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Blais: RI’s Leaders Need an “Ah-Ha” Moment Soon for the Economy

Thursday, January 23, 2014

 

Let’s take stock, how many ways can you arrange the pieces of the state budget before it is too late for our state economy?

Year over year, RI leaders fail to create a budget that includes a plan to eliminate future deficits but wrangle over how much revenue on hand will go to the various agencies and special interests. The structural deficit is definitely not an issue that fans the flames of most citizens’ interests but it sure does burn through their pocketbooks! Do most people realize that the thought process of putting the budget together never seems to consider that doing the same thing year after year doesn't address the underlying problem of not having enough money to pay the expenditures in the near future? Our state can only be run for so long by fighting the current year’s fire.

Who pays for this juggling? You do and so do the truly vulnerable who depend on a safety net in their worst of times and find that their “piece of the pie” has been cut to the advantage of others. The cost of that juggling is expressed in a variety of ways as illustrated by the high cost of living in RI and by the public debt that we approve when we are faced with bond referendum on our ballots when we show up to vote. We weigh that public debt narrowly; we might think that a particular bond is a good use of money or that it represents something that would be nice to have. But, we typically never seriously consider the weight of that debt over time. Or, recall the debt that we approved during prior election cycles.

If you paid attention to Governor Chafee’s recent State of the State Address, you heard his recommendation to approve $275 million of bond referendums this November. This in addition to the $200 million approved at the ballot box last time around which, if this years’ requests are approved, would put us close to almost half a billion in debt! This is our debt punted to future years without even considering the interest on that debt. Half a billion, give or take is a whopping number in context of the size and population of our small state.

There is also other debt that isn’t yours (because you and but a handful of your legislators didn’t specifically approve it) but that the governor has included in his budget this year. He wants us to pay the 38Studios bondholders for a second year in a row. The legislature approved the first payment, a “place-holder”, as it was referred to, of that “moral obligation” last year. Governor Chafee clams that we have a moral obligation to those bondholders for the entire amount, to those same investors who clearly understood that the state had no legal obligation to make good on those bonds.

Where is the “moral obligation” to the taxpayers and citizens of RI? It seems to be sorely lacking as we gasp under the worst unemployment level in the country (tied with Nevada) with too many underemployed people in our state. So, in the big picture who will be hurt by doling out millions to bondholders because of a “moral obligation”? The “ordinary” (tongue in cheek) folks will be and the most vulnerable people living in RI.

Last year, funding for the developmentally disabled had to be fought for while the first payment for 38Studios bondholders was made. Taxi cab drivers have been taxed and this year so will small business owners of bed & breakfasts. It doesn’t pay to be “ordinary” in RI, does it? Property taxes increase while health insurance premiums fall far short of being “affordable” for those of us who pay full boat for coverage, utility rates increase and the underdogs will face yet another fight in the State House for funding again this year.

Let’s pause and look at those utility increases. Robert Shields, chairman of the group Deep Water Resistance wrote in the commentary section of the ProJo "RI will be hurt by deepwater wind". He broke down the numbers very simply and stated that $596 million will be paid by rate payers in additional utility costs. Well, that's a given because of the agreements already reached. The wind farm has a useful life of 20 years so he basically divided the nearly $600 million by the 20 year life span and stated that it will cost an additional $30 million a year for rate payers. That is just like a tax only you don't pay it to the state; you pay it to National Grid. He also asked if the legislature has this cost to the rate payer on their radar. Good question, evidently, they don’t.

RI leaders have a “moral obligation” to the people of RI to provide a state budget that includes plans to eliminate future deficits. Projected deficits of $1.2 billion over 5 years do not even reflect the costs to meet Governor Chafee’s claim that the federal government has set a goal that calls for states to make sure that fewer than 10% of their bridges are structurally deficient. We don’t do pot holes well, what do you think that will cost us? Neither is the estimated cost to run RI’s health insurance exchange, HealthSourceRI, nor is that cost included in this years’ budget. Governor Chafee created this exchange and then stated that the issue of funding it should be discussed by the current gubernatorial candidates! Nice work. Side note, that isn’t your debt either because the legislature never approved the exchange. It was implemented by executive order on the coattails of federal revenue, federal revenue that will dry up soon. The elephant that remains in the room are any additional costs related to potential changes to the 2011 pension reform.

If RI leaders don’t take hold of dealing with the long term deficit then there are only 2 options, more taxes or revamping our notion of what government should be spending our resources on. That's it. Otherwise, the future only looks bleaker.

Remember the childhood song “the ham bone is connected to the leg bone”? The notion that everything is connected applies to our structural deficit and our state budget, too. Time is running out. We are looking for the “ah-ha” moment from our RI leaders that will ultimately save our state’s economy.

Lisa Blais is a board member of OSTPA, a taxpayer advocacy organization in Rhode Island.

 

Related Slideshow: Smallest + Largest Tax Increases in RI

Below are the largest—and smallest—tax increases in Rhode Island cities and towns for fiscal year 2014. The data measures the overall change in the amount levied in taxes between last year and this year. It does not compare changes in individual tax rates for homeowners, which may have been higher than the overall increase if the change in the rates was lower for another group of taxpayers in the community. This year, for the first time, all communities stayed below the annual tax cap, which for 2014 was 4 percent. (The cap applies to the overall levy not individual tax rates. Note that the levies for any independent fire districts in a community are not included.) Below communities are ranked starting with those that had the lowest increases. Data was provided by the state Division of Municipal Finance and is current as of January 7. 

