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Rowley: Democrats, Set My City Free

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

 

“Layoffs often come with many provisions, legally and procedurally, that could impact our ability to control costs to the degree we need to.” – Providence Mayor Angel Taveras

Regarding his recent firing of almost 2000 Providence public school teachers, Mayor Angel Taveras explained the reasoning behind dismissals rather than layoffs: “The financial crisis facing the people of Providence is staggering…We needed to retain the maximum flexibility we could to manage significant cuts to the school budget.”

But when it comes to labor disputes, even progressive Democrats fail at their attempts to become union whisperers.

Despite the Mayor’s pleas “to work together,” and his contention that he supports “the right to organize,” Providence Teachers Union president Steve Smith lashed out at Taveras, “We’ve been told we’re fired. I’ve been told I’m fired. Because the Mayor needs flexibility. That’s the cause of my termination. Can you buy that? We’re not! I don’t think he can sell it!”

But Smith’s theatrics were prompted precisely because he knows that Tavares can sell it. The City of Providence is currently confronting a $110 million budget deficit. The money just isn’t there. And as the potholes multiply, thousands of residents are realizing that Providence is on the road to Central Falls. They will begin to investigate exactly what went wrong, and their inquiry will lead them right to Smith Hill and Steve Smith’s doorstep.

Inflexible Government

In addition, Providence’s current labor dispute poses an interesting challenge to union activists. After all, they aren’t dealing with another Republican politician, someone they can simply smear and dismiss as a rich, anti-worker, racist. The current union antagonist is Angel Taveras, a pro-union Hispanic progressive being forced to confirm years of conservative warnings by firing two thousand government employees in order to free himself from labor’s seniority hiring restrictions. Taveras’ race, ideology, and party affiliation offer him instant credibility among thousands of Democratic voters, and instantly shroud the labor movement with an air of suspicion.

Only the most persistent and pigheaded labor supporters will remain willfully blind to the problems Taveras is being forced to tackle – i.e. Steve Smith isn’t buying this whole “flexibility” thing.

Perhaps the words of Council President Michael Solomon (D) can enlighten Smith. When asked if the all-Democrat City Council bears any responsibility for Providence’s current situation, Solomon responded, “I think there were a lot of obstacles and you’ll find that as we move along there were a lot of obstacles preventing us from doing our job.”

Smith could also listen to another progressive ally, Governor Lincoln Chafee, in order to comprehend the grip that labor has on Rhode Island politicians. On Channel 12 Newsmakers Chafee rationalized his tax-hiking budget proposal by explaining, “Governor Carcieri just had to make cuts over the last three years, so a lot of the cuts have been made. He did not address the revenue side in previous years. It was all done on cuts, cuts, cuts. There’s not a whole lot more to cut.”

Of course, there is plenty more to cut. It’s just that Governor Chafee doesn’t have the political will – or the political power – to even gaze toward unionized government employees. Even as Rhode Island’s state spending per capita still rests high above the national average, Chafee’s message to the taxpayers is this: Sorry, you’re stuck with the size and scope of your current government. The only way to balance the budget is to raise taxes.

This is what the union-Democrat alliance has created in Rhode Island – a government incapable of responding to fluctuations in the People’s ability to pay. One may decide to call it “inflexible.”

Democrats, There They Go Again

Despite the clear difficulty cities and towns are experiencing as they attempt to balance their budgets, Statehouse Democrats continue to come to the aid of the people applying most of the financial pressure – public unions.
Rattled by the 2009-2010 showdown in East Providence between the school committee and the teachers unions, Democrats rushed to enforce “binding arbitration,” legislation aimed at preserving expired teacher contracts in the face of new economic realities.

Can Steve Smith say “binding?”

In response to Mayor Taveras’ actions, and supported by the National Education Association and the RI Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, Rep. Scott Guthrie (D) has introduced a bill “mandating that laid off teachers have to be rehired on the basis of seniority,” according to a GoLocalProv.com report.

Can Steve Smith say, “mandate?”

Providence Schools Superintendent Thomas Brady explained that Guthrie’s bill “could force communities to lay off teachers, rather than fire them.”

Can Steve Smith say, “force?”

Representative Don Lally (D) is also advancing new legislation that will further insulate public unions from current economic conditions, again making tax hikes a more attractive solution to local budget deficits. Lally’s bill would ensure that, whenever labor contracts come into conflict with a town ordinance, the provisions of the labor contracts will triumph. The will of the townspeople matters not.

Rhode Island’s Powerful and Oppressive Central Government

The dictates being levied down to the cities and towns from the state’s central government is precisely what Governor Carcieri (R) was referencing whenever he advocated “giving our cities and towns the tools they need to manage their budgets.”

But any measure that enables localities to supervise their own affairs is a threat to the kingdom Democrats have established for themselves here in Rhode Island. Seniority hiring, classroom size, binding arbitration, minimum staffing, the Caruolo Act, and scores of other State House edicts are all crafted for the same purpose – to protect government employees by limiting the autonomy of cities and towns.

The union-Democrat alliance has turned the Statehouse into a State Castle, and it has resulted in the disempowerment of the People of Rhode Island – limiting the freedom they have over their own lives by restricting their ability to opt out of government policies they find oppressive and unjust.

It is widely said these days that Rhode Islanders are moving to other parts of the country in order to escape their home state’s heavy tax burden. But taxes are merely the end game of the tyranny being delivered from atop Smith Hill.
Rhode Islanders are not running from taxes. They’re running toward liberty.

Someone explain this to Mr. Smith.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is Chairman of the RI Young Republicans, and the author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left.
 

 

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