RI Powerplayer: Senator Louis P. DiPalma
Monday, March 11, 2013
1) RIDOT Director Michael Lewis said last week that the state will start collecting tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge this summer, a controversial topic for many Rhode Islanders living in the area. You’ve been a vocal opponent of this move. Why do you believe it’s in the best interest of the entire state, and not just those impacted on a daily basis by the bridge, to oppose this toll?
From my perspective, government at all levels needs to address four critical areas, including health/human safety, public safety, education and infrastructure. A State’s transportation infrastructure provides commerce to occur, the means for goods and services to be delivered and residents to travel to/from work, stay connected with family and attend to their daily commitments/appointments, etc.
We are all well aware of the intended consequences of placing a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge. The toll on the bridge will generate revenue to support the maintenance of the four bridges, including the Sakonnet River, Pell-Newport, Jamestown-Verrazano and Mount Hope Bridges. The unintended consequences of placing a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge are the expected negative impacts to the local businesses in the area, many of them small businesses, which are vital to the area and State’s economy including two key sectors, Defense and Tourism. These negative impacts, which have already been communicated by many of them, include the loss of business and ultimately a reduction in employees. This loss of business and employees translates into a loss of sales tax and income tax which will negatively impact the entire state.
Placing a toll on the bridge is an issue of equity and fairness. It is unfair to the residents of the area which are already burdened by having to pay a toll to get to the West Bay when traveling over the Pell-Newport Bridge. An additional toll will further isolate the area. Should a toll be placed on the Sakonnet River Bridge, it will be precedent setting. As the Rt. 403 connecter gets extended from Rt. 95 to Rt. 4, the question will be asked, “Should a toll be placed on that thoroughfare?” Should Rt. 146 need a future major overhaul/reconstruction the question will be asked, “Should a toll be placed on it as well?” I say no to both of those as well. I’ll finish as I started. A State’s transportation infrastructure is a critical component of government, something of which the entire State benefits.
2.) Another issue you’ve advocated strongly against is the current system in place that requires Rhode Island municipalities notify teachers of possible layoffs by March 1 if they project a budget shortfall. Why do you believe this policy is bad for the state’s teachers, students and education system as a whole?
This is annual practice which must be changed and changed now. I’ve been working to effect this change since first joining the RI Senate in January 2009. I look at education from a student-centered perspective, as do the educators/administrators who instruct the 150,000+ RI students on a daily basis. When a teacher is given a layoff notice on March 1st, it impacts them for the remainder of the school year, which equates to approximately 80+ school days, greater than 40% of the school year. I’ll say that again, 40% of the school year. Over and above the detrimental impact on the students, is the impact on the teacher and their respective families.
While each and every teacher who is given a layoff notice has great hopes of being retained, there’s the uncertainty of whether that will or when it might occur. On an annual basis, the vast majority of school districts and municipalities are not able to finalize their budgets until the June timeframe. And, given these difficult economic times with the reduction in state aid, which is being exacerbated with sequestration, including the loss of federal impact aid, there is further uncertainty which must be addressed. The proposed legislation seeks to move the teacher layoff notification date to June 1st.
There’s not a teacher with whom I’ve talked with about changing the date from March 1st to a much later day, such as June 1st, who has not been favor of the change. Given this unneeded, negative impact to students, teachers and their respective families, the time to change this practice is now. It’s the right thing to do.
3.) Speaking of municipal budget issues, you’ve been a strong proponent for years of having the state’s cities and towns take a more serious look into regionalization and sharing services. Why do you believe this is the answer to some of the woes RI municipalities currently face and how do you think this could help cash-strapped cities and towns finally find some breathing room in this fiscal house?
I have always had an affinity for teasing out what I believe can quite possibly result in property tax relief for all RI property taxpayers, that being Shared Municipal Services. While serving on the Middletown Town Council from 2004-2008, I began a journey which I’ve continued while serving in the RI Senate. While in the Senate, I’ve chaired the Senate Commission on Shared Municipal Services and currently Co-Chair, with Rep. Phillips, the Senate/House Joint Commission on Shared Municipal Services.
I believe there are efficiencies and effectiveness that can be gained via the sharing of municipal services. As has been discussed during many of the Commission meetings, this is not something which will be accomplished overnight. This will take a deliberate approach, based on facts and data, to first characterize the current state of the various existing municipal services. The next step will be to determine the desired future state. Once the desired future state is defined, the next step is to determine the path to move from the current state to reach the desired future state.
From the initial work of the Joint Commission, it has been decided that two areas ripe for initial focus of shared services are Public Safety Dispatch and Tax Collections. The RI State Police under the exemplary leadership of Col. O’Donnell are already exploring the sharing of the Public Safety Dispatch function.
I believe the State can and should play an enabling role in achieving the expected property tax relief possible from the implementation of shared municipal services. The Commissions has discussed a goal of achieving a 20% increase in efficiency and effectiveness when implementing shared municipal services. This is real money which would remain with the RI property taxpayer.
4) Take us through a day in your life.
I typically get up around 6:15 am. Prior to heading off to work around 7:00 am., I take our one-year-old Benese Mountain Dog out for a walk. As a Chief Engineer for the Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems’ Undersea Systems Business Directorate, where I’ve been working for the last 30 years, I spend most of the day working with an extremely talented group of professionals solving vexing engineering problems.
On days when we’re in session, I typically head back to work to address some additional items. Upon returning home between 8:00 and 9:00 pm, my goal is to exercise for 30 – 40 minutes and then have dinner and spend some time with my wife Margaret catching up on the day. Following dinner, I seek to respond to the daily emails, correspondence and phone calls from constituents. My goal is to respond to constituents within 24 hours. I typically end the day around midnight, as I started the day, with taking out our berner for a walk, and the cycle continues.
5.) Tell us something nobody knows about you.
Role Model: Both my mom and dad, who gave unconditionally of themselves to my brother and me, my wife Margaret and our two grown daughters. Both are deceased and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of them.
Favorite Restaurant: The Old Canteen
Favorite Part of Winter in Rhode Island: The few weeks just prior to Spring when the Witch-hazel flowers bloom. It’s amazing to see it bloom in early March, when it’s snowing and the temperature is still in the 20s/30s.
Best Book You've Read in the Last Year: “That Used To Be Us” by Thomas Friedman
Advice for the Next Louis DiPalma:
• Family first, with friends followed by a close second, though some can be “family”
• Ensure you address each and every challenge by gathering the facts and data surrounding the topic. It’s only with facts and data that objective decisions will result.
• It’s critically important to put a “face” on each and every issue. Being able to put a “face” on the issue permits a deeper understanding.
• Be certain to question, in a respectful manner
• Treat everyone with respect
• And, above all, say THANK YOU and talk slowly.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.