The Mayor’s Supplemental Budget: Not Necessarily Better Late than Never

On the one hand, the concessions requested by Mayor Cicilline from 5,000+ city employees sound reasonable and necessary given the constraints on both local and state revenue faced by budgeters. [Side note: Local 1033, the city’s largest public labor union, is to be applauded for signing on.]

An increase in the health insurance co-share to 15 percent for union personnel, and 20 percent for non-union workers.
•An immediate wage freeze, effective up to and including fiscal year 2010.
•An increase in the retirement age from 55 to 60 years for employees with less than five years of experience and 62 years for new employees.
•An increase in the number of years of service before an employee is eligible to receive full pension benefits to 30 years.
•A decrease in the allowance for disability pensions from 66.67 percent of salary to 50 percent of salary.
•Elimination of a paid holiday.
Cicilline is also mandating two furlough days for non-union staff and said he does not intend to fill 22 vacant firefighter positions and 8 police officer positions.

The only question as to substance would be the intent of the mayor with regard to applicability to the school side of the budget, including specifically staffing levels.
On the other hand, Providence has never been awash in revenue. The Mayor and the City Council have been fully cognizant of this fact all along, of course. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, if this is good and responsible budgeting in 2009, wouldn’t it have been better and even more responsible, say, five years ago?
For some reason, fiscal problems that were serious in nature were viewed as too premature to act on. Only when a situation arose that bordered on crisis did it become appropriate to formulate a responsible budget.
Yet if the Mayor and the City Council had, indeed, acted sooner
1.) the crisis could have been partially or largely averted;
2.) tax dollars would have been saved;
3.) the city would have been in a much better position to tackle the economic downturn that was headed its way.
In short, it isn’t enough to say, look, we’ve finally formulated a responsible budget. Timing is also an intrinsic facet of responsiblility.

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