Governor Lincoln D. Chafee today continued to engage Rhode Island's municipal leaders by hosting a Municipal Executives Strategy Session attended by representatives of 37 of the state's 39 cities towns. The session is the latest example of the Governor's continued and sustained outreach to local officials to work collaboratively to address municipal financial challenges and provide property tax relief to Rhode Islanders.
"I believe that one of Rhode Island's biggest roadblocks to attracting business is our growing national reputation for failing municipalities. Businesses will not want to locate here, do business here, and bring jobs here if Rhode Island is perceived as a state of cities and towns on the brink of collapse. Make no mistake: this is a crisis. In recent years, municipalities have sustained drastic reductions in state aid -- to the tune of $192 million. I am committed to reversing that trend, to stop transferring the state's problems to our cities and towns, and to working collaboratively with them to better serve their residents and property taxpayers," Governor Chafee said.
"As a former Mayor, I fully understand the issues facing our cities and towns and know that a collaborative effort on the part of all the interested parties is necessary to develop real solutions. I also know that thriving municipalities are key to Rhode Island's future economic success. As Governor, I will remain fully committed to developing solutions that address the municipal pension crisis and the myriad of issues facing our municipalities. Today's session is about listening to municipal executives and learning how the state can best assist them in effectively serving Rhode Islanders," Governor Chafee continued.
Many of the municipal leaders who spoke praised Governor Chafee's leadership in convening the session, which was referred to as "unprecedented" and a demonstration of the Governor's commitment, and for his willingness to fight for the issues that matter most to Rhode Island's cities and towns.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras called it a "sea change" to have a Governor who understands municipal issues and realizes the strong connection between the success of the state and the fiscal wellbeing of its cities and towns.
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena said that is remarkable to have a Governor "who listens now" to cities and towns and "who gets it."
Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine spoke of the unity and sense of common purpose felt among Rhode Island's municipal officials, because "it's hard to find disagreement on a sinking ship."
The two-hour discussion was led by Governor Chafee and covered the following topics: the municipal pension crisis; mandates; and the school funding formula. An open period of comments on a variety of topics followed. The Governor stressed the need to provide municipalities with the proper tools and flexibility to achieve property tax relief and stated his intention to introduce legislation that addresses the state's municipal pension crisis, to pursue mandate relief for cities and towns, and to work to find a way toward a school funding formula that does not negatively affect any of Rhode Island's municipalities.
Governor Chafee has always been vocal about the need for the state to work collaboratively with cities and towns to right their financial problems and during his first year in office he brought much-needed attention to municipal fiscal health.
The Governor, recognizing that municipal government impacts all Rhode Islanders in diverse ways, whether through public safety, sanitation, or education, will continue to work with cities and towns to serve Rhode Islanders. He will convene additional strategy sessions throughout the coming weeks, including one targeted at employee groups, a community forum, and a chamber of commerce roundtable.
"Truly solving our fiscal problems requires input from the many interested parties, including the property taxpayers," said Governor Chafee.