2008-02-07 / Front Page

Jamestown may lose in state's budget cuts

By Nick Pereira

Governor Donald Carcieri released two budgets late last week and the town of Jamestown stands to lose $31, 000 in the remaining fiscal year and the same amount in the upcoming fiscal year.

According to the Governor's budget summary, Rhode Island is facing one of the largest budget deficits in history of the state. The new budget proposes cuts in a wide variety of things, including nearly $70 million in state funds towards subsidized healthcare programs. Reducing eligibility for the state's welfare system, increasing traffic violation fines, early release of prisoners, and the consolidation of several government offices are also included in the plan. Cuts to almost every government department in funding and personnel are also included, the summary stated.

The governor's plan would freeze state aid for education to towns and cities at the current levels and $17.1 million would be cut from Rhode Island's three public universities. Currently Rhode Island schools are improving. Scores for proficiency in English and math are up three and one percent respectively from last year. Educators have expressed fears that this plan may cause a double-digit percent increase for the cost of tuition at the public universities. Also, with inflation and other cost increases, a freeze on funding for education has been called a de facto cut for schools.

Most pressing for local communities is a proposed cut of $12.5 million to the towns and cities for non-education related expenses. These cuts would begin, if the General Assembly passes them, with a mid-year revision of the budget for the remainder of this fiscal year. The towns and cities would stand to lose the same amount in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1, according to the budget summary.

Jamestown would have $31,000 cut from state aid in both cases. As such, Jamestown would account for .002 percent of the $12.5 million cut. It is hoped that by the time the cuts for the next fiscal year begin, local communities will have enough time to prepare for the loss in revenue, the summary stated.

On the surface, $31,000 may not seem like a large amount, however, Rep. Bruce Long, who represents Jamestown and Middletown, noted that he has witnessed the Town Council debate items for as little as $500. Rep. Long said he opposes the cut to Jamestown for the remainder of this year because he feels that the town manages itself efficiently and he does not feel that Jamestown, nor Middletown, should be punished for working well.

As for the next fiscal year, Long feels that the towns and cities of Rhode Island will need to accept that the state is facing hard times, he said.

Senator Teresa Paiva-Weed, who represents Jamestown and Newport, said she is against the cuts to the towns and cities. Although the state is facing hard times, she believes by cutting funding to the different communities the state is bucking some of the responsibility for the state debt onto the local communities. This sentiment has been echoed by several key members of the General Assembly.

Several fire sale ideas for selling off state assets have been floated, including selling the Dunkin' Donuts and Convention Centers. Perhaps most pressing for Jamestown was the notion of selling the Newport Bridge to the private sector. All of these ideas never gained traction and have been strongly opposed.

Senator Paiva-Weed acknowledges that the plan is an "extraordinarily difficult budget" that needs to be debated. Long expressed that everyone needs to tighten their belt in the coming years. To that end, the Republican caucus voted to pay for part of its health care costs and is urging Democrats to do the same, Long said.

Both Long and Paiva-Weed stressed how important it is for the entire General Assembly to work together to solve the problems facing this state. Although the state's financial situation may be bleak, this may be a chance for compromise on many issues.

Regardless of the politics and the numbers, the Rhode Island budget is in trouble and Jamestown will most likely feel a

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