Rep. Jon Brien Running For Re-election On Pro-Taxpayer Record

Dist. 50 Rep. says opponent is running to protect union interests.


In 2006, Woonsocket native Rep. Jon Brien (D-Dist. 50), ran against Democrat Todd Brien (no relation) in the primary after the incumbent voted for letting daycare workers collectively bargain with the state.

The incumbent's vote is one example of what Brien calls an anti-taxpayer record, including what he said was a position against pension reform. Brien makes the point that his opponent this year, firefighter Stephen Casey, shares something in common with Todd Brien, a retired policeman: they’re both union members.

Brien stands on a record he touts as pro-taxpayer, including votes for pension reform, (which saved Woonsocket $6 million this year, he said), and against the supplemental tax bill.

“I grew up in that house right there,” Brien said, pointing from his front porch on South Main Street to the house next door, where his dad, City Councilman Albert Brien, state rep from 1974 till 1987, lives. “I grew up in the State House and House Chamber,” Brien said, “As a young man I was always in awe of that building and I still am today.”

The Dist. 50 incumbent, responding to one of his opponent’s recent statements, pointed out he’d just finished mowing his own lawn. His fathers’ lawn is also on his regular list of chores.  

The Woonsocket High 1988 grad left the city at 21 to attend URI, then New York Law School in Manhattan at 24. He returned to Woonsocket after with his wife, Stella, also a lawyer, moving back home while he studied at Suffolk University in Boston for his MBA. “It was a lot of work,” he said.

“My plan was always to return to Woonsocket,” Brien said. He and Stella bought their house in 2003, a dilapidated foreclosure, and they’ve been steadily restoring it since. It was ready for them to move in by 2005, but Brien says there’s always more to do. 

In 2006, GTECH, where he was corporate counsel, moved from West Greenwich to Providence, and that meant layoffs, Brien among them. “So, I know what it’s like to lose a job,” he said. “At that point, Stella and I decided to go into business together and formed Brien & Brien." The office is in the building built by his grandfather, Lodie Brien.

In 2005, Rep. Todd Brien’s votes against pension reform and for daycare worker collective bargaining cinched Jon Brien’s first run for office as a primary challenger. “I felt that those were two seemingly anti-taxpayer votes,” Brien said. That was what Brien calls the infamous Brien vs. Brien race, requiring a little creativity to make his name stand out. “You see that big Jon?” Brien said, pointing to one of his political signs, “That’s why I did it.” 

Brien said it’s his votes to protect taxpayers that have inspired his opponent’s primary run. “If you’re going to run against me because I made lousy votes, I can appreciate that,” Brien said. But, he said, Casey is running against him because his votes impacted Casey’s interests as a member of the firefighter's union. “I think people can see right through that,” Brien said.

Brien said his vote against the supplemental tax wasn’t about bankruptcy. “I never once said I wanted bankruptcy,” Brien said. “I said I wanted receivership,” because that would give the city greater negotiating power with unions, he said.

Also, Brien said, he and the rest of the House delegation [Rep. Robert D. Philips (D-Dist. 51), Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt (D-Dist. 49,)] weren’t told what plan council members and the mayor had for fixing the city’s deficit in the long run. Had the rest of the General Assembly asked, he said, “Our answer would have been, ‘We don’t know,’ and that’s irresponsible," Brien said. Instead, he said, the plan seemed to be that the city would negotiate after the supplemental tax was passed.

To those who’ve criticized the delegation for not having their own plan, Brien said, “We’re supposed to sell the city’s plan at the General Assembly.” 

The supplemental tax’s defeat was quickly followed by the appointment of a budget commission, which, although not as intrusive an option as receivership, has scheduled working out the school department budget and negotiation with the city’s unions ahead of a second run at a supplemental tax increase.

“Do I feel vindicated? What bargaining unit is going to give anything up once the tax is in place and the budget is balanced?” Brien said. He mentioned Budget Commission Chairman Bill Sequino’s statement that the burden of balancing the budget would have to shared by all. “It will now. This is the base of contention with these union candidates,” Brien said.

