2016-03-24 / Opinion


Springtime Begets Fiscal Concerns

Daffodils spring up from their wintry slumber, a warmer sun promises another baseball season—and newspaper headlines warn of state and local spending needs that, as usual, warn of bigger municipal and state responsibilities that steadily drive up budgets as the years go by.

Ah, spring!

At the General Assembly, the House Finance Committee continues to pore over Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s proposed $9 billion state budget that would add $54.5 million in state funding for public schools and colleges and, in the process, provide considerably more money for public schools. We think that’s a good thing.

So, too, is the governor’s proposal to increase the state’s cigarette tax by 25 cents a pack, to $4—second highest in the nation. If that increase persuades just one teenager who’s now thinking about starting to smoke to forget about it, then it would be worth it.

All told, nearly $3.5 million in state and federal aid will make its way into Newport's general fund coffers in the fiscal year beginning July 1, a good-sized piece of change.

Meanwhile, at the municipal level, necessary spending increases continue to out-pace the daffodils.

Newport schools will be asking for a four percent increase, the maximum allowed under state law. And the same goes for Middletown, where school leaders are hoping to place a $10 million bond referendum on November’s election ballot to pay for future school repairs.

Middletown school officials have warned that significant cuts in state aid will add up to a loss of $1 million over 10 years and significantly impact their effort to support school programs. The only consolation coming out of this dark cloud is that the rest of Rhode Island’s cities and towns face the same challenges.

But that’s not all. Proposed rate increases that could be needed to pay for improvements in Newport’s wastewater and storm water collection system could mean that the average residential customer may see his or her annual sewer fees increase to more than $1,000 beginning in 2017.

Meanwhile, when spring gives way to summer in Newport, workers will get busy fashioning the costly new roof needed at Rogers High School.

Of course, none of these municipal expenses can or should be described as frivolous. After all, roofs deteriorate. Teachers and municipal employees have a right to be paid fairly. Sewer systems cannot be neglected.

So don’t let all of these 21st-century obligations dampen your spring. Get out there and enjoy the sunshine!

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