The People of Central Falls Should Fire Their Receiver
… only they can’t, because the people who govern Rhode Island have decided that bond ratings justify a sort of economic martial law. They simply don’t believe that democracy works. So, bond rating agencies’ threat to devalue Rhode Island’s ability to borrow more money (which it shouldn’t be doing, anyway) has given a single man, retired judge Mark Pfeiffer, the right to do this without recourse for those subject to his dictats:
City taxpayers can expect a 10-percent property tax increase and higher taxes on the cars they own as the receiver appointed to reorganize the city’s troubled finances tries to close a $2.1-million deficit in last year’s city budget and a $6.3-million hole in the current one, the state receiver running the city’s finances announced Wednesday.
Anyone inclined to object that Central Falls is already at its 4.5% tax cap needn’t worry, because:
The 10-percent supplemental bill is legal, Pfeiffer said, because the taxation cap legislation allows a municipality to exceed it if the governing council votes to ask the state for permission and if the state allows it.
Pfeiffer said the receivership state law gives him the power to act as the council, and he would do that when he asks the state Division of Municipal Finance to approve the increase.
Of course, the tax cap law — naively presuming that a “governing body” isn’t a single man — requires a 4/5 vote of that body. Such is the distortion of language that one gets when the rules are suspended.
That suspension of rules, by the way, seems conspicuously to benefit a particular group. Note this tidbit from a sidebar to the current story:
[Judicially appointed receiver Jonathan] Savage was appointed May 19 after the city went to court for the state-law version of federal bankruptcy. Savage was replaced July 16 after a new state law put municipal receiverships under the Department of Revenue. [Spokesman Bill] Fischer said that was a mistake because under the old system Savage could have imposed new contracts on the city’s unions. The new law forbids that.
[Gubernatorial Spokeswoman Amy] Kempe disputed that, saying the law wasn’t clear and had Savage tried to change contracts, it would have led to a months-long court battle.
So, before, Savage could have addressed unreasonable expenditures on and promises to labor — much like East Providence’s School Committee did — and taken the likelihood of a lawsuit into consideration. The actions of the state government, however, have taken that off the table, so it’s an historic tax increase without representation one of the poorest communities in Rhode Island at the behest of a very well paid dictator.