Brien dismissed Casey’s criticism of his vote to table House bill (H-7729), which, according to Rhode Islanders Tax Equity (RITE), would have increased the income tax rate from 5.99 percent to 9.99 percent on individuals making more than $250,000 per year. The tax rate would have gone down 1 percent for each 1 percent reduction in the state's unemployment, until the tax rate returned to 5.99 percent. The effect on the state budget would have been an additional $118 million in revenue, according to RITE.

Brien said he voted to table an amendment adding those changes to this year’s budget because the bill wasn’t recommended by the Finance Committee. Also, he said, the state passed new tax rates in 2010, which haven’t been in effect for very long. “You need a few fiscal years to see if it’s working,” Brien said.

According to sansiveri.com, taxable incomes of up to $55,000 are now taxed at 3.75 percent; taxable incomes between $55,000 and $125,000 are taxed at 4.75 percent; and taxable incomes greater than $125,000 are taxed at 5.99 percent. Econpost.com reported the changes will not alter the state’s revenues.

Brien branded the issue of his vote on (H-7729), as a union ploy. He said union leaders pushed the bill, “Because they knew it was never going to pass, but they wanted it to be an election issue, so union backed candidates who are members can use this in a campaign.”

An issue Brien is more enthusiastic about is his work to pass voter ID legislation, which this election season requires voters to show a voter ID before they can vote. “I’m very proud of the fact that voter ID in the state of Rhode Island is happening because I championed it over the last five years,” Brien said.

Brien couldn’t point to past examples of voter fraud that voter ID would have stopped, but he said in 2006 he began hearing from voters in the district who asked him about it. “I think it will serve as a backstop to fraud,” Brien said.

Given another term, Brien said, “I want to continue working to get Woonsocket off the distressed communities list.” He said another priority would be to make the education funding formula more viable for urban and suburban communities.

Brien took issue with Casey’s voting record, which shows he has missed six opportunities to vote in primaries, elections and special elections since 2006.

Brien, by comparison, has a voting record for primaries, elections and special elections dating back to 1995. He said a candidate for Dist. 50 should also vote in Dist. 50.  “I don’t miss elections,” Brien said, “I don’t miss an opportunity to vote. It’s too precious a right.” 

Brien and Casey will face off in the Democratic primary Tuesday, Sept 11. Whoever wins that contest will run unopposed for the Dist. 50 seat in November.

