Rhode Islanders recognize that Gov. Gina Raimondo’s continued diversion of millions from our 9-1-1 emergency system to help fill the state’s abyssal structural deficit is just plain wrong. This practice has come with great cost: longer wait times, disconnected calls, overworked and exhausted dispatchers, low morale at the call center and technology upgrade and training delays.
Rhode Islanders need to know that this isn’t the only budgetary shell game that she’s been playing. The Governor is calling for deep, reckless “scoops” at a whole host of agencies and the impact on cities, towns and residents is coming full circle.
Over my objections and that of other local leaders, RI Resource Recovery raised its fees two years ago, citing a need for capital improvements to enhance its efficiencies. This staggering 47 percent increase has cost cities and towns over $6 million in the past two years. Cranston taxpayers alone are shouldering an increase of over $375,000. Now, the Governor wants to steal all $6 million from the landfill to cover her reckless over-spending at state agencies.
In the past two budgets, the Governor has proposed scooping $11 million from Rhode Island Housing, severely undermining their ability to help many Rhode Islanders buy their first home through the vital down payment assistance program.
Executive Director Barbara Fields testified before the House Committee on Finance that this practice reduces the agency’s bottom line, which is a “major factor in determining our overall credit rating.” That means they will pay higher interest rates, resulting in less money they can borrow and less value for the dollars they put back into the state economy. While the Governor is quick to take credit for their work and will scramble to appear at a ribbon-cutting whenever the agency celebrates a new home purchase, her own budget practices have hampered the agency’s critical work for Rhode Island’s struggling families.
Then there’s the $8.5 million scoop from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, a program launched in 2016 to great fanfare with promises to bring construction jobs to the state with a focus on environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient projects. The bank expects to generate $18.8 million more revenue than expenses in Fiscal 2018 and instead of using that revenue success to fund more economic development projects, nearly half is vanishing into the black hole known as the General Fund.
The total for all these scoops is about $26 million and this doesn’t even include the $10 million in DMV fees being diverted from RIDOT for its intended purpose: highway maintenance.
The icing on the cake is that all of these scoops still don’t close this ballooning budget deficit! The Governor’s budget is symptomatic of the reckless spending and dishonesty that are hallmarks of this administration.
Rhode Island needs a real leader who will actually confront the state’s financial woes and make needed cuts instead of leading Rhode Islanders through a hall of smoke and mirrors. On day one, we’ll end these practices and leave the dollars where they rightfully belongs.
Mayor Fung is a Republican candidate for governor.