Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Governor's Irresponsible Proposals

The Governor’s Irresponsible Proposals

In the year 2012 (or so) former RI Governor Donald Carcieri will be the defendant in a wrongful death suit brought by the widow of a RI firefighter, police officer or the family members of multiple fire victims.

Unfortunately for the taxpayers of RI, a wrongful death suit will also be brought against the State of RI and a city or town to be named later by the same victims.

The exact legal issues and the time frame stated here are not written in stone, but the fact that people will die in this state as the result of Governor Carcieri’s proposed changes in his supplemental budgetary proposals is, in my opinion, only a matter of when, who and how many people will die. The changes he proposes are far-reaching and very dangerous, not to mention completely irresponsible.

Public Safety is not a convenience; it is a necessity, and should always be a priority – not only when the economy is flourishing. In fact, when the economic climate is at its worst is when the greatest demands are placed on both police and fire departments.

For those of you who may not be aware of the changes the governor is proposing that would trigger a chain of consequences that would result in decreased public safety throughout the state of RI (particularly in fire departments), I will attempt to connect the dots.

First of all, the governor’s proposed supplemental budget cuts millions of dollars in promised state aid to RI’s cities and towns. This is a substantial amount of money per town. Mayors and Town Managers throughout the state are already publicly stating that layoffs of municipal workers are the most likely place to cut such an amount from their budgets. This, in itself, is a matter of great concern. RI’s unemployment level is already the 2nd highest in the nation. These types of layoffs would certainly gain us the dubious distinction of being #1 once again.

The sole ‘safety valves’ in the present system that could keep desperate Mayors and Town Managers from ravaging their public safety personnel, to a more dangerously critical level than they are at present, are the minimum staffing provisions in the respective CBA’s (Collective Bargaining Agreements) with their police and fire unions. If not for these provisions, there would be nothing to safeguard the minimum number of firefighters or police officers on the street at any given time.

Governor Carcieri, being well aware of the minimum staffing levels in public safety contracts, has also proposed that police and fire unions be allowed collective bargaining and the right to “binding” arbitration on issues that cannot be resolved via negotiations. Police and fire unions already have these ‘rights’ under RI law. Governor Carcieri is, however, proposing changes to these rights as currently enforced.

He proposes that the right to “binding” arbitration remain intact for monetary issues regarding salaries and benefits. He wants to take away the union’s right to “binding” arbitration regarding minimum staffing levels, minimum equipment levels, and deployment of personnel issues. In other words he wants to put the question of how many police officers or firefighters are on duty at one time into the hands of the politicians. He wants to give the politicians the right to close fire stations (by not replacing worn out Engine companies or Ladder companies). He wants to allow politicians to double up police officers and cut the number of vehicles responding to calls in half – or worse.

His irresponsible handling of the State’s fiscal crisis is putting the cities and towns in desperate financial shape. They have been put in a position where the only options afforded them are to raise taxes or to cut services. These types of choices are never easy but, no matter how desperate the economic climate, we should never allow our citizens to be placed in harm’s way to help balance some politician’s budget.

No comments: