An Example of the Necessary Pushback
Two principles necessary for Rhode Island to turn back from the brink (or, more accurately, to climb back onto it) have been coalescing in my commentary of late:
- The change must move from the municipalities, up, both in the ascension of a new ruling class and in the direction of reform.
- Policies can no longer be treated as irrevocable, allowing legislators and other state officers to skirt blame for the consequences of their decisions. In other words, there must be push-back and demands that the General Assembly et alia provide guidance as to how their demands ought to be balanced. That is: What do we erase, and whom do we tax in order to accomplish what you’ve dictated?
This development contains both of those elements, along with an acknowledgment that relief from union power is required:
Leaders from five municipalities met with Governor Carcieri’s policy director yesterday, saying they will back his efforts to bring state spending under control as long as he helps get them the tools to curtail spending in their own municipalities. …
Lombardi said North Providence would stand to lose $2 million in state aid if some of the cuts being talked about come to pass. He said he could close that gap by $750,000 if he were allowed to reduce the number of firefighters who would have to be assigned to a shift at any one time from 21 to 17, saving on overtime.
The North Providence contract with the firefighters calls for a minimum of 21 firefighters, but that contract expired in July and the town and union are on the verge of going to binding arbitration.
It’s a problem that could be solved, he said, if the General Assembly enacted a law barring arbitrators, or those who negotiate contracts, from putting minimum manning levels into future contracts.
Polisena said he has already told Johnston’s local senators and representatives that any reduction in state aid to the town this late into the fiscal year would hurt the taxpayers and would be unacceptable.
The loss of an estimated $2.1 million in revenue would be more palatable, he said, if cities and towns were given the authority to ignore some state-imposed mandates, and were freed from a provision in state law that prohibits them from earmarking less for education than the previous year.
“I asked our [school] superintendent to come up with a list of mandates that we could do without, without affecting education. Her list totaled $1.6 million,” he said.
Individually and collectively, every town council and school committee in the state ought to be knocking on doors at the statehouse with documents describing everything — other than money — that they need from the state government.