quality of the stores and restaurants in EP versus Seekonk, and you'll be able to immediately tell the difference. When Taxachusetts seems like a haven, you know we're in serious trouble. It's not sustainable.

Posted by: Will at January 9, 2007 5:31 PM

Ah, Will:

Don't tell that to Kate Brewster and her friends at the Poverty Institute! In one of the Projo's great feats of irony, the juxtaposition of Achorn's column today versus Mayerwitz's story on the PI's call for higher taxes was beyond priceless.

The only interesting question is what is going on inside the heads of Kate and her crew. Do they really believe that higher taxes won't hurt RI? Or do they simply not care whether public employee pensions get cut, just as long as our welfare programs remain untouched?

One thing is for sure: the answer will become clear between now and the final budget vote in the General Assembly in June or July.

Posted by: John at January 9, 2007 7:31 PM

"Or do they simply not care whether public employee pensions get cut, just as long as our welfare programs remain untouched?"

A couple of years ago, Governor Carcieri went to several cities and towns around the state to talk about the importance of reform to public pensions. At one of these meetings, a teacher stood up and asked him why so much of the state budget was being spent on social programs when the public pensions were not properly funded. The Governor tactfully responded that that was a good question for the General Assembly, who set spending priorities. I would add that a lot of us wonder about the priorities of the Gen Assembly.

This is a good opportunity to state that I was mistaken when I said that Rhode Island offers better welfare benefits than its neighbors. This is not the case. It is not much comfort to think that Mass also offers five years of benefits.

Welfare was started forty years ago with the best intentions. It is now being planned around and is the driver of bad decisions - most of all, bad for children.

There is no question that Rhode Island is a destination state (along with Mass and other New England states) for its social programs. Considering the dubious merits of such programs both for recipients and as public policy, it would be reasonable for the General Assembly to make adjustments so that this was no longer the case.

Posted by: SusanD at January 10, 2007 9:04 PM

I was never a volunteer firfighter but was a Fire Commissioner(a member of the governing board) of the Ashaway,R.I.,Fire District from 1994-97.
I really cannot think of a better cost deal for taxpayers than Rhode Island's numerous volunteer fire depts.Labor costs saved are phenomenal.
Some volunteer depts. may have a few full time jobs and/or pay a stipend but it is well worth it in cost savings.In Westerly that has over a popualtion of 20,000 there are several fire districts but still volunteers with some full time paid staff and others with stipemds.Westerly has no municipal fire dept.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at January 11, 2007 1:42 PM