Common Sense September 03, 2012 at 10:42 PM
Steve, It is all too easy to fall into the union bashing that seems to be all the rage today. Please remember a few things. Union members are also taxpayers just like you. Unions enter into contracts with their respective employers. The word contract in and of itself means that you need at least two entities for it to be a contract...ie: unions negotiate for certain pay and benefits and politicians must ratify said contract (agree with the terms) before it becomes valid. Stop blaming the tax paying working stiffs for trying to get better wages and benefits for their families. If you've got a problem with it thinking that union members are getting rich from what you and others perceive to be lucrative contracts then take it up with the politicians at election time.
John Ward Jr. September 03, 2012 at 10:48 PM
I used to belong to a union till i got beat up for filing a grievance against my buddy.A trip to the dentist was in order.
Russell Archambault September 03, 2012 at 11:05 PM
lets fire everyone and start over. would that make everyone happy?
Common Sense September 03, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Russell, Why would you fire everyone? Unions don't have the power to sign their own contracts and paychecks. That power comes from the politician. Also...just curious who do you support in the state Rep contests? Jon and Lisa who supported pension reform for working people but voted against pension reform and healthcare increases for their part time work? Is that hypocrisy?
Russell Archambault September 04, 2012 at 12:15 AM
common sense; through all the things said, take some and leave some ,there are truth to the matters and issues. ive learned alot of on this site. AS for unions Ive said it before there are some jobs that I think require union jobs, I agree with you that in negotiations both sides agreed. Politians gave too much to save their positions when money was easy. Now we as taxpayers including people in unions are in a mess. maybe we could re- do all the contracts now that there is no money to go around. Is it fair to the people in unions who are caught in the middle, NO. we talk like unions is a comodoty. But in reality they are my friends and neighbors, who I care about.As for who i would vote for, I will go the the poll to cast my vote, the only people I would hope for is mark cote and doherty.I am so uncertain about all of it , lines will be left blank . My honest answer.
Common Sense September 04, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Thanks for your honesty Russell. We are not that far apart...
chip September 04, 2012 at 12:38 AM
So dissapointed in JON. Voter ID?? Are you kidding me? Steve Casey all the way!! We in the unions have given back for three years now. There is nothing left to give.
Still Hope September 04, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Russ, did you just say unions are your friends and neighbors? Or did I read you wrong?
Russell Archambault September 04, 2012 at 04:42 AM
I am not a union person but do have friends and neighbors who belong to unions. They do not have a choice with the jobs they have they must belong to one. With everything happening we are all caught up in this mess in the public sector. The only jobs that i think that should be union are for example iron workers, they actually are trained and our lives and safety depend on it. If I had any power in this city there would be no bargining. A job would be posted for pay and benefits. take it or dont .It may be a little more complicated than that but you get my point.
Brian O'Ryan September 04, 2012 at 05:17 AM
Uh? What exactly is that point? You mean, teachers, police and firefighters aren't trained? And our lives/safety don't depend on them? I don't get it. Iron workers are the only people you want to be able to bargain fairly for their jobs? So, the Iron Workers Union doesn't factor into this discussion but every other union does? Confusing as to who we are to target for this mess.
Russell Archambault September 04, 2012 at 01:14 PM
My point and comment is that there are intense training programs conducted by unions to have people acreddited for certain jobs.in the constructed fields. my point; on large scale construction jobs that may be anywhere in any state. its nice to know that everyone is certified to work. This all has to do in the private sector. nothing to do in the public sector. You are correct the private sector has nothing to do with this problem we are in. both the regular tax payer and the union worker tax payer are caught up in this public mess. thats my point we together are targets in the mess. aren't we just a bunch of puppets with leaders on both sides pulling the strings? Idont know where the so called fair line is, because I dont even know the whole game on contracts.I would just like to see everyone get a fair ending. And if that didnt work I would fire you !
JPicard September 04, 2012 at 01:57 PM
So what is the fair ending? The unions were given contracts based upon expectations that did not pan out. The property holders have expectations regarding a fair annual property tax. Is it up to the property holders to pay beyond their expectations so that contracts to union members can be fulfilled? Or is it up to the union contract holders to accept the fact that their original contracts were not properly funded/invested? These are really the only two questions worth answering.
Russell Archambault September 04, 2012 at 02:37 PM