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#39

Pawtucket

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: -0.68%

Rank: 39

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $100,068,109

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $99,386,793

Amount of Increase: -$681,316

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#38

Hopkinton

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: -0.40%

Rank: 38

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $18,300,511

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $18,228,199

Amount of Increase: -$72,312

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#37

Cranston

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 0.12%

Rank: 37

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $181,367,888

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $181,591,060

Amount of Increase: $223,172

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#36

Jamestown

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 0.37%

Rank: 36

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $19,089,398

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $19,160,796

Amount of Increase: $71,398

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#35

North Providence

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 0.40%

Rank: 35

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $67,468,778

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $67,737,041

Amount of Increase: $268,263

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#34

Glocester

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 0.41%

Rank: 34

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $20,666,156

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $20,750,248

Amount of Increase: $84,092

 

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#33

West Greenwich

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 0.42%

Rank: 33

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $17,700,512

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $17,775,266

Amount of Increase: $74,754

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#32

Foster

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 0.56%

Rank: 32

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $11,206,523

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $11,269,380

Amount of Increase: $62,857

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#31

Warren

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 0.57%

Rank: 31

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $21,962,605

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $22,087,246

Amount of Increase: $124,641

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#30

Barrington

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 0.66%

Rank: 30

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $55,757,749

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $56,127,312

Amount of Increase: $369,563

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#29

South Kingstown

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.03%

Rank: 29

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $66,399,782

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $67,082,117

Amount of Increase: $682,335

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#28

Lincoln

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.08%

Rank: 28

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $51,933,416

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $52,492,287

Amount of Increase: $558,871

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#27

North Kingstown

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.37%

Rank: 27

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $69,092,073

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $70,035,857

Amount of Increase: $943,784

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#26

Cumberland

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.53%

Rank: 26

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $59,560,610

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $60,472,810

Amount of Increase: $912,200

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included. Cumberland actual amount is an estimate reported by the town. Final levy will be set in May 2014

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#25

Warwick

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.57%

Rank: 25

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $220,300,865

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $223,763,444

Amount of Increase: $3,462,579

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#24

Little Compton

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.74%

Rank: 24

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $10,153,215

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $10,329,739

Amount of Increase: $176,524

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#23

East Providence

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.91%

Rank: 23

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $101,738,436

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $103,679,393

Amount of Increase: $1,940,957

Note: East Providence fiscal year is Nov. 1 to Oct. 31. Figures represent an state estimate which will be finalized in spring 2014.

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#22

Westerly

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.93%

Rank: 22

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $64,073,479

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $65,309,605

Amount of Increase: $1,236,126

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#21

Middletown

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.95%

Rank: 21

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $42,569,846

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $43,400,329

Amount of Increase: $830,483

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#20

Charlestown

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.95%

Rank: 20

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $22,244,817

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $22,679,022

Amount of Increase: $434,205

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#19

Tiverton

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 2.22%

Rank: 19

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $36,705,787

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $37,519,924

Amount of Increase: $814,137

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#18

Narragansett

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 2.25%

Rank: 18

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $45,045,014

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $46,060,213

Amount of Increase: $1,015,199

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#17

Portsmouth

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 2.41%

Rank: 17

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $46,892,274

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $48,021,889

Amount of Increase: $1,129,615

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#16

Providence

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 2.42%

Rank: 16

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $332,768,119

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $340,814,523

Amount of Increase: $8,046,404

Photo: Flickr/thurdl01

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#15

Smithfield

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 2.43%

Rank: 15

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $50,485,821

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $51,713,919

Amount of Increase: $1,228,098

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#14

Scituate

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 2.63%

Rank: 14

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $25,737,325

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $26,415,040

Amount of Increase: $677,715

Note: Scituate fiscal year is April 1 to March 31.

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#13

Johnston

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 2.73%

Rank: 13

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $68,325,207

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $70,191,873

Amount of Increase: $1,866,666

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#12

Exeter

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 2.76%

Rank: 12

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $12,699,098

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $13,048,989

Amount of Increase: $349,891

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#11

Bristol

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.20%

Rank: 11

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $35,907,363

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $37,055,367

Amount of Increase: $1,148,004

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#10

Richmond

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.39%

Rank: 10

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $16,192,073

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $16,740,541

Amount of Increase: $548,468

Photo: Flickr/peppergrasss

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#9

Newport

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.49%

Rank: 9

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $65,177,966

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $67,451,455

Amount of Increase: $2,273,489

Photo: Flickr/Jasperdo

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#8

Coventry

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.56%

Rank: 8

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $62,327,613

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $64,549,069

Amount of Increase: $2,221,455

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#7

Burrillville

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.63%

Rank: 7

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $27,830,582

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $28,840,267

Amount of Increase: $1,009,685

Note: Has an independent fire district. Levy for fire districts not included.

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#6

North Smithfield

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.82%

Rank: 6

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $28,611,366

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $29,705,309

Amount of Increase: $1,093,943

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#5

New Shoreham

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.85%

Rank: 5

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $8,400,360

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $8,723,934

Amount of Increase: $323,574

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#4

West Warwick

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.89%

Rank: 4

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $54,252,606

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $56,363,626

Amount of Increase: $2,111,020

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#3

East Greenwich

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.91%

Rank: 3

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $49,896,853

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $51,845,789

Amount of Increase: $1,948,936

Note: East Greenwich fiscal year 2013 & 2014 levies reflect the towns merger with the fire district in June 2013.

Photo: Flickr/Jimmy Wayne

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#2

Woonsocket

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.99%

Rank: 2

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $57,588,098

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $59,888,228

Amount of Increase: $2,300,130

Note: Woonsocket fiscal year 2013 includes a supplemental tax.

Prev Next

#1

Central Falls

FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 4.00%

Rank: 1

FY 2013 Tax Levy: $13,674,638

FY 2014 Tax Levy: $14,221,500

Amount of Increase: $546,862

 
 

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