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Ward says Woonsocket has a strong legal hand to make cuts if talks fail; Brien defends anti-tax stance

June 15, 2012

Woonsocket City Council President John Ward invokes the example set by Providence in describing how the city might wipe out its deficit if negotiations with unions don’t get the job done.

“We have to engage the unions now  in negotiations,” Ward said during an interview broadcast today on RIPR, “because the only thing that’s going to close our deficit gap is something in the order of a 10 percent salary cut for every employee across both departments — the school department and the city side, as well as some significant cuts to healthcare and benefits, current benefit packages.”

Ward went on to say:

“If we can’t get negotiated settlements, we’re simply going to have to do much like Providence did and simply do it by ordinance. And we”ll freeze the COLA and we’ll change the health benefits, and we’ll cut salaries across the board by a fixed percentage.

And if they take us to court, we’re going to fall into the compelling public interest argument, which is the court standard for what you do to make changes where you break contracts. And that’s unforunate, and that’s why I hope they’ll negotiate with us, but the fact is, the compelling public interest argument will win, because the court can’t order us to go raise taxes when the General Assembly hasn’t authorized it.”

Ward maintains the 13 percent supplemental tax backed by city officials wouldn’t have posed too much of a burden for residents or inhibited efforts to cut structural costs.

But State Representative Jon Brien, who with fellow Reps Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and Robert Phillips blocked the supplemental tax on the last day of the General Assembly session, says their approach is more sound.

“Just taking a 13.8 percent tax increase up front, without identifying exactly what was going to happen after that tax increase was not a responsible move,” Brien said in an interview. “Some call it the easy way out; others say it was courageous … We did what we thought was most responsible.”

Ward predicts Woonsocket will be able to get back on track without a receiver.

Brien says he’s like the majority of Woonsocket residents who think a receiver — he likens it to someone with a fresh view of the situation — is needed. As he notes, a receiver can petitition for bankruptcy if good-faith negotiations by management come up short.

“Everyone knows,” Brien says, “you never move faster than when you have a piano hanging over your head.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Betsy Cazden permalink
    June 16, 2012 1:00 pm

    RI has a new growth industry: hiring receivers (and staff for them), in essence privatizing municipal government and transferring public funds into the pockets of well-connected consultants and lawyers. It seems like a very expensive strategy, In addition to being anti-democratic.

  2. Pete C permalink
    June 18, 2012 4:42 pm

    Im pretty sure we arent better off with those disinterested public servants who couldnt operate an abacus successfully enough not to go over the budget mid year by 4 million. Im a property owner in woonsocket, and while Im skipping over potholes and wandering home with no streetlights(they turned them off months ago) Im watching unions and retirees get scheduled step increases and raises amounting to well over the budget shortage. I dont want to hit anyone harder than neccessary, but why is it always property owners who get kicked in the teeth to pay for Bad “public servant” descisions. They over promised to powerful unions in exchange for support to stay in office. Win/Win for them. But Im greedy because I would rather keep my own cash to finance my 401k(which is NOT publically guaranteed), than finance some double dipper’s beach house in the keys.

    On the other hand, I agree that the process of sorting this out is probably going to involve someone’s cousin who works for a Law firm who knows a guy, and that really sucks too. Im just fed up with the whole Rhode Island hand out, back slapping culture. Love this state, but its getting harder and harder to stay.

    • Mister Guy permalink
      June 22, 2012 2:36 am

      Why not hold your local politicians accountable for their bad decisions instead of merely basing unions?

  3. Mister Guy permalink
    June 22, 2012 2:33 am

    “‘If we can’t get negotiated settlements, we’re simply going to have to do much like Providence did and simply do it by ordinance. And we”ll freeze the COLA and we’ll change the health benefits, and we’ll cut salaries across the board by a fixed percentage'”

    …and then you’ll get taken to court, just like Providence did, and just end up having to *really* negotiate in good faith with the unions in order to achieve real budgetary savings. In the meantime, you’ll see your locality’s cost of borrowing needlessly go through the roof. Woonsocket’s bond rating is already “below investment grade” people…wake up! Some people never learn…

    “‘the fact is, the compelling public interest argument will win, because the court can’t order us to go raise taxes when the General Assembly hasn’t authorized it.'”

    True, but what they can do is strike down the silly law that requires RI localities to seek State House approval for tax increases in the first place.

    “Ward maintains the 13 percent supplemental tax backed by city officials wouldn’t have posed too much of a burden for residents or inhibited efforts to cut structural costs”

    …then why not do it?? Because local & state politicians that represent Woonsocket simply don’t want to bite the bullet & do what’s necessary to fix the situation…that’s why!

    “‘Just taking a 13.8 percent tax increase up front, without identifying exactly what was going to happen after that tax increase was not a responsible move’”

    …unless one defines the word responsible as paying one’s bills.

    “As he notes, a receiver can petitition for bankruptcy if good-faith negotiations by management come up short”

    …which is basically the only thing that a Receiver can do that a Fiscal Overseer or a Budget Commission can’t.

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