March 9, 2012

Why Are We Soft on the Assembly?

Patrick Laverty

I'm frequently reading articles about how towns are struggling financially because of millions of dollars less being given to the municipalities. The mayors say that they're struggling because they're not getting as much money. The Assembly is plugging their own budget holes with that money instead.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has said that a part of Providence's financial problem is cuts to his city's aid. The amount of cuts in aid is more than a town can make up in increases in taxes, especially with the town capping tax rate increases.

More recently, in the Valley Breeze, Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine said:

"I need to give some credit to the governor in that he recognizes that cities such as Woonsocket have been placed in this situation by the actions of the past administrations at the state level that have continually cut funding to cities and towns,"

We've also seen the former governor get blamed:

The deep cuts in aid to cities and towns that Chafee decries so often and so loudly were made by Carcieri

Ok, two points here. First, why don't these mayors put their own Assembly members on the hot seat? Why aren't they being called out directly? The Assembly is at least partially responsible for the situation that these cities are in. Why is it just the faceless "Assembly" that gets the blame? Who is going to be the first mayor to call these people out individually? I could understand this phenomenon a little better if the actions of the Assembly were affecting just one town. But it's not. Virtually every town in the whole state is affected by these cuts. When will the local leadership actually do something substantial and hold their local Representatives and Senators accountable? When will Taveras, Fung, Fontaine and others actually call out Assembly members for their specific votes on the aid cuts? Put a face on the problem and put the blame squarely where it belongs.

Speaking of putting the blame where it belongs, why does Carcieri get blame for cutting aid to the cities and towns? He did no such thing. I recently heard Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien on the radio blaming Governor Carcieri for aid cuts to his city. If you believe that Carcieri had the power to do this, let me ask you something. Remember last year when Governor Chafee wanted to broaden the sales tax? Why isn't that a law now? Answer, because the General Assembly didn't want it. The Governor cannot do anything that the General Assembly doesn't approve of. The Governor merely suggests a budget and then the Assembly, specifically the Budget Committee creates and approves the budget. So yes, Carcieri did suggest these cuts in aid to the towns but it was the General Assembly, those very same people who knock on your door in October and ask to put a sign in your yard, who cut the aid to your town.

Go back to and look at the past budget votes. Look to see who voted in favor of the budget, which included the cuts to local aid. Those are the people who cut the aid to your town. When they come knocking on your door this fall, ask them why they did it. Ask them why your taxes have gone up. Ask them why your town is cutting services. When they try to blame Carcieri, you'll see the problem first hand, right on your doorstep.

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Umm... not to defend the General Assembly, here, but shouldn't cities and towns be self supporting, for the most part, with the state adding some extra assistance here and there?

From a certain point of view, the municipalities and school districts have merely inflated themselves so as to add their own tax burdens onto what the state manages to confiscate. I'm not sure it's appropriate for the cities and towns to complain of "unfunded mandates" and then to treat state *aid* as part of their core operating budgets.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 9, 2012 6:25 PM

Justin, I agree and for the most part, they are. The problem is the state isn't. I bet a great many towns would love to be simply left alone and keep all of their own money instead of having to do revenue sharing with the state and with historically poorly managed cities like Central Falls, Providence and Woonsocket.

But that's not how things are currently set up. Instead, my income taxes go to the state, not my hometown. The meals tax that I pay in my town goes to the state, even if I eat in my hometown. My gas tax goes to the state, even if I buy gas in my town. Let the towns keep all that money and then yes, towns can be self-sustaining.

Posted by: Patrick at March 9, 2012 9:00 PM

Okay, this is some kind of joke, right? How can a city be self-sufficient when 11% of their students come from public housing that doesn't pay property taxes? That's just one small item among dozens of others. You guys must be kidding, right. Please tell me you're kidding.

Posted by: John at March 9, 2012 9:25 PM


The city does not "own" all of your taxes. Sure, if a municipality could take all of the money that the state and federal governments do, they'd be swimming, but there are different silos for different purposes.

Don't fall into the trap. Why should your local town/city council have a claim on the money that you earn elsewhere?

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 9, 2012 10:01 PM


Decrease services; increase other taxes. Use the ire and compelling stories that doing so would create to push pressure up the ladder. Or refuse to abide by the mandates and make an issue of it.

Everybody wants to play along with the game and then play the victim when it doesn't work out. I don't recall cities and towns complaining when state money flowed in... or refusing ARRA dollars on the grounds that it would distort local finances and create the risk of problems down the road.

You're dealing in extremes, though.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 9, 2012 10:07 PM

To clarify: "Extremes" in that we're talking statewide policies giving blanket aid. If we want to insist that the state pay for mandates (which I gather from your comment would include public housing), then let's take that road.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 9, 2012 10:39 PM
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