March 31, 2009

Funding Cranston

Carroll Andrew Morse

At last night's meeting of the Cranston City Council, Mayor Allan Fung offered his budget for fiscal year 2009-2010, and his plans for closing this year's large budget deficit.

Mayor Fung began by relating the budget situation in Cranston to the national and state situaion: "Cranston, like every municipality in the state, is living through an economic crisis unparalelled for our generation".

Turning the focus to more local matters, Mayor Fung outlined the recent history of Cranston's budget issues – union concessions budgeted for but not achieved, a $2.9 million dollar overrun in total expenses and unrealistic expectations for interest income, for starters. The result: a deficit for this fiscal year, from expenses too high plus revenues to low, of about $7.4 million.

The Mayor is proposing two sets of actions to get to the end of this fiscal year: 1) Layoffs over the next several weeks and 2) tapping the rainy day fund for this fiscal year.

The Mayor also provided an update of the status of police union negotiations and other union negotiations in Cranston, outlined his steps on dealing with two drivers of continuing deficits that don't always get the attention they deserve, pension payments and other debt payments, and offered an update on Cranston's never ending battle between the School Committee and the rest of city government.

The bottom line tax number for next year is a 5.46% increase in the City's total tax levy, which will require going beyond this year's tax cap figure of 4.75%. And in summation, "there's no one that's going to bail us out of this crisis ".

Finally, I'll make a special note of one short but important and very fiscally conservative statement made by Mayor Fung.

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You've got to give credit to the far left agitators because it seems that when they make fun of us - they're often holding up a mirror, shiney side towards us.

It seems we are acknowledging our desperation when we classify such plain truth and common sense as "important and very fiscally conservative".

Now if the Mayor had said it's the taxpayer's money, we're taking too much of it, and we have a plan to take less! Now that's fiscally conservative.

Posted by: George at April 1, 2009 4:01 PM


There's more to being fiscally conservative than calling for arbitrary cuts in one area of the budget at one time. There are bunches of anti-war groups in this country that would like to slash the defense budget;it doesn't make them fiscal conservatives. John Kerry isn't a fiscal conservative because he wanted to gut the national intelligence budget in the 1990s. Fiscal conservatism is about figuring out the few things you think the government should be doing, then making sure it has the money to do them well, but that programs are being run efficiently. Running police and fire departments is one of the things that most fiscal conservatives believe that government should be doing well.

Even in the private sector, the goal isn't to spend less each year, or to run with less staff each year -- if you think that's the case, then your model for private-sector leadership is the current business management of the Projo. Rather, the goal is to spend what you need to build a successful organization over the long term. The difference is, in the private sector, it's a little easier to measure success through the balance sheet. In the public sector, the value of the public goods delivered is a little trickier to determine, i.e. how much does an increase in crime actually "cost"?

But deciding that cuts are the only priority doesn't make someone a fiscal conservative as much as it makes them Dilbert's boss, the guy who wonders if he can cut costs enough to turn a profit without having to sell anything.

(And by your reasoning, doesn't Steve Laffey lose his fiscal conservative credentials for increasing from 149 to 153 police officers over his term of office?)

Posted by: Andrew at April 2, 2009 8:36 AM

You can come up with an infinite number of examples to spin the story however you'd like for your new favorite mayor. My points are: 1. The police contract is like a shell game with no concessions that guarrantee any long-term benefit to the taxpayers. 2. The relationship between the administration and the union is harmful to the taxpayers. 3. The administration's feable deal with the police allows the Democrats to steal the 20% co-pay idea and run with it. 4. Colluding with the union against the top brass of the department, (professional, trained and experienced men who rose through the ranks of the department) is a move that is sure to lead to more crime. 5. Raiding the rainy day fund is a foolish move that will probably lead to a lower bond rating, higher borrowing cost to the city and eventually even higher taxes.

You sound like you've bought Lincoln Chafee's definition of fiscal conservative... "as long as I keep the budget balanced with higher taxes, I get awards from the Concord Coalition, so I must be a fiscal conservative"

I'm not just looking for fiscal conservatism, I'm looking for Economic Conservatism, a conservatism that doesn't plug holes with half-fixes, but one with long term solutions that give people greater freedom from oppressive big government.

I don't know the details of police staffing under Laffey, but I do know an independent audit showed that Fire was grossly overstaffed and Police was about right or maybe slightly under. I'm sure Laffey would have cut FD staff if there was a way he could. What I do know is that Laffey negotiated real, long term reductions in health care costs in the contracts he negotiated and he didn't have to jump in bed with anybody. Laffey's moves eventually led to lower taxes. That is what I expect from a "conservative"!

Posted by: George at April 2, 2009 12:02 PM

Another thing - suddenly, 20% co-shares have become "arbitrary". Isn't that the one thing most non-connected ordinary citizens have all agreed on and heralded on this blog as THE VERY LEAST THEY COULD DO!

That's very low hanging fruit and right now, it looks like Councilman Navarro has the better reach!

Posted by: George at April 2, 2009 2:34 PM


You're right it's not arbitrary. I'd forgotten that the City Council had insisted on 20% across-the-board co-shares in the laborer's negotiations. Oh, wait...

Stepping back to take the broader view, in 3 out of the 4 years of the Laffey administration, Cranston’s city budget grew (and that’s after you back out the school committee numbers). In that period, there was one year when the police budget declined (but was partially made up retroactively, two years later). Every other year saw a police budget increase. The fire department budget also grew every year. So Steve Laffey is an economic conservative to you, because he got a police budget reduction in one year. Allan Fung is not a economic conservative to you, because it looks like he’s only going to get a police budget reduction in one year (after being in office for less than 3 months) and the Cranston City Council who budgeted a pay freeze that they didn’t do anything to achieve (and now says doesn’t really count as savings), underbudgeted the fire department between 1 and 2 million dollars, and sometimes want 20% co-shares but sometimes don’t, are your idea of up-and-coming economic conservatives. I don’t think you’re being completely coherent here.

I don’t know what Allan Fung’s record will look like two years from now, but if the numbers in the current budget are what he was planning to achieve through his original proposal, I don’t see how the current police contract issue is proof of his lack of fiscal conservatism.

Posted by: Andrew at April 2, 2009 3:39 PM
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