Responding to Mayor Napolitano on his Budget

UPDATE: I ran into Allan Fung, close-running contender for Mayor of Cranston, at Tuesday night’s meeting. I had asked him, “Would you have done this to the schools, given them a zero dollar increase?” Fung responded, “Absolutely not.” In an email I received today, Fung elaborated.

“I would have provided some funding to the schools. I thought it was outrageous that the Mayor did not fund one red cent to the schools, especially when he is calling for a 5 1/4% tax increase. Even when we were in junk bond status, we provided as much funding as we could to the schools. The city is in much better shape, a positive outlook with one rating agency, and not in junk bond status.”

Fung also provided more detail about the new, more expensive car lease for Mayor Napolitano’s vehicle. He stated that Napolitano’s line item for his car lease is for $5,500 a year for a Mercury Montenegro. Laffey’s lease was for a Mercury Mountaineer and was for either $3,300 or $3,500.

Fung also said in reviewing Napolitano’s budget: “I’m finding his budget numbers just don’t add up.” Among other issues, he expressed concern that Napolitano’s budget may be severely underfunding the police and fire pensions.

ORIGINAL POST: I went to the meeting of the Cranston City Council on Tuesday, where parents were asked to show up and offer their support for funding the schools, which our Mayor, Michael Napolitano, has chosen not to do. The school department promised to give a 30 minute presentation, starting at 7 pm, which was still going on when I left at about 8:20. But before that, there was a short presentation by Mayor Napolitano. From the Projo:

Napolitano was the first to face the crowd and let it be known that there will be no argument from him if the council figures out a way to allocate more money to the School Department. “I did not want to level-fund the schools,� he said. “This is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do.�

“This is not a mayor who stands before you who does not want to fund the schools,� Napolitano said. “I just don’t have the money.� [full text]

This act has marked you, Mayor Napolitano. In my mind, it has marked you as someone who deliberately does unreasonable things in order to provoke a reaction. You can protest until the cows come home about how much you care about education, but it just doesn’t ring true when your budget does not allocate one single dollar in increases for the actual acts of educating children in our city. You have effectively alienated your core constituency. As a high-ranking member of the Democratic party commented when I described your budget at a fundraiser last Thursday, “That’s not a good way to start.”

Even Steve Laffey does not wear this mark. For all his bluff and bluster, Mayor Laffey funded the schools, and now it looks like he funded them well — above 5% every year. Last year, he gave them 7%. The fact that you can fund increases for the city-side budget, including an increase in the cost of the Mayor’s car (50% more than Laffey’s car cost), calls into question the quality of your leadership.

I’m going to speak for some of the little people now, the “cast of a thousand” sitting in the audience, waiting for a chance to express our disappointment and distress over this lack of support for the schools. It is an insult to me as a parent and taxpayer that you could not find a way to allocate any money at all for the schools. The only possible explanation that I can come up with for why you are doing this is that you are trying to start a fight. Mayor Napolitano, you promised to bring a less contentious approach to the role of leader of our city. You are falling down on the job. Advocating for better funding on the state level is necessary, but you also have to show that you are willing to ante up and value all aspects of our city, especially our schools.

Perhaps this is some master plan on the state level to starve schools of funding until they stop giving raises and benefits to teachers and administrators that exceed the pay of many private sector jobs in the state. Be that as it may, the way to address this issue is in negotiating the contract with the teachers when it comes up again in 2008, not in engaging the school department and the city in more expensive litigation.

Since I saw many people leaving early on Tuesday night, and I heard from a friend that it wasn’t until after 9:15 that people other than elected officials and school administrators got to speak, I would like to offer Kmareka as a place where people can register their views about the issue of funding our schools in Cranston. Please step up to the virtual microphone, feel free to use a pseudonym, and share your opinion about what needs to happen to sustain quality education in Cranston.

10 thoughts on “Responding to Mayor Napolitano on his Budget

  1. Courageous post! I have heard it from many quarters that Nap, Traf and Aram have already met and game planned this whole thing. Nap will deny the CSC, in turn, Traf will have “no choice” but to file a law suit. They will win the law suit and the city will be “forced” into tapping into the rainy day fund.

    It is all about using the suit for political cover. Pretty shameful, but that is what it is.

  2. I have also heard that some state legislators want to introduce legislation to eliminate the Caruolo option for schools.

  3. Andre- I’m disappointed in your post. No one was more suprised by the Mayor’s proposed budget than the School Committee.
    I certainly do not want to spend dollars that should be used to educate our children on litigation. I’m hopeful that the City Council will correct the damage proposed by the Mayor and fully fund the School Committee’s request.

  4. I agree with Andre on both counts – it is a courageous post and this “conflict” between the city administration and the school committee is nothing but a ruse; and pretty transparent at that. However, given the lack of courage relative to a variety of issues, by both the Mayor and members of the city council, it’s not surprising that they would resort to this kind of approach.

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t get to the underlying issue relative to education – under our current system of financing, there is no money. Because of prior decisions made at City Hall, on Smith Hill, and in Washington money for education (along with a whole host of other public programs) has been choked off. The result has been the distribution of fewer dollars to programs that have to be level funded, reduced, or abandoned all together. And the people most affected are once again those who are least able to impact the process – in this case, school kids.

