Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Political Lies Regarding "Mandates"

I’ve recently heard a number of stories on the news that make me irate as a working man and a taxpayer.

The first one had to do with record breaking profits over the last two quarters on Wall Street. These profits were primarily realized by the already wealthy and this money will not be spent on consumables which would contribute to the rebound of our economy. Also there was the story of some large financial institutions which took federal stimulus money to bail out their shabbily run businesses. These institutions were paying back the federal government. That should be good news, but the reason they were paying the money at this time (early December) is so that they could pay out multi-million dollar bonuses to their upper management personnel which is forbidden under present arrangements of the stimulus package for companies that still owe Uncle Sam money. I guess they’re back to business as usual.

A grant writer for the State of RI and URI illegally diverted over a million dollars of grant money earmarked for the state and the university to his personal account. God knows if we (the taxpayers of RI) will ever recover the full amount of money stolen.

Then there’s the case of our governor. He still wants to lower the capital gains tax and lower the highest tax rate for the wealthiest of Rhode Islanders. He feels that this would be fair, even though the state is in a huge financial deficit.

His solutions to this, however, speaks to the total disconnect he (as a wealthy person) has to working men and women. He shifted the biggest part of the problem to the cities and towns, and in doing so has probably guaranteed that each and every Rhode Islander will see increases in either their real estate tax or their rent. The governor comes from a business background where creative bookkeeping can avoid financial disaster – at least temporarily. Money that was supposed to be paid to the cities and towns is now being kept by the State to cut its deficit. Never mind that it was promised to the cities and towns and already had been used in their budgets. In the business world contracts are made to be broken.

He then proposes to cut unfunded mandates from municipal contracts. Minimum staffing requirements for police and fire and requirements for bus monitors are the most concerning to me. Anything that allows short-sighted politicians cut back on public safety is a recipe for disaster. I’ve served the citizens of Providence for thirty years as a firefighter and I know without a shadow of a doubt that if the mayor had the authority to shut down four or five fire companies on a single night to save on overtime he would do so without hesitation. The same holds true for running the police night shift with only four or five patrol cars in the city. As for bus monitors, people have such short memories. Before the requirement for monitors there had been a number of fatal instances of little children being struck and killed by their own buses. Since the implementation of this “mandate” not a single child has been injured by a school bus. Such short-sightedness for such a miniscule amount of financial savings seems unconscionable to me.

“Mandates” has taken on such a negative connotation in recent political debates in this state. “Mandates” are simply laws that require a “minimum” level of consideration for safety factors - nothing more and nothing less. If any citizen is na├»ve enough to think that some cities or towns would keep such positions filled if given the opportunity to opt out of the requirements imposed on them by these “mandates” they are in for a big surprise. Governments only live up to the minimum requirements imposed by “mandates”, contracts or current political pressure by their constituents.

If you, as a citizen, truly believe that bus monitors, firefighters and police officers are merely positions created to provide cushy municipal jobs with job security for those who are politically connected then by all means support the governor’s irresponsible attempt to pawn off the state’s budget woes to the cities and towns and his equally irresponsible suggestion that we eliminate these “mandates” which are in place to guarantee “minimal” public safety considerations.

If you understand that these positions (and “mandates”) truly contribute to a safer environment for our citizens safe from the political budgetary whims of a politician’s pen then please contact your legislator and demand that the state find another way to balance the budget. Tell them that you won’t sacrifice the safety of your family, your children or your grandchildren to make up for past political mismanagement.

Tom Kenney