Even if you’ve never met Richard Corrente, there’s a better than good chance that you’ve seen him around Warwick at least once or twice. The mortgage broker known for waving to commuters along main arteries in the city and his rallying cry of “Cut taxes, cut spending,” is in full campaign mode once again, after an unsuccessful run in 2016.
Corrente ran for mayor last election cycle as the only Democrat in opposition to Republican stalwart Scott Avedisian and, while he didn’t end up in the mayoral chair, he does hold the distinction of getting closer to victory than any other challenger of Avedisian over his 18-year tenure. He only lost by 12,000 votes.
This year, Corrente’s message hasn’t changed. He still believes strongly in his theory that lowering property taxes on citizens will enable more people to move to the city, which will in turn lessen the tax burden for those already living here, and that cutting spending will make for a healthier financial situation in the city. He reached 200 signatures, solidifying his position on the ballot, this past weekend.
“I'm just so frustrated with the tax and spend tactics of the political insiders,” Corrente said. “Joe Solomon is a nice guy and we're friends but he just introduced the largest tax increase the law allows. We cannot continue to tax and spend, it doesn't work.”
Corrente argues that Warwick has lost 5,800 “taxpaying residents” over the last 10 years. According to the U.S. Census, the population decrease is closer to 2,000 over the last seven years and 5,000 over the last 17 years. Despite the fact that not all of these individuals would be taxpayers, as some would be children and many would not be paying property taxes, Corrente still contends that annual tax increases as a big part of that exodus.
“I've been a mortgage banker for 40-plus years. I see this every single day. I kept seeing taxes go up 18 years in a row. No other town or city in Rhode Island can say that. In 2009, when property values went down significantly, when everyone else was keeping taxes the same or lowering them, we increased them."
“That's a lot of tax dollars that went out of our city,” he continued, referencing the loss of population. “It's something I'm passionate about. We keep losing tax dollars. My solution is no, lower taxes and we'll get more people.”
Corrente is correct that Mayor Joseph Solomon approved a budget for FY19 that included the largest allowable tax increase this spring. However, this came about after a year the City Council, at the time led by Solomon as president, hung its hat on holding the line on a no tax increase budget for FY18. Corrente claimed that his advocacy was partially responsible for this outcome.
“It worked,” Corrente said of his losing campaign in 2016 where he claimed to have campaigned “700 days in a row” and spent $40,000 of his own money. “Avedisian introduced 29 new taxes and was defeated on every single one of them by a brave city council. That's when Avedisian saw the writing on the wall.”
The second part of Corrente’s vision is to decrease spending, but Corrente does not jump to quick solutions about where those cuts should come from.
“If we increase tax revenue by adding new taxpayers, we don’t have to cut spending at all,” he said. “But there's a lot of things we're spending money on right now that I sincerely believe we don’t have to spend money on.”
Corrente mentioned starting a voluntary pension reform program where longtime employees could be offered buyouts on their pensions in a lump sum payment. He argues that, even if the city has to borrow money to pay for these lump sums, lessening payments in the long term would be of financial benefit to the city as it would free up debt obligations to be used elsewhere.
Corrente also suggested a two-year moratorium on building permit fees in order to promote more development, which he argues will increase the amount of money captured in annual property taxes and recoup savings in the long run.
In a similar vein, Corrente mentioned a tax rebate program that would provide incentives for new families and businesses to move into Warwick.
“This is basic economics, and my critics want the voting public to believe that it can't be done. Well gee whiz, it's being done in Texas,” Corrente said. “I am not the smartest man in the world. These are not my ideas. These are ideas that other people have had in other states where they are working.”
As for his other ideas, Corrente believes that the school department needs to be audited from an outside auditing agency that isn’t chosen by the school administration, as the department is currently in the process of hiring auditing consultants to examine their books ahead of what seems to be an imminent lawsuit against the city on the grounds of insufficient funding.
“They need to be accountable and responsible for the money we give to them from the moment we give it to them,” Corrente said. “This is the taxpayer's money, not the school committee's money.”
Corrente also took some digs at how he doesn’t believe the city markets itself enough, claiming that he sees no signs declaring where the beaches are, including City Park, which he called one of the “best kept secrets” in Rhode Island. He said the marketing approach should seek to bring other Rhode Islanders to Warwick and stop trying so hard to bring people in from other parts of the country.
“If we promote our beaches and malls and Iggys, if we promoted what's unique to Warwick to the rest of Rhode Island, we would attract people from the rest of Rhode Island,” he said. “We're not going to attract people from Florida. We have too much snow. We should advertise our beaches to rest of Rhode Island and attract new residents from within Rhode Island.”
Corrente was born in Providence and raised in North Providence. He has lived in Warwick for about 12 years, moving from East Greenwich around 2006. He maintains a campaign office on Warwick Avenue. Corrente maintains that, win or lose, his philosophy will persist.
“Scott was a tax and spend kind of guy, and we stopped that cycle,” he said. “We now have another political insider and he introduced the largest tax increase the law allows. That's got to be stopped. Tax and spend mentality has got to go away.”