    It seems to me that there are short term and long term problems. In the short term, we need to adequately fund the schools. To that end, we probably need to make hard decisions regarding other city programs and look to the surplus for some help. But, before anyone dips into the surplus, a plan should be implemented to ensure that the money will be repaid – with interest – within a reasonable time. This should be a one-shot (two at most) process to buy some time for the state to get its act together. Or, in the alternative, provide time to seek alternative funding methods and administrative savings – or both.

    The short-term problem is easier to solve than the long-term problem. The long-term problem with financing education requires that the state become actively involved. That, in turn, would require someone in the state to understand that this is not an incremental problem subject to an incremental approach. This is a comprehensive problem requiring a much more comprehensive approach than the state government currently seems capable of.

    An example of what I mean – last year amid great fanfare, the legislature enacted a “cap� on local property taxes. Because this would limit the ability of cities and towns to fund local programs and schools, this “cap� was predicated on the state’s ability to increase general and education aid to the cities and towns. However, as pretty much anyone with an abacus knew, there was a $ 50 million deficit, which ballooned to over $ 100 million, for fy 2007. In turn, that has ballooned into over $ 300 million deficits for both fy 08 and fy 09. So, where’s the state going to get the money for these local governments? Who knows? But why let a little thing like deficits over the next few years get in the way of grandstanding during an election year? For make no mistake, that’s exactly what it was.

    Because I have often expressed my thoughts relative to the other tax “reforms� last year there is no need to re-state them other than to point out that unless the issue of tax equity is addressed and resolved, there is no chance that the state will become a meaningful partner in developing a solution to the problem of financing education.

    But in the end, the real solution comes from leadership and a governing philosophy. In a variety of areas, at the local level both have been so absent that I am not too optimistic about the future.

    Sorry for the long post.

  5. Mr Schoos, don’t ever apologize for long posts. Your comments are extremely valuable, and I truly appreciate them. Rather, we should thank you for your time.

    The real solution is an economy in which median wages increase. They’ve been stuck pretty much for the last 30 years, in real terms. The implication is that tax revenues get stuck because wages don’t go up.

    Given that, and the decreased tax rates on high earners, there is no money. We are living with the outcome of Reaganomics. Cut taxes, cut non-defense spending, and keep wages stagnant means the fed can’t help, the state can’t help, and the whole burden of paying for ed falls on the individual communities.

    And, my apologies, Andrea. I won’t claim conspiracy, but some sort of “understanding” was reached. The schools eventually get their money, Nap gets to play “hard-liner” and Garabedian gets to be the mediator. And a bunch of lawyer cronies get a nice chunk of change, too.

    The part that incenses me is the way they deliberately stall the meetings to get rid of those mischief-makers: the public. This happens way too consistently for it not to be part of the plan.

  6. I don’t tend toward conspiracy theories, not even remotely, so I tend to think that these are the real issues being played out. My objection is mainly to Napolitano taking such an extreme position in the outset. I also believe that we should be able to fund education increases that at least keep up with inflation. The pain of budget problems should be equally spread.

  7. Andrea, apologies, if I sound like a bit “alarmist� but this is a very real perception that exists right now concerning the school budget.

    A have listened to a number of very different people in the last few days that have independently reached the same conclusions.

    I agree with the Mayor that the problem was not of his making and that the state and federal governments must provide funding for their mandates.

    I squarely place blame on the conservative fiscal polices that have come from Washington, DC over the last several years.

    With a new Democratic majority in Congress, I sincerely hope that educational funding will become a national priority, once again.

    As for right now, the City Council has no choice but fully fund or risk legal action and end up fully funding plus the legal expenses.

  8. Klaus,
    You need a serious lesson in economics. THere is a reason that wages are stagnant in RI. THe sufferingly high taxes serve to keep business away from this state. You static minded liberals just won’t let go of your emotion laden, failed theories.
    Go ahead and raise taxes some more. See what happens. I’ll be laughing. You’ll still be whining.

  9. Sorry, Morgan. I’m the one with the facts on my side. Do you have any proof of your statements? Or are you going to continue to rely on name-calling?

    If high taxes drive away business, then why are 4 states with the highest overall tax rates also in the top 5 for per capita income?

    RI cut taxes on its highest earners. Yet, CT has the highest total tax burden in the country, and yet it also has the highest per capita income. Why haven’t all the rich folk left CT and moved to Alabama?

    And if low taxes attract business, why do 4 of 5 of the lowest tax states also show up in the bottom 5 for per capita income?

    By your reasoning, businesses should be relocating to Alabama and Mississippi in droves. Why aren’t they?

    The simple fact is that median wages began to stagnate about the time we made the transition to Reagonomics. Ever since, the rich have been getting richer, and the rest of us are being left behind. The real median wage is lower now than it was in 1980. The richest 1/10 of 1% have seen their incomes increase 4 times in that same period.

    Who has benefited from all the tax cuts? Not 90% of the population.

    Given all of these facts, which of us has his head stuck in emotion-laden theory?

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