Shouldn’t Consolidation Savings Go to Cities and Towns?
Could be I’m missing something, but Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel DaPonte’s proposed solution to the state government’s money problems sounds like an answer to a different question:
Offering a hint of what might be to come in the legislative session that starts in January, DaPonte said lawmakers must seriously look at “municipal and school consolidation throughout the State of Rhode Island” as a long-range cost-cutting measure.
Legislators and Governor Carcieri have in the past called for merging certain municipal and school services, but rarely in recent years has a lawmaker with such standing suggested consolidation of different districts.
“It’s too early to talk about what any final recommendations look like. But I think it’s very fair to say that the numbers are large enough and the concern is enough that there are very, very serious conversations taking place about this,” DaPonte said.
He declined to discuss what other budget cuts may be in store if revenues continue to fall.
Consolidation is a good feint, because Rhode Islanders across the political spectrum have a vague feeling that it would be a good thing — “Yeah, yeah, consolidation would save money.” — but the only way helps with state fiscal problems is if the General Assembly sucks up all the savings. In the case of school districts, that means less state money per student, probably with the claim that the state is giving more money to each larger district than it had to each smaller one. In the case of municipalities, it means less assistance offsetting property taxes and even less money to account for mandates.
And that assumes that consolidation saves significant money, which isn’t at all proven, as far as I’m concerned. Towns could secure most of the savings through joint purchasing agreements and the like.
Only one thing can keep this state from a perpetual decline in the decades to come: economic activity. For that to be a real possibility — beyond reverberating ripples from national growth — the General Assembly is going to have to overhaul our tax system, erase the long list of mandates on towns, residents, and private businesses, and take a big red marker to the regulatory regime. Of course, that would require enduring the howls of special interests and undoing the pet bills for which legislators sold their souls.