PBN: Last April, you were trailing Brendan Doherty in the polls by 15 percentage points and now (Oct. 10) you are ahead of him by 6 points. What happened?
CICILLINE: For the last several months of this campaign, what I have been doing is talking to people about my work and stuff I have been doing and trying to reinforce that this election has real consequences. We are fighting to build an economy that will last by investing in things that grow the middle class in America and those are some of the same strategies that will strengthen and grow the middle class of Rhode Island. Republicans in Washington have a different economic theory and I think it is a theory most Rhode Islanders don't accept. It is a theory that if we provide enough tax cuts to the very top that it will trickle down and create jobs. I don't think that works. What we need to create jobs are a vibrant, growing middle class and I think the president's approach to strengthen the middle class is the right approach.
PBN: So this campaign has become more about the two political parties and their national platforms than the individual candidates?
CICILLINE: I think people realize the decision they make will send someone to Washington who will both stand with the president and stand with a set of policies that protects and strengthens the middle class and that everyone pays their fair share of taxes. Or a stand with a party that has made it clear they stand for tax cuts for people at the top, subsidies for big oil, tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. We are in a fight for control of Congress and whoever is in control sets the agenda for the next two years.
PBN: You have said previously you regret how you described Providence's fiscal condition in the last campaign. If you had it to do over again, how should you have described the city's finances when you left office?
CICILLINE: I would have described it, if I look back now, I would say improved, very improved, but threatened. Improved because of the work we did in the eight years and what I inherited when I took office and the progress we made, but the threat of the state cuts and impact of those cuts on the horizon. When I took office, I inherited a city with a $59 million budget gap, a $216 million structural deficit, a city government that had lost the confidence of the city and had been described as an ongoing criminal enterprise by two federal courts. It had contracts for city employees that did not include sharing of health care costs, a pension system that was not properly funded, a tax base was shrinking and a police force that had evidence of people buying jobs and buying promotions. We eliminated the deficit, built up our reserves and brought great reforms to the police department -- had the lowest crime rate in 30 years -- negotiated a union contract where every single employee shared in health care costs. We funded the pension system at the proper levels, which hadn't been done in a very long time. And so I am very proud of the work I got done. In the last few years the state, [Gov. Don Carcieri] proposed some pretty devastating cuts to cities and towns -- $41 million for the city. We had to decide how to absorb that. At a time when the city was being battered by a pretty deep recession, we decided along with the City Council not to raise taxes. A lot of communities, when they had those cuts, absorbed [them] by raising property taxes or restoring the car tax. So we had to make some additional cuts and had to use some of our reserves and we got through the year without raising taxes with the hope that the recession would end more quickly, the state would restore some of the cuts or accelerate the school funding formula. Those things didn't happen and the new mayor coming in had to do what I would have had to do and make more cuts.
PBN: But how did the accounting end up so different -- a $587,000 surplus reported to the City Council when you left and then the report by Taveras' team finds a $12.6 million current-year budget gap and $110 million structural gap. What happened?
TAVERAS: I think there is no question that the city's revenue had decreased significantly from the time the budget was first projected. I believe the biggest cause was the revenue projections came down significantly for the city -- I don't remember the figure, but the situation had gotten worse. The recession has continued and the contingencies about the state being able to accelerate the school funding formula didn't happen.
PBN: Do you think the public has gotten over the issues of trust that appeared to be there in that period after you left office?
CICILLINE: I hope people realize that I worked hard every single day I was mayor of Providence and made decisions every day that I thought were in the best interest of the residents of the city and that it was never my intention to mislead or lie to them about anything. I have talked about that for the last year and a half. I hope people will judge me based on all the work we did in eight years and not on the language I used in one debate, in a sound bite.
PBN: Are you disappointed that the vision that you and your predecessor in City Hall had for rezoning and redeveloping the Providence waterfront did not happen?
CICILLINE: I think the determination of how the waterfront is developed is in large part driven by market conditions, by what is happening in our economy. I was always a proponent of a working waterfront with a mix of commercial and industrial uses, but it is a very important jobs generator no matter how it is developed and I have worked very hard for federal investments in the port, particularly in cranes. When the recession hit, it made it very unlikely that some of the higher uses that had been discussed, some of the mixed use, would happen. I think we have a responsibility to do everything we can to create jobs in any way we can and if intensifying the current use that is there is the best way to do that, then we have a responsibility to do that.
PBN: Maybe the biggest thing coming up in Washington is the so-called «constant "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and mandated spending cuts. Are you prepared to see all those tax cuts expire, including the payroll tax?
CICILLINE: I don't think you can pick one tax out of it. I think the president has set the right bar for protecting incomes under $250,000 -- and the child tax credit, the earned income credit, that all those things are protected -- while allowing the tax cuts at the top for the top 2 percent to expire. I think part of that discussion will include the payroll tax cuts, which of course were offered as a temporary solution to stimulate the economy. I don't think anyone contemplated, nor do I think they should be permanent. Because you want to make sure you are protecting the solvency of Social Security.
PBN: But letting the payroll tax end will hit the middle class, right?
CICILLINE: If the Republicans refuse to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, then I think you have to look at the payroll-tax extension in a different way because you cannot let those tax cuts expire on the middle class and have the payroll-tax cut expire -- that's why I think it has to be part of a larger conversation. But I think people recognize the payroll-tax cut was a temporary measure and that in terms of ensuring the long-term solvency of Social Security that was not intended to be a permanent cut.
PBN: But the economy is still very weak, so if the Republicans won't budge, is it the right time to have all those taxes go up?
CICILLINE: No. I think it is important we protect middle-class families from a tax increase, but I think the president's proposal strikes the right balance. The most important thing is to get people back to work so they are paying taxes and contributing to our economy and I think that is what the president proposed in the American Jobs Act. «constant ****SLps» Having all the cuts expire is not the only leverage we have, because you can introduce legislation the same day the cuts expire to preserve the tax cuts for the middle class.
PBN: As a freshman lawmaker in the minority party, your opportunities are limited. Can you point to anything you were able to get done in your first term?
CICILLINE: Again, there are a thousand individual cases where I have solved problems for constituents, and those things are important. I have worked with the delegation to bring real resources to Rhode Island, whether it is the Race to the Top grant, money for Woman & Infants Hospital, innovation grants, or the TIGER grant to the port. On the legislative front the most obvious success was the amendment I offered in committee that was included in the final bill that reauthorizes the SBIR program and requires agencies that are loaning $50 million or more to identify the strategies that are in place to strengthen manufacturing and that they have a plan to do that.
PBN: Landmark Medical Center is in your district and they recently announced an agreement to be bought by Prime Health Care Services. Any concern about a for-profit company from California taking it over rather than a local organization or a nonprofit?
CICILLINE: Landmark is an incredibly important asset in northern Rhode Island and a treasured resource. I think it is absolutely critical that that hospital stay open and I have been as strong an advocate as I can be for that -- both in letter writing and a press conference with the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and union that represents employees there and the hospital pressing parties to make sure this stays open, and pressing Blue Cross when those negotiations were ongoing. So I think it is very, very important that it stay open. I think there aren't lots of options but this is a buyer that has come forward after the previous buyer backed away.
I am hopeful that it will work in a way that will keep the hospital open and keep services available to people in northern Rhode Island and keeps the nearly 1,200 people that are employed there. *