fact; that their original contracts were not properly funded / invested .try to come an agreement that could actually fix this problem once and for all. Im not in favor throwing out the word consessions. If the two sides would agree just to start over, and work for the good of both sides, actually the same side, we are all in this together. fixing contracts will not get the city anywhere UNLESS there are orther factors that will be addressed. the problem is always the whole situation of the city's affairs are not addressed. Its always peacemeal. we need to get the city back on tract. there is one way through atrituation is a resendtcy clause. And i dont want to hear we need the best. well let the best live in their own litter box, and the best will think twice before pooping in it.
Mr. Sluggo September 04, 2012 at 02:38 PM
You left out one thing...holders of Woonsocket's debt (unsecured) should be given a haircut too.No one wants to talk about that though.Thanks to the GA back in 2010,they were made untouchable.They're more than happy to watch unions and taxpayers duke it out. No risk,tax free returns for them,pain for everyone else.The money changers have taken over the temple.
Still Hope September 04, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Thank you for clearing that up Russ. I think we are on the same page with unions. Private unions are necessary to protect, train, and set standards for the individual. It also serves to let the individual focus on his craft, rather than wasting time negotiating terms and policies. This is good for continued business. Public unions are an entirely different beast. I assume when some says "unions" on these forums, they implicitly mean public unions. Public unions were once meaningful, but now they're a scam. Contracts, standards, and policies for most of the public sector are made by the people and are set by law. The public workers do NOT need unions. The do, however, deserve representation in all matter pertaining to them. Creating a union for public workers is saying: "I don't trust my neighbors and the people I serve to do right by me." Public unions are rotting our communities. Look how many public unions are in the top 10: http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php I count at least 4 and they all overwhelmingly support the Democrat vote, at every government level. Special interest? You know it!
Russell Archambault September 04, 2012 at 03:24 PM
HOPE if i could only write as good as you and some others I could of made my point much clearer. Im sure many of us think alike, thanks
Still Hope September 04, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Let me add one more thing. I think the problem with public union is disproportionately related to the teacher's unions. Police, fire, and other municipal unions tend to be way more reasonable than the teacher's unions. Also, I hold dear the individual public worker. It takes a special kind of person to be a school teacher, a police officer, a firefighter, and other public service persons. Too bad they are stifled by unions and their honor overshadowed by politics.
Russell Archambault September 04, 2012 at 05:48 PM
hope so agreed. Ijust read , in the providence paper school teachers in chicago may go on strike. now all the rhedoric will start. a teacher stated even though the teachers go on strike they poor little children may come to school to get fed.HOW DID THEY EAT THROUGH SUMMER VACATION. a mom stated i may not be able to got to work. DID YOU WORK THROUGH SUMMER VACATION. If I had any power any person who goes on strike in this city and holds this city hostage WILL BE FIRED END OF STORY. it takes a leader to put his foot down. there would be ways to replace them.
Still Hope September 04, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Here's a quick read: http://voices.yahoo.com/inside-rubber-rooms-teachers-dont-teach-5847292.html Shows you why you can't fire a teacher. Unions own us.
Roger Ramjet September 05, 2012 at 09:44 AM
Unions are severely damaging whole industries: America created the automobile industry, but American unions are strangling it to death. Unions also wrecked the steel and textile industries and have helped drive manufacturing jobs overseas. They're crippling the airline industry and, of course, we can't forget that... Unions are ruining public education: Every few years, it's the same old story. The teachers’ unions claim that public education in this country is dramatically underfunded and if they just had more money, they could turn it around. Taxpayer money then pours into our schools like a waterfall and....there's no improvement. A few years later, when people have forgotten the last spending spree on education, the process is repeated. However, the real problem with our education system in this country is the teachers’ unions. They do everything possible to prevent schools not only from firing lousy teachers, but also from rewarding talented teachers. Merit pay? Government unions have bled billions from taxpayers nationally, but the damage they're doing on the local level is even worse. We have cities and states all across the country that are so behind on their bills that there have been genuine discussions about bankruptcy. There are a lot of irresponsible financial policies that have helped contribute to that sorry state-of-affairs, but unquestionably, the biggest backbreakers can be directly traced back to the unions.
Mr. Sluggo September 05, 2012 at 11:11 AM
The candidacies of Morin and Casey are tantamount to their filing a grievance against Woonsocket taxpayers.You vote for them at your own peril.
