Providence day of financial reckoning near
The Providence financial reckoning becomes clear later this week. City Hall sources say Mayor Angel Taveras is expected to detail the dire condition of city government finances by Thursday. The Taveras administration isn’t saying anything on the record at this point; mayoral spokeswoman Melissa Withers is adamant about not confirming any projected deficit numbers.
But City Hall sources say the deficit numbers are brutal – in the order of more than $25 million in the current fiscal year and in the $100 million neighborhood for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Sources say that when the numbers are revealed, everybody who understands politics and budgeting in this state will understand why Taveras issued the termination slips to nearly 2,000 city teachers last week.
The city is teetering on the brink of insolvency. If the reports from inside City Hall are accurate – and there is no reason at this point to think they are not – Providence would be facing its worst financial crisis since 1981, when the mayor was Vincent A. Cianci Jr.
The city has been stripped of about $50 million in state aid in the past few years and has been limited on property tax increases.
The Taveras’ people are very skittish about talking about all this, but the new mayor cannot be blamed for the accumulation of decades of poor financial planning, patronage hiring, and overly generous pension benefits. For too long, Providence mayors bought labor peace with pensions that have cost-of-living-adjustments as high as 6 percent. They also took care of their friends (and former foes) with juicy jobs at good pay and short hours.
State lawmakers have been penurious to Providence, which harvests much of the state sales tax revenues and has a huge (40 percent or more) amount of tax-free property devoted to colleges, hospitals, parks and religious institutions.
And the poor economy of the past few years hasn’t helped, or a governor (Don Carcieri) who was not at all helpful to Providence. One pol who will be asked very tough questions is newly minted Congressman David Cicilline, the former mayor of Providence. Reports from inside City Hall say Cicilline was hiring city employees even after he won election to Washington. And of course Mr. 6 percent COLA himself, Cianci, is now ensconced behind his WPRO talk show mike.