Here’s a summer smorgasbord serving on topics in the local news as we head into the dogs days of summer.
Central Falls RIP
It remains to be seen what happens to Central Falls and how and when it will emerge out of Chapter 9 bankruptcy. As has been pointed out, municipal bankruptcies have been rare to date, which means the ground ahead is not illuminated by a precedent case. The unions are going to explore legal action against the cuts imposed on retirees and the voiding of existing contracts for active city workers, but how are they going to get redress, should they even prevail, from an entity that may be no longer legally exist in a year’s time? Central Falls is probably not going to emerge from Chapter 9 in a restructured and fiscally rescued manner; the debt obligations are too great and the revenue sources insufficient for the city to survive.
Which means the problem of Central Falls is a state problem, requiring a state-brokered solution. Parceling one end of the city to neighboring Pawtucket and the other half to Cumberland is probably the best way forward, as neither community is capable of absorbing the whole. City workers – those that survive layoffs due to pure cost-cutting and then redundancy – will go to work for one neighbor or the other.
The bigger problem stemming from the Central Falls collapse is the softly spoken danger that other financially shaky communities will follow. With the state in its own fiscal mess and federal funding being pulled back, cities and towns are going to see even less state and federal assistance across the board, which means even more stress on their budgets. It’s a bad situation, and despite the fact that it’s been coming on for a number of years now next to nothing has been done to prepare for it.
Same thing with the pension crisis
This is the biggest problem of them all and we’ve just drifted into it, passing the buck in the good years to see the problem attack us in full fury when things are at their worst in terms of state revenues and federal support.
The pension advisory group meeting through this summer has a mammoth job on its hands, and the question we’re all waiting to see answered is whether it can bridge its internal divide between the labor members who don’t want to see major changes made and the reformers who will be attempting to push the envelope. It was probably to be expected that we would see certain pension advisory group members begin to publicly take pot shots at one another over the extent of the pension problem and the possible solutions that will have to be wrestled with. First, we had the mayoral group publicly state that their cities couldn’t survive fiscally without far-reaching changes to the system, even to include changes to the pensions of present retirees. Then we had the labor group go public in accusing the mayors of scare-mongering. We’ll see if Gina Raimondo can keep them focused in the weeks ahead or if open warfare breaks out.
The fact is that anything that is not far-reaching and truly remedial is going to be just a half-loaf. When you put the legislators into the equation come fall, what is a half-load could turn into a few slices. And that won’t cut it. We could end up with a parallel disaster to the federal debt debate meltdown: a deal that doesn’t accomplish much of anything, that no one likes, and one that makes things even worse. (Right now it’s hard to see any legislator doing the right thing, be it for the state or for the country, but forgive my summer cynicism.)
Bruce Sundlun, my friend
Like all native born Rhode Islanders of a certain age, the passing of former Governor Bruce Sundlun was noted with sadness but also with a sense of completeness in remembering a good but sometimes difficult man who was larger than life. I got to know Bruce Sundlun through my parents – he didn’t care for my father, who was occasionally a thorn in his side because of his Red Alert efforts, but he liked my mother very much. And he was always nice to me. We had a good relationship and I valued his friendship over the years.
Bruce also taught me some valuable lessons along the way. He was a keen student of Rhode Island history, and he leaves a legacy as an educator (as well as a columnist) in addition to all his other laurels. He was the right governor at the right time in our state’s history, and he had to make some very tough decisions which he knew would cause him trouble. But he always did what he felt would be best for RI, and his accomplishments are still with us. He was a governor possessed of courage, a political quality we need to see a lot more of. Bruce Sundlun was a great Rhode Islander, a great American, and my friend.