Brian O'Ryan September 08, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Our own peril??? What exactly will change for the better if we get Lisa BH and Jon again??? My God, man. WAKE UP!!! They've done nothing to point this city in the right direction. A change is needed in Providence to benefit Woonsocket and you simply cannot dispute that. They've failed for us time and time again. Voter ID? Gimme a break!!! Shooting down the supplemental tax that we ARE going to receive without a doubt? They've snowed us for far too long now. Funny how they want "shared sacrifice" but won't vote in favor of reducing their own benefits at the State House. I think I've had enough of being represented by LAWYERS!!! A breed of people in it entirely for themselves. Just my honest opinion. I feel like we've had the equivalent of used car salesmen at the helm and they're looking to sell us another clunker. They can talk a good talk but they've produced NOTHING for this city!!!
DR September 08, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Mr O'Ryan say you are involved in a bankruptcy I am sure you would rather have a lawyer represent you instead of a union rep. I find most people that complain about lawyers are the first ones to use a lawyer when they need one. I would like to thank the 3 reps for not supporting the supplemental tax. I feel what they did was right for Woonsocket-it would have been a lot easier to support the tax. If you want change for Woonsocket vote for a new mayor and city council that put the taxpayer first.
Brian O'Ryan September 08, 2012 at 07:01 PM
DR, are you telling me that we WILL NOT see a supplemental tax in our near future??? You can't possibly believe that. They wouldn't publicly support it due to their political agenda and the FACT that it's coming anyway! It's political grandstanding to say "we oppose the supplemental tax". Takes the heat off them and makes the public think that they both have the city's best interests at heart. So, I say again, what have they truly done for the city of Woonsocket???
DR September 08, 2012 at 07:25 PM
If enough people say we will get a supplemental tax then what you are saying to the Budget Commission is yes give us a supplemental tax. I say let the Budget Commission make the necessary cuts that puts Woonsocket back on track and keeps Woonsocket on track and if they can't do it bring in Mr Flanders a receiver. Once again I would like to thank the 3 reps.
David T September 08, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Well, 2 of the 5 BC members wanted the sup tax. It wouldn't be hard to convince one more, whether we talk about it here or not. I'm not happy with the mayor and council, but I know they were trying to avoid running out of money asap. It would have been better to get concessions and savings first to a least reduce the amount of sup tax needed. And now, DR, the only reason we didn't run out of money was the BC was able to get next April's state educational funding check 9 months early. I've heard estimates of a April 2013 deficit between 14 and 17 million dollars. As you and many others have pointed out many times, this city, the folks who pay residential taxes, are already heavily taxed. That was the point of defeating the sup tax. But this leaves only 1 avenue for the city leaders to fix the problem without bringing up the T word. Cut the budget by 14-17 million dollars. Am I missing something??? Isn't that all the city can do on it's own? I could be wrong. The state could do something or could have done something (the state meaning RIDE, the governor and the GA). In the last 6 terms (6 years) what has the state done for us as far as education? Would someone please tell me? What has the state done, that would have helped our city and school dept in the last 6 years (the number of years Baldelli-Hunt and Brien have been in the GA)??? Is anyone really that impressed with our state delegation when you look at how long they have been there?
David T September 08, 2012 at 09:11 PM
I didn't grow up in Woonsocket, but own a house and pay taxes and spend money here now and for the last 10 years. I didn't really start paying attention (shame on me) to our politicians until last November, 2011. I don't have any connection to any of the elected officials from the council and mayor to the entire state delegation. I didn't grow up with them, don't know them or their family or circle of friends. So for me its easy to look at them objectively. They seem smart enough and likable, but so do all the candidates, looking at them objectively. Probably the best thing you can say about the incumbents is that they are seasoned veterans of the workings of the state house and so can hit the ground running. But to have been there for 6 years and have no clue as to what is killing us at the school dept and why it is so sensible to do everything possible to have an attractive school system is extremely shameful to me. Yes, pension reform was addressed at the state level which does equal a saving across the board, but has there been anything that would help us in the schools, specifically for the schools?
David T September 08, 2012 at 09:17 PM
We are talking 6 years here folks! Give me some reasons to stay the course other that the sup tax. We will have either more fee increases and or more taxes eventually and soon. The can was only kicked down the road and made into smaller cans.
DR September 08, 2012 at 10:04 PM
David you must remember the Speaker Of The House and Senate President run the show in Providence so any new rep or senator is a peon and as you know Woonsocket doesn't exist. It takes years to get recognized and Lisa and Jon got recognized so maybe our city will be put back on the map. As far as the school system in RI goes I said it before its broken fix it- too many school districts too much duplication.
Harold Ryan September 16, 2012 at 11:10 AM


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