Metro

Mayor, City Council president differ on budget opinion

Citywide budget deficit may strain relationship between Aponte and Elorza in coming fiscal year

By
Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Only hours after the Providence City Council elected Councilman Luis Aponte as its president on Jan. 5, Mayor Jorge Elorza was inaugurated on the steps of City Hall. Each elected for a four-year term, these two men will work together to govern Providence on issues from the budget to education reform.

Elorza spoke in his inaugural address on the potential for a “New Providence,” where a family like his can achieve the American dream, rising from immigrant to mayor in a few generations.

“This is a whole new team,” said Scott MacKay, political analyst for Rhode Island Public Radio. Angel Taveras, the former mayor, and Michael Solomon, the former City Council President who ran against Elorza for the Democratic mayoral nomination, had a very good relationship with one another.

Elorza and Aponte met for the first time in their new roles last week and announced that they will be conducting meetings at least weekly for the full length of their terms. They discussed “their shared vision for the city and ways they can work together to move Providence forward,” wrote Evan England, press secretary for the mayor, in an email to The Herald.

The effectiveness of Elorza’s and Aponte’s relationship will be tested by the $8-12 million budget deficit that the city faces for the fiscal year ending in June, McKay said. Friendly handshakes won’t be enough to close the gap, he added. Elorza has pledged not to raise taxes in his first city budget, but Aponte has not agreed to the same pledge, WPRI reported. This could be a sticking point in arbitrations in which both parties will have to agree in order to enact the budget before the next fiscal year, MacKay said. The municipal budget will be released in February or March after negotiations between Elorza and Aponte.

Without raising taxes, the city will have to either cut programs or look for new sources of revenue, a “perennial problem in Providence,” where much of the land is owned by nonprofits, such as universities and certain hospitals that don’t pay property taxes, MacKay said.

“As we work with a steady hand, let us remember that no city has ever cut its way to greatness,” Elorza said in his inaugural address, referencing cuts to city spending. “Now more than ever, we must be creative, we must be resourceful, and we must work together to launch our city forward.”

While Elorza doesn’t want to cut programs, he also has ambitious plans for expensive new services, MacKay said.

“Elorza is deeply committed to addressing a wide breadth of challenges and opportunities facing the city,” England said, referencing growing commerce at the port, improving public schools and increasing transparency within his administration. On the campaign trail, Elorza discussed transforming Providence schools into community centers, with programming outside of the school day for students and their families, as well as improving students’ academic performance. The need for a more community-oriented police force was also an important topic in the address.

Elorza is aware of the disparity in funds between his proposals and his pledge, and he has floated plans to raise more revenue from nonprofits through donations or fees for city services, such as snow plows. Elorza also campaigned on growing the port, which would create jobs and generate more tax revenue. Newly-elected Governor Gina Raimondo will likely raise the amount of state funds allocated to the city of Providence, particularly for public schools, MacKay said.

Aponte and the City Council office did not return multiple requests for comment by press time.