Lisa Blais: Are RI Legislators Working for You?
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Rhode Island is in a financial crisis. Too many average taxpayers in our state continue to struggle with long-term unemployment or underemployment while they juggle the demands of local and state tax liabilities. Neighbors may be deciding which bills to leave unpaid so that property tax payments can be made to their localities. Others may be holding their breath hoping that they won’t be told that their rent is going up to cover the costs of those same property taxes that likely laid a daunting blow to the expenses of their residence following egregious tax increases. Business owners who do not enjoy a financial lifeline supplied by state or local government contracts worry about meeting the associated costs of doing business in Rhode Island.
Yet, while folks hold their heads up in the face of financial strain, some RI legislators sponsor legislation that ignores that financial stress that too many taxpayers carry with them every day. Indeed, many pieces of legislation, if passed into law, potentially add to the costs of living and doing business in our state.
Around the time that filing federal and state income tax returns roll around, many people talk about how many days in the year must pass before they are not working to pay government related costs.
Those costs are the basics. How many people and more importantly RI legislators think about bills that they and their colleagues introduce, with the goal of passing into law that eat into after tax income? Judging from some perennial bills (and some new ones) that keep coming back for committee hearings, not enough people and legislators are thinking about the financial hit on their fellow community members.
When you elect a representative for state or local government, do you expect them to work for all of the people or just the special interest group in which they are a member?
Legislation that costs money & taxpayers can’t afford.
Did you know that at least one third of the members in RI’s House of Representatives are members of a public union – police officers, firefighters, teachers, as well as other city workers, and even more who are bank rolled by the unions? While these are all noble and necessary professions, when Rhode Islanders vote for them, do they ask themselves, whose best interest will they have in mind when proposing and voting on legislation?
Many legislators who are employed by public sector unions, or are retirees of public sector unions or have financial ties and support from public sector unions continue to ignore the financial needs of average taxpayers and instead push for the expansion of public sector unions and propose more benefits for public sector union employees. Some people may consider all of this harmless or perfectly acceptable because taxpayers rely upon and should pay for public sector services provided by folks who are firefighters, police officers and teachers. The problem is that too many taxpayers in the private sector are tapped out.
There are bills to increase public pension benefits (H 7213, H 7417, H 7666), bills to mandate the use of labor apprenticeships adding costs to state contracts (H 7623), and bills limiting the fiscal authority of municipalities when it comes to labor contracts (H 7293, H 7633, H 7464, H 7465, H 7467). Some of these bills include allowing for evergreen or, as commonly known, perpetual contracts. The aim of perpetual contract legislation is to maintain the cost drivers of expired contracts when terms for a new contract agreement hit a wall. Typically the difficulty of reaching a new agreement lies with the fact that concessions are sought as a direct result of the communities’ inability to financially sustain the financial promises of prior contracts. There are bills that mandate arbitration for police and fire retirees, and a bill that limits the amount a municipality may spend on litigating labor disputes.
One of the most egregious bills was up for a hearing this week, H 7337 (typically referred to as “Card Check”), a bill that sidesteps the right to cast a “secret ballot” vote on whether or not to join a union. This legislation opens the door for potential coercion and fear of recrimination of employees who may be intimidated into signing a card, which is then submitted to the union representative as proof of a vote for unionization. In a country that was founded on the basic democratic right to a secret ballot vote, this bill eliminates individuals’ freedom of choice when it comes to deciding on whether they want to be organized or not.
Special and General Elections.
A special election was held recently in Woonsocket to replace Representative Baldelli-Hunt who became the new Mayor of Woonsocket. Morin, a 26-year veteran of the Woonsocket Fire Department and, until recently, president of Woonsocket Firefighters, Local 732, with a degree in fire science was sworn into office last week. He won with 233 votes. His election means that now two of the three Woonsocket representatives are public sector union members.
The 2014 General Assembly session will end just months before statewide elections. It is particularly important that RI legislators be held accountable for whatever bills may be passed into law this session. Legislation that favors increasing costs to every Rhode Islander in the private sector is legislation that puts yet another nail in our economic demise.
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.
FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.53%
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
FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 1.91%
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.
FY 2013 to FY 2014 Tax Increase: 3.91%
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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