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Cicilline's budget razzle-dazzle

The ProJo's Daniel Barbarisi offers an appropriately skeptical look today at Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline's latest budget and his upbeat description of it.

Certainly, Cicilline -- a highly likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2010 -- has a number of accomplishments to his credit, but he also shares a bit of Buddy Cianci's penchant for cheerleading without getting into the pesky details. 

So on one hand,

Cicilline said this budget reflects a new Providence of stability and government held in check.

“Our skyline has certainly changed some in the last four years, but that is nothing compared to our bottom line. From a financial perspective, Providence is a whole new city.”

Yet,

The budