Guest MINDSETTER™ Rep. Robert Lancia: ‘Here’s to the Crazy Ones’
Monday, April 27, 2015
When I ran for office this past November and won, people kept asking me, “Why? Are you crazy?”
As a former Navy chaplain, and disabled vet, who volunteered to go on active duty at 39 and a half, people asked me at that time, “Why? Are you crazy?”
My answer to both questions has always been the same, “I did it because I wanted to make a positive change.”
In my four months at the General Assembly, as a freshman representative from Cranston, I have seen a lot. Moreover, I’ve also come to believe that I might, in fact, be a bit crazy. A misfit. A rebel. One who sees things differently.
Early in the session, one of my fellow colleagues introduced a bill that would require non-profits to be more, in the words of the representative “transparent.” Call me crazy, but I think a bill needs to be introduced that requires the state to be more transparent as well.
Think back over the last 20 years. It’s been crisis after crisis, mistake after mistake with the routine promise, of course, “it will never happen again.” Yet each time, taxpayers pay and pay, with little to no benefit. The Cranston Foundry, the banking crisis, the Convention Center project, 38 Studios, and most recently, the possible ballpark in downtown Providence. Transparency or obfuscation?
Back in 1992 the General Assembly, due to the banking crisis, began to end the practice of using restricted receipt accounts. Restricted receipt accounts were created to put collected money into specified accounts for specific purposes.
For example, user fees were implemented at state beaches; $1 for state residents and $4 for non-state residents “to be dedicated to development and renovation of recreation projects and for additional acquisition of recreation areas.” Essentially, the money was to be used for a “state beach, park, and recreation development fund.” We paid those beach fees back then, and even higher fees now, because we were told the money went to promote recreational areas. Now your beach fees can go to any program within the state budget. Did you know that?
Here’s another limited transparency issue. Look at your next landline or cell phone bill, notice the $1 assessed on each bill for 911.
In 2014, over $15 million was collected for 911 services. Of that amount collected, only a little over five million dollars ($5,400,000) was used for that purpose. In 2000, the General Assembly changed the law redirecting these previously restricted revenues into “the state general fund.” Did you know that?
Just as non-transparent as the dollar assessment is the 26¢ charge on your cell phone bill for Geo-coding and Technology. The fund was originally established in 2004 to provide a revenue stream to complete and maintain the geographic information system database and to establish a temporary E-911 answering facility. However, in 2007 the General Assembly removed the sunset provision, thereby extending the tax indefinitely, for the .26¢ on wireless telephones and altered the restricted status of the receipts, converting them to general revenues. Here’s another account for which we pay a fee or tax that isn’t being used for its intended purpose. Did you know that?
This Monday evening a group of folks will be meeting behind closed doors to discuss a new ballpark for downtown Providence. At stake, once again, are taxpayer dollars and possible long-term indebtedness, again with little to no proven economic benefit. Did you know that?
Now that you know the lack of transparency within our state budget, you may also consider yourself one of the crazies. Fees and taxes should fund the programs that charge them, is that crazy?
Transparency for non-profits, a good idea. Transparency in state government, an absolute great idea!
Rep. Robert B. Lancia is a Republican representative representing District 16 in Cranston.
Related Slideshow: Ten Issues Elorza Can’t Hide From
Inauguration activities are now underway for the new Mayor of Providence, Jorge Elorza.
While the pomp, circumstance, and celebration taking place over the next several days, here are the issues the new Mayor will have no choice but to soon have to deal with.
Elorza has announced a slew of hires to date -- including the position of Chief Operating Officer in addition to Chief of Staff, as well as two Deputy Chiefs of Staff. Outgoing Mayor Taveras' former Director of Administration was the highest paid city official at $196,086 in total compensation before departing (but retaining a private contract with the city). To date, Elorza has not responded to requests for salary information for his administration. Once the budget is submitted he won't be able do hide.
One Time Fixes
The current Administration loaded up this current year's budget with one-time stop gap measures. So while next year's budget gap is projected to be anywhere between $17 million and $24 million, Elorza's also got to factor in where the city will get the money -- roughly $7 million -- from the one time fixes in FY15 that won't be on the table in FY16.
When Elorza was elected, and announced his transition team, he didn't give likely council-President Luis Aponte heads up or prior notice. The council has two new faces in the way of Mary Kay Harris and Jo-Ann Ryan, but the remaining 13 seats are returning. Will Elorza work in tandem with the council -- or will it be a more hands-off approach from the Mayor's office?
Body Camera Funding
Since Elorza was elected, the fallout from grand jury decisions Ferguson and New York has brought a new reality to cities -- both in protests and policing. While law enforcement members said they would support the use of body cameras -- and some community members sided with them, while others did not -- the question is where the funding of both the technology, and manpower to oversee it would come from, given the current constraints of a force that is looking to get up to full complement .
Developments since election day have included the purchase and sales agreement for a dorm on 195 land -- and reaction from those who are opposed to tax breaks for such a project. Will Elorza work in tandem with the 195 commission to articulate a vision for the future use of the land, or will it largely be dictated by outside interests? And with minority contractors looking to be sure to be part of the process, there are more questions than answers at this point.
East Side Crime
East Side Crime: In December, residents, and a City Councilman, flagged crime issues on the east side as and issue, and Elorza did not respond to request for comment. Whether it was a seasonal aberration, or indicative of a long-term trend, the uptick of crime has residents concerned about the safety of the community.
Whether it be Citizens Bank or another bidder, the looming behemoth at 111 Westminster continues to need to be addressed. High Rock Development failed in its attempts over the past two years to gain traction for apartments coupled with retails space. Will Elorza play a driving role in determining the fate of the downtown anchor? With the reconfiguring of Kennedy Plaza, whether or not the Superman building can find a tenant is an issue Elorza cannot hide from.
The initial proposal for a sub-division of the Granofff property on Rochambeau and Blackstone Boulevard -- which faced vocal opposition from neighbors -- did not pass the City Planning Council. But could the team of Granoff, Moses, and DeRentis, husband of Chief Operating Officer Brett Smiley, come back to the table for a new lot subdivision based on new lot allotments? If so, Elorza will have a major issue on his hand that he's been able to stay out of until now.
Following an election that saw most of labor's support got to Cianci, labor issues are at the forefront. "Right now one of my top priorities is to get a tentative agreement and subsequently a collective bargaining agreement that respects Providence teachers and the amazing work they do everyday," said Providence Teachers Union head Maribeth Calabro. However, even labor leader Paul MacDonald said he sees bigger issues -- the council. "Can he get the support of the city council will be a bigger challenge for him than labor. The big question for the Mayor is he willing to work with the Teachers, firefighters, hotel/bartenders and the big one the Laborers union 1033," said MacDonald in Decemb
During the campaign, Elorza's announcement that he would create a bonded $5 million revolving loan program to redevelop foreclosed and abandoned properties in Providence was met with questions from affordable housing advocates as to its impact both on the market, and neighborhood redevelopment.
"There are lots of questions here. I'm not sure it's been completely vetted for a long term strategy. You can't just fix a house and sell it, and cross your fingers and hope it works," said SWAP's Carla DeStefano. "What this program needs to do is work within the greater context of neighborhood revitalization, and incorporate best practices from other states, and our knowledge." How Elorza will work with the affordable housing community to articulate his vision -- and succeed -- will be a major test
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