As we mourn the recent victims of senseless gun violence, and resolve to do better this year to enact sensible gun safety laws, I will discuss in this week’s letter (1) the budget priorities I forwarded to the Senate Finance Chair and (2) Tuesday’s votes on the City’s pension obligation bond proposal.
1. Budget Priorities
The Chair of the Finance Committee invites committee members to submit a list of up to five budget priorities to incorporate into negotiations with the House Finance Committee Chair. I submitted the following list:
1. As presented in Bill S-2462, fully fund the State’s program to reimburse municipalities for real estate property tax revenue lost due to tax-exempt properties and owners. This would increase State aid to Providence by approximately $1.3 million, and to the State’s other cities and towns by a total of approximately $1.4 million.
2. As explained in my February 13 letter, fund the new personnel positions in the Executive Climate Change Co-Ordinating Council (“EC4”), which will implement the Act on Climate to bring a zero-carbon future in Rhode Island, with operating funds rather than “scooping” funds from a Public Utilities Commission energy efficiency program that needs that funding to continue operating effectively.
3. As explained in my May 15 letter, commit an additional $150 million in “one-time” funding for affordable housing development beyond the $250 million proposed by the Governor.
4. As described in my January 30 letter, save $15 million from the ARPA budget by rejecting the proposal in the Governor’s budget for “municipal learning centers.”
5. Increase the bond funding for URI’s Narragansett Bay campus from the Governor’s proposed $50 million to $70 million or $90 million for either of the two campus additions proposed by the University.
The Committee’s other members also submitted lists to the Finance Chair, who will combine them into a joint proposal (along with others submitted by other Senators) to serve as a basis for negotiations with the House Finance Committee.
2. The Pension Obligation Bond
This Tuesday (June 7), there will be two votes on the City’s pension obligation bond proposal previously described in my letters of February 6 and May 8. The Senate Finance Committee will vote on approval of the bill to request State permission, which the House of Representatives passed last week. Also, Providence voters will have the opportunity to cast our vote (if we have not already) at a special election the same day. You can learn your polling place by clicking on this link. Many of your have contacted me with your questions and concerns, which reflect the serious level of due diligence you are carrying out on this important issue. Those of you seeking more information can find it on the City’s web page, which also includes a number of frequently asked questions. I also recommend you watch a 15-minute discussion on this week’s episode of WPRI-12 Newsmakers, in which Michael DiBiase of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council presents the arguments in favor of the bond, while Republican National Committee member Steven Frias presents the case for rejecting the proposal.
I appreciate the hard work many of you have undertaken to understand this complex issue. It is my hope that when your inquiry is completed, you will be persuaded (as I am) that, under favorable financial conditions (i.e., a bond interest rate of 4.9% or lower), the pension obligation bond represents our best available tool to address an otherwise unsustainable unfunded pension liability. Whatever your conclusion, however, I encourage you to exercise your right to vote concerning this vital issue that may shape our City’s future.