Legislators cautious about supplemental tax bill

The General Assembly will take action in two or three weeks.


Woonsocket's state lawmakers are still uncertain about supporting the supplemental tax bill city leaders hope to use to help plug a $10 million budget shortfall.

Under state law, the city can't ask residents to pay the extra tax bill without approval of the plan by the state legislature. When the City Council endorsed the plan on April 2, some members said they expected the state legislature to follow up by passing the supplemental tax bill within a few days.

At a Monday night meeting, however, the City Council learned the measure may meet with some opposition in the Statehouse, and that members of Woonsocket's legislative delegation — all Democrats — are still wondering which is the right way to go. Action by the General Assembly is still two or three weeks away.

"My fear is that some of the constituency in Woonsocket won't have the money to pay the bill," said state Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. "I can't think of anyone who doesn't have concern about the taxpayer who has already reached the maximum."

"I'm leaning toward voting for it," added state Rep. Robert Phillips. "But I still have some questions."

The discussion came during a City Council workshop session in the community room at Harris Public Library. The event drew almost every elected official in the city, including School Committee members and Mayor Leo Fontaine. Several aides to Governor Lincoln Chafee also attended.

Legislators at the meeting said that while years ago the General Assembly would rubber stamp bills that affected only a single municipality, that's no longer the case. "Today there's more concern about individual communities," Phillips said. "Legislators understand that what happens in one community can affect another."

State Rep. Jon Brien said some legislators will want to know more about the city's plans for long-term recovery from the budget crisis. "It's important to me that I know about the long-term plan, because I know we're going to be asked about it," he said.

The mayor does have plans for fixing the city's fiscal problems that go beyond collecting more taxes. He's talking to unions that represent Woonsocket's teachers as well as police, firefighters, and other city employees, and he's hoping they'll agree to a 10 percent pay cut. He is also looking to eliminate or shrink cost-of-living increases for those retired city employees who receive pensions. In addition, he hopes to see legislators approve a package of bills proposed by the governor to help Rhode Island's financially distressed communities.

After hearing that outline, Cote said it was too uncertain and noted he would rather see a receiver take over  Woonsocket's finances. "I don't want to see us go down a path with a plan that's contingent on so many things that may or may not happen," he said. "Where are we going?"

Brien said he'd rather see a receiver take charge of the city's purse, but added residents would probably still face more taxes.  He added that Fontaine's plan could upset legislators with deep ties to unions. "When they hear about 10 percent cuts across the board, on people who have already been hit by pension reform, there will be questions," he said.

Several Council members told the legislators they should work to build support for the measure, rather than look toward scrapping it.

"If you come in with a positive attitude and tell them this will help our community, I think other reps will jump on board," said Council member Robert Moreau.

"You have in your hands the ability to stop the bleeding," added Council member Dan Gendron.

But Council member Roger Jalette urged them to bring in a receiver. He cast the sole vote against the supplemental tax bill at last week's meeting. "I tell you, 50 or 60 percent of the people in Woonsocket can't afford to pay the supplemental tax." he said. "Most people I talk to want to go with a receiver. He can make the cuts we can't."

Fontaine told legislators they should understand what a receiver or a budget commission can do before they go in that direction. "They could come in and wipe out the Homestead Exemption," he said, referring to a program that gives homeowners a break on their property taxes.

The City Council also heard from two members of Gov. Chafee's staff, policy director Brian Daniels and Susanne Gresthner, chief of municipal finances. They told how the governor has put a number of bills before the General Assembly that are meant to give a boost to distressed towns, such as Woonsocket.

One proposal would allow cities and towns facing financial hurdles to skip some programs required by state law. Cities would be allowed to get rid of school bus monitors, erase step pay increases for teachers and suspend education bonuses for police officers, among other things.

MAE April 11, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I don't know, I read this article a couple of times and all I am seeing is a bunch of "double speak." You have Phillips hedging saying he's leaning toward voting for supp tax but he has questions...Brien saying we'd face more taxes if we end up in receivership...but we need a long term plan 'cause questions about that will be asked. Jallette and Baldelli-Hunt KNOW we can't afford it (and even those who possibly could come up with the extra "change" resent it because they'll have to forgo something else so a hardship for ALL taxpayers.) Council members say legislaters should push for passing the tax because it is needed. Then there's Fountaine who supposedly has PLANS. His plans include taking from hardworking employees of the city. Make the unions take concessions...10% here, 15% there. Pensions, shrink COLA's from people who devoted their lives and careers to the city. Hmmm, didn't hear what his or the council contributions would be. Let's wait for the State at Chaffee's bidding to pass bills that "might" help. All Double talk because they have no real ideas to FIX the problem...REORGANIZE the city...I don't want to keep putting good money after bad all the while my pension is cut, my pay is cut, my taxes keep going up, my property value goes down. and the overall cost of living for the 2 people I support goes sky high...gas, food, supplies, etc...I'm pretty fed up and they don't listen or care...saying: just give us more money...we know what's best. DO THEY?
MAE April 11, 2012 at 10:46 PM
What's this "pending approval?" Our comments are being monitored or just mine? Now I'm even more MIFFED!
Ray April 11, 2012 at 11:49 PM
WEll said James Thomas. What happened to our State Reps working for the best interest of their districts? Kind of an old concept Jon? Tell us why someone in your district making the median income should pay over 11% in taxes the rich pay 5% Quit worrying about your position in the General Assembly and do the right think.
Donna M. Blais April 19, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Be very, very cautious when saying that you would allow receivership. You may not like the receivers tax bill. 13% vs. 18% and it could go even higher if the receiver deems it necessary. Historically, bankruptcy is not what it is cracked up to be. A receiver would be in Woonsocket for a very long time costing the City even more money. I would also note that the supplemental tax bill will not solve the cash flow problem. The problem stems from the State of Rhode Island that has slashed funding to Cities and Towns. When you have municipalities like Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence, West Warwick, Woonsocket and so on, that rely heavily on funding from the State and Federal government to keep their cities running, and then the State and Federal funding is cut year after year after year with costs rising for electric, heat, telephone, chemicals, fees, building maintenance, tuitions for out of district students, state and federal mandates, and the list goes on …you're in trouble.
Lavergne April 25, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Ditto, James,,,, Rep Brien, I think, cares more about his ego in the state house than us taxpayers. None of our local Reps have any leadership, just a bunch of followers. Is this what our representation has come to? You get voted in and it's "See Ya"...I'm in like flynn. Well in my book come election time, it's out like gout!!


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