The RI Legislature Plans to Close the Deficit by Reducing Education Funding: Woonsocket Gets Whacked First
At Anchor Rising, our reading of the tea leaves has led us to forecast that the Rhode Island General Assembly is planning to reduce state aid to education as a means of closing the state budget deficit.
Confirmation that this is indeed the plan arrives today, courtesy of the Projo‘s Kia Hall Hayes…
Legislative leaders are freezing $236 million in school construction projects until they can rework how they are financed and approved.Are capital education outlays a budget area where there’s lots of fat to be cut? Well, a Census Bureau study released last year ranked the state of Rhode Island 51st in “direct expenditures by public school systems for construction of buildings and roads [and] purchases of equipment, land, and existing structures”. So the answer would seem to be “no”, yet the place where Rhode Island ranks 51st in a nation of 50 states is the place where the legislature thinks it would be most prudent to make cuts.
The move is a surprise to the state Department of Education and some local senators and officials.
Woonsocket’s $80-million middle school project is the first to encounter resistance from Senate leaders, including Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano.
“To go through all these hoops and testify before the House and then to have a different set of rules and agenda laid at your feet … at the very least it was surprising and at the very most it was shocking,” Woonsocket Schools Supt. Maureen B. Macera said earlier this week….
Citing a possible $150-million state deficit this year and an even larger projected deficit for next year, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Stephen D. Alves, D-West Warwick, said lawmakers are looking at “ways to reinvent government and the way we do business.”
“Everything is being held until we rectify and come to terms with how much money we’re looking at and what are the most vital projects. It is the Senate’s position that they are going to be put on hold,” Alves said in a phone interview.
Senator Montalbano, who represents Lincoln, North Providence and Pawtucket, said in a separate interview, “We need to look at each and every one of these projects before we rubber stamp them.”
On the House side, Paul W. Crowley, D-Newport, who serves on both the finance and education committees, called the moratorium “the prudent thing to do” during a time of increasingly tight budgets.
The Rhode Island General Assembly’s governing philosophy of slashing already underfunded budget items so to preserve more lavishsly funded programs that aren’t producing the desired results goes a long way toward explaining why average Rhode Islanders receive so little in return for the high taxes they pay.
The article also suggests that more than technocratic budget politics may be in play here…
Angry Woonsocket lawmakers, officials and residents have questioned whether any ulterior motives are behind the resistance.
“Why us, why now?” asked Woonsocket Mayor Susan D. Menard.
Menard confirmed this week that UBS Financial Services, where Alves is a financial adviser, had sought to manage Woonsocket’s $90-million pension fund in 2003. The city decided to go with Wilshire Associates, which some have suggested could be behind the middle school project’s recent problems.
“That’s a question only Senator Alves can answer,” Menard said.
Posed to Alves, he responded, “No.”
“If they’re trying to make it like I’m retaliating, people can think what they want to think,” he said, noting that Barrington’s $870,000 plan to refurbish the district’s tennis and basketball courts is also in jeopardy, along with another project involving building wind turbines at Portsmouth elementary and high schools.
Woonsocket isn’t being singled out; it’s happening everywhere, Alves said.