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Cicilline “Ruined” Providence’s Finances, Opponent Says

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

 

A new audit of Providence finances shows the city is still struggling to get its fiscal house in order, something critics blame squarely on former Mayor and current Congressman David Cicilline.

In the introduction to the audit, the city’s former acting finance director Lawrence Mancini noted that the city is still attempting to rebound from the national recession as well as the foreclosure crisis and the audit shows the city’s “liabilities for its government activities exceeded its assets” by more than $100 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

One of the glaring issues in the audit, according to former Congressional candidate Anthony Gemma, is the city’s still-depleted rainy day fund, which sits at just over $3.7 million, down from more than $22 million in the 2008 fiscal year. Gemma, who is likely to run against Cicilline again this year, has long criticized Cicilline for not telling the truth about the city’s finances during his 2010 campaign.

“David Cicilline ruined Providence’s finances, he lied about it throughout the 2010 election cycle, and he’s lying about it today,” Gemma said Monday. “Through the final weeks of his congressional campaign, David Cicilline denied tapping the undesignated surplus, or rainy day fund. He looked us in the eye and told us that close to $30 million was left in that account. He was lying through his teeth. The real number was around ten percent of that figure. And he knew it.”

Difficult Decisions Still Have to be Made

Records show that in the final year of Cicilline’s tenure as Mayor, the city’s rainy day fund went from having just over $17 million to barely more than $2 million, something the Congressman has blamed on a perfect storm of severe cuts in the state aid and a recession that created a deep budget deficit. The rainy day fund, Cicilline has argued, was designed specifically for fiscal crises like the one he faced toward the end of his time as Mayor.

The audit points out that in Mayor Angel Taveras’ first year in office, the city was forced to close five schools, raise property taxes, lower the car tax exemption and increase fees for parking, mattress disposal, fire hydrants, master alarm fire boxes and overnight parking. The city is still also hoping to receive about $7 million extra in payments in lieu of taxes from tax exempt institutions, most notably Brown University.

According to City Councilman David Salvatore, keeping the city’s finances in order is just one of many issues that have to be considered as part of a comprehensive effort to rein in the costs of municipal government. He said he believes the city has done a “decent job” keeping its spending under control, but noted that without generating more revenue, it will be difficult to increase the city’s rainy day fund back to where it was prior to 2009. Salvatore warned that more difficult decision may have to be made.

“While difficult decisions have been made in the last year, we must continue to take a serious look at the operation of city government,” he said. “We may have to - once again - consider across-the-board cost reductions while continuing to deliver quality services to our citizens. At the end of the day, everyone needs to be committed to making the changes that are necessary to reduce spending and protect taxpayers.”

Providence GOP Chair: Cicilline Pillaged the Rainy Day Fund

For Providence Republican Chairwoman Tara Pinsky, those difficult decisions all too often result in a hike in taxes, something she says residents simply cannot afford. Pinsky blames Cicilline for claiming the city was in “excellent financial condition” but leaving it with “unavoidably huge deficits” for the foreseeable future.

“[Congressman Cicilline] left our city in such dire straits that Moody's dropped our bond rating like a hot potato soon after his shameless campaign and election,” Pinsky said. “Our former Mayor, who proclaimed our city’s financial condition to be excellent while he campaigned, has left Providence with unavoidably huge projected deficits until 2015, lower-income residents are without heat, closing of 4 schools, and all our taxes will be increasing substantially to pay for the former Mayor’s remorseless lack of transparency and accountability.”

Pinsky also claims Cicilline violated the city charter by using the rainy day fund without getting approval of the City Council. A report issued by the Council last April backed up those claims and offered a five-point plan for replenishing the fund. The report also noted that the rainy day fund was just .05 percent of the total budget, significantly lower than the majority of municipalities with “Aaa” or “A” credit ratings from Moody’s.

“All Providence residents and taxpayers should know that our City Council amended an ordinance because our former Mayor pillaged the Rainy Day Fund without unilateral consent,” Pinsky said. “While Cicilline is in DC promoting himself as a concerned Congressman, we are left back here in Providence digging out of the enormous fiscal hole he left behind.”

Gemma: A Dishonorable Man

The Cicilline campaign did not wish to comment for this story, but Gemma, who is expected announce his candidacy by the end of February, and a spokesperson for Republican candidate Brendan Doherty, questioned the former Mayor’s record in Providence, an topic that is sure to be a prominent issue during the campaign.

“Congressman Cicilline’s record in the City of Providence speaks for itself,” Doherty spokesman Robert Coupe said. “Brendan Doherty is running for Congress because he has the commitment and experience to fight the enormous waste and mismanagement of hard-earned tax dollars in Washington, DC. Wasteful government spending burdens taxpayers, hurts small businesses that we count on to create jobs and threatens the future of critical programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Once elected to Congress, Brendan will work to bring fiscal accountability to Washington, DC and to restore the faith of Rhode Islanders in our representatives in government.”

Gemma was more forward with his jabs, suggesting Cicilline “repeatedly breaks that most sacred of trusts upon which a democracy is built: the trust between the people and their freely elected representatives.”

“All voters of Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District must ask themselves if they are prepared to vote for an incompetent public servant and a dishonorable man who will lie repeatedly to them and, in the process, shatter the very foundation of our democratic system of government just to get elected,” Gemma said.

 

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