2010-05-13 / News

Taxpayers group targets budget cuts

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Jamestown Taxpayers Association has announced that it will seek to reduce the size of the town budget during the June 7 financial town meeting when the proposed $20.8 million budget is put to a vote.

The JTA May 10 meeting at the library featured a presentation on the advocacy efforts of the R.I. Statewide Coalition. The association, which is now affiliated with RISC, addressed the town budget during the second half of the meeting – but didn’t reveal which of the line items the group has targeted.

Noting that the Press was in attendance, JTA president John Pagano said, “I don’t want to identify the line items before we have registered the warrants.”

Warrants are required for financial town meeting motions to increase or reduce budget appropriations by more than $10,000.

JTA recording secretary Amy Gallagher said, “We were very strategic in our selection of the line items,” and it was pointed out that all of the warrants will be published in the Press once they’re registered. The deadline to register is May 18.

Pagano said that the JTA decided to pursue a budget reduction because the proposed Jamestown budget doesn’t reflect the economic difficulties in the U.S.

“The budget is only one-quarter of 1% less than the previous budget, and that is just unacceptable,” he said. “So, your executive committee singled out a group of line items for further reductions.”

It will be Pagano who offers the motion – or separate motions, if necessary – for a vote(s) on the budget reduction proposals because the JTA is not itself a registered voter. Asked to describe the total amount of the budget reductions that the JTA is seeking, Pagano told the Press, “It will be way less than 5% of the budget.”

No one in the packed house was definitively sure if Pagano will have to offer 18 separate motions or only a single motion encompassing all 18 requests for line-item reductions. If the process requires 18 separate motions – especially if they include motions for paper-ballot votes – the financial town meeting could be a long one.

Pagano said that he has asked several town officials how the multi-motion process would work, and that all the responses he’s heard have been different. He was advised to expand his inquiries to include Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero.

Prior to the discussions on the budget-reduction effort, RISC vice president and communications director Harriet Lloyd enumerated a wide range of advocacy initiatives that her group is pursuing at the General Assembly. One of those efforts involves the RISC demand to quickly see the voting records of every legislator after a vote.

“Forty-nine states provide that information on web pages,” Lloyd said. “Rhode Island publishes the information in the House and Senate journals, but they’re only available in a pdf format, and you need a Ph.D. to sift through them.”

The journals are published two days after votes are held, Lloyd added, saying that the practice of publishing voting results in dense journals is obstructing taxpayers’ access to voting records.

“We’re working with the Speaker’s attorney on this,” Lloyd said, “but I don’t think they want this information out there before the November election. If you could compare voting records against the public positions that some of these legislators have taken, you would be shocked.”

Lloyd said that RISC is also engaged in a “battle to the death” against proposals to require binding arbitration when union negotiations reach an impasse.

“We are also looking to eliminate the old seniority system in public schools to avoid bumping exciting new teachers,” she said.

Other top priority school issues for RISC include funding and ethical issues raised by the relationships of school board members to family members or spouses working in schools. Lloyd noted that Central Falls Island school superintendent Frances Gallo addressed a RISC meeting “the same week that everything happened,” she said, referring to Gallo’s decision to fire teachers after union negotiations broke down.

“A video of her speech,” said Lloyd, “is available on our web site, along with other videos, which is important because the media in Rhode Island doesn’t always provide good coverage of the issues that are important to you – when they provide coverage of those issues at all.”

The RISC web site is located at www.statewidecoalition.com. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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