Last week, Mayor Joseph Polisena hosted a press conference at the Johnston Senior Center that drew local officials from communities as far afield as Westerly, Pawtucket, and East Providence.
State legislators in the General Assembly should pass Gov. Lincoln Chafee's Municipal Reform and Relief Act bills to potentially keep any other cities and towns from falling into the fiscal crises now faced by Central Falls and other communties.
Chafee has recently been on a statewide campaign to get local officials behind his proposals — Johnston Town Councilors approved a measure supporting the bills at their meeting Apr. 9, the same night that the Coventry Town Council voted 3-1 to back Chafee's plans.
Among the seven bills are measures that would:
- Set up a "distressed community" designation, and allow cities and towns to suspend contracts and take other measures if they meet the requirements to be named a distressed community;
- Allow towns to waive state mandates;
- Give towns the authority to suspend Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increases in pension payments; and
- Keep past payments for school department deficits from becoming part of a town's bottom line in future budgets, among other authorities.
- Require the state to pay local school aid earlier;
- Hold all school districts to budgets that align with standards set by the state Department of Education.
On Thursday, the state House Finance Committe heard three hours' of testimony from supporters and detractors, GoLocalProv.com reported, but did not take a vote on the package of bills.
Chafee told the committee that his bills would avoid bankruptcy for other Rhode Island cities and towns, GoLocalProv.com reported, while opponents like AFL-CIO President George Nee argued that the legislation would invalidate legally-negotiated contracts.
What do you think?
Would Chafee's bills go far enough to help stave off bankruptcy for more cities and towns? Or are communities essentially stuck with the contracts negotiated in years past?
Do union leaders have a point when they say Chafee's proposals would erode workers' rights? Or is this a case — as Polisena has argued — of giving a little now to save the system down the road?
And, if you had a chance to have your say to local legislators, what would you tell them?
Here's your chance to voice your opinion on this important issue — add your comments below.