Don Roach: Angel Taveras is Losing His Shine
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
In Mayor Taveras’ attempts to separate David Cicilline and financial disaster from Providence’s political landscape, he may be losing his way. First, I believe the mayor deserves praise for tackling Providence’s economic crisis square in the face. He didn’t shy away from what was going on but sugar coated Cicilline’s culpability. I can live with that since his intent was to get Providence back on her feet and in truth, lambasting the former mayor would not do anything to close the budget gap.
Taveras starts out strong
Last January, Mayor Taveras expressed his commitment to put the city’s finances back on track:
"My team will use the work of this Finances Review Panel to accelerate all ongoing efforts to create short- and long-term financial stability in the City of Providence. It is my top priority to create government that the citizens of Providence can trust."
Any mention of Cicilline? No.
In February, his audit team learned what John Loughlin had been telling us all along:
"The City has lost millions in state aid and been especially hard hit by the national recession. The audit clearly reflects this. I believe, however, that with focused effort, collaboration and shared sacrifice, we will overcome these challenges. Today, my administration is fully focused on working with stakeholders across the City to make the tough decisions needed to get our fiscal house in order.
"Working with our partners in City Hall, we are making fast progress toward passing an overdue FY11 budget. Closure on the budget will mark an end to an unprecedented situation wherein we have been operating without an approved budget for months."
Any mention of Cicilline’s administration not leading the way to work with the City Council to pass a FY11 budget? Uh, no. Taveras took pains to not associate Cicilline’s name with the crisis and instead attacked the crisis.
Finally, in March Taveras listed a number of steps his administration was going to take to bridge the budget gap. The list included cutting contracts with some vendors, taking a 10% pay cut, and even offered to renegotiate union contracts. Reading between the tea leaves Taveras was saying that everything was on the table and up for negotiation in order to save Providence. At the time, I chuckled a bit because here we had a Democratic mayor promoting Republican policies to address Providence’s fiscal problems that had been previously ignored by the Taveras’ predecessor. Can you feel the irony?
This was a positive first step and Taveras seemed committed to taking control of the situation realistically. However nearly a year later, I am beginning to doubt the mayor’s commitment to actually change anything. Or better stated, I am beginning to doubt the mayor’s ability to exact the change the city needs.
Taveras’ administration continues financial missteps
Recently, GoLocalProv has reported the mayor’s $500k police detail, the city paying $1 million per month in police/firefighter overtime, and the (my words) exorbitant amount of sick time the city paid out in 2011. It seems that while the mayor has put on the public image of tackling the budget crisis head on there are still a number of fiscal leaks.
It begs the question, is the Taveras administration capable of tackling all of the holes within the city’s finances or are they overwhelmed and a third party is needed? It makes no sense to me why mayor Taveras’ police detail would cost taxpayers over five hundred thousand dollars as reported by GoLocal. While the mayor was able to win some concessions from unions this past summer, it’s not enough. Providence has a systemic problem with pensions and with excessive expenditures (i.e. police detail, overtime, and sick pay for instance), that’s nothing new.
Yet, between this year and last has the Taveras administration done enough to address Providence’s financial woes? I’m beginning to lean ‘no’ on that question and it does not surprise me that Taveras is having some troubles reigning in expenditures.
As a former Providence residence, it’s a hard sell to ask me to take on additional sacrifice when I read about what is still happening in the city today. It’s like Taveras is crying out that the ship is sinking all the while his crew is shooting holes in the hull. It just doesn’t make sense nor instill the type of confidence Taveras needs to make the changes necessary to avoid bankruptcy.
Taveras refuses Brown’s $2 million offer
What’s worse, he refused Brown money. Let’s repeat – Taveras refused Brown money according to President Ruth Simmons. She wrote in January:
In mid-December, we offered to increase the $4 million in voluntary and property tax payments we already make annually to the city by providing an additional $10 million over five years to support Providence’s schools.
Taveras declined. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Taveras wanted more and believes Brown should pay more as part of the ‘shared sacrifice’ all Providence residents should make during this financial crisis. Ok, I get that. But, you have an organization willing to give you $2 million dollars each year for the next five years and you say no. I’m sorry the administration is in no position to refuse voluntary cash inflow.
I can hear some of you saying that Brown was forcing Taveras to put the money towards education and not other items also in distress aka pensions. My answer is Brown is not in the habit of throwing money away and giving 2, 4, or 10 million dollars into the pension system is just a drop in the bucket. Brown was unwilling to give Taveras carte blanche discretion over what to do with additional funding. Taveras was unwilling to take the money with strings attached which I believe was a mistake.
Two million dollars a year is two million dollars Taveras and the city do not have and without a tax increase won’t be in a position to pick and choose where it gets additional funding. It was a bad move and exerting pressure on Brown seems to be chasing a gnat while the elephant (pensions) runs rampant trampling everything in sight.
Taveras’ bad choices may lead to bankruptcy
All in all, I believe the Taveras administration has made some bad choices and has not kept track of its finances as well as it should have. Taveras has championed change and has been realistic in using the ‘b’ word, but in some areas of his administration perspective of the current situation does not appear evident.
At the end of the day, to ask Brown, taxpayers, and retirees to share in the responsibility means they must trust this administration to use those funds appropriately. We’re talking about people’s livelihoods, homes, and retirement plans. Mayor Taveras does not appear to have that trust but his administration also seems to be perpetuating some of the actions of prior administrations that have led to the distrust in Providence.
If Mayor Taveras desires citizens, the Council, et. al. to get behind his policy shifts then he must prove that he and his administration are capable of being fiscally fit. If he can’t do that, I believe the city will go bankrupt this year. And if it does, Cicilline won’t be the only one sharing the blame.
Don Roach is a member of the RI Young Republicans. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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