Following is the transcript of an interview conducted on Oct. 8, 2013, with state Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt.
On how she plans to make the transition from legislator to executive:
An advantage that I have is that I have developed relationships with my colleagues at the State House, and I understand the legislative process, and I also know that it is vital for a mayor to sit down with the state delegation [three representatives and two senators] and to review with them the needs of the city, and to request legislation that would be beneficial to the city, and that is an important part of the puzzle that moves us in that direction we need to be going into.
Every delegation in the State House other than Woonsocket, their mayors and town administrators, they meet with the delegation and give to the delegation their legislative priority list. And that is something that has not happened in Woonsocket — we were never given that list of ‘I need you to work toward these accomplishments,’ and that is very important.
My relationships that I have developed with state agencies, state staff, the Speaker of the House, it’s very important — and I will use those resources for the betterment of the community.”
On whether her political party may help her when working with the General Assembly:
I think it’s clear — my sense is that my colleagues in Providence, even though we may not be in line on certain issues, I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that they understand my passion for Woonsocket, and whatever I work towards in Providence, was always for the betterment of this community.
I’m hoping that I can bring to them a clear picture of where we are in Woonsocket, because I would like them to help me to move Woonsocket into a better place through those resources that I have.
On the supplemental tax bill:
You have to keep in mind that there’s history with this supplemental tax bill, because the Mayor came before us — and the Council President, because they both sit on the budget commission — asking us to pass a bill that would allow for a $6.6 million supplemental tax, which we were opposed to.
Then, although I was a bit uncomfortable, I did agree to go along with that supplemental tax for a very short time, until I learned — and until the delegation learned — we were under the impression that the municipal budget was balanced in Woonsocket, and that they had a plan in place.
What ended up happening was, we learned several things: the municipal budget had a deficit; they did not have a plan in place; and then we also learned that the collection rate on the supplemental tax they kept referring to — 65 percent collection rate — they used that number from Central Falls, but what they didn’t tell us was that the people of Central Falls had a greater period of time to pay that, so they weren’t hit with that in such a short amount of time.
In Woonsocket, you can not expect a community to have — they have not budgeted for that, potentially, so that was unfair to them.
When we learned that this municipal budget was not balanced, it was unfair to the taxpayer to do that, so I recommitted that bill.
Fast-forward to where we are today, and one year later, they have a plan in place, and now they’re only looking for $2.5 million.
That $2.5 million for the supplemental tax, then that bill was amended, because what happened was — it’s always about political expediency with this administration; it’s 'hurry up, we need that supplemental tax bill passed,' but unfortunately, they did not start doing their due diligence with the unions and negotiating in 2012, they waited until the spring of 2013.
So, now they need a supplemental tax — 'hurry up, get it done' — because the session is ending.
On what led to her emotional speech on the House floor to recommit the original supplemental tax bill:
Because we’re responsible, as elected officials, for our communities. And we were put in a position where we were asking the constituency of this community — a struggling community — to pay an additional tax that would equate to $6.6 million.
And at the end, when you weighed the pros and cons of that, and weighed that we’re asking these people for that amount of money, when the administration has not made cuts, asked for concessions from unions, we had a decision to make.
I could not comfortably
support that, especially when I learned the municipal budget was not balanced, there
was no plan in place, and I felt, at that point, of it was the end of my
political career doing that, then it was the end, but at least I would know
that I was exiting that building, knowing in my heart I did the right thing.
On whether she felt new taxes should have been a last resort:
The first thing the administration was doing was tax first, cut later. When you think about it, Mayor Tavares stepped into a massive deficit. He does not have a budget commission, he’s made the cuts and savings of millions of dollars, and has done that successfully without a budget commission — that is strong leadership.
On whether Fontaine could have avoided the budget commission by addressing the problem locally:
That’s right. The state does not want to get involved in municipal affairs. We rely on the leaders of municipalities to be leaders, and to be able to make decisions — and sometimes those decisions are not easy decisions, and in this particular case, that strong leadership was not there.
On whether the school department's budget problems caused the current crisis:
My feeling is that the school department has been used as the scapegoat in this situation. And you have to keep in mind that we have a leader of this community for 20 years, we have a council president, who before becoming our council president was the chairman of the school committee.
You have a responsibility, as those leaders, to pay attention to what’s happening at that school department. That did not happen.
Do I believe that this crisis was caused strictly by the school committee, the school department? Absolutely not, I do not believe that.
On the possibility of appointing the next school committee:
It is critical that that school board does not act politically, or that there are factions that create a bad situation for the school department. There is no room for factions, and there is no room for any political behavior — that board has to be there strictly for the benefit and the betterment of our education department, and they have to use those positions to do what’s right and correct and not political.
On who she would choose for the school board:
That is not something that I’ve thought of, but that board will reflect the diversity of the community.
On when she would want the budget commission out of Woonsocket:
I would hope that I could get the budget commission to exit in a six-month period.
I will be very aggressive doing that. I’m not saying I will be successful in doing that, but I would not want them around longer than the first year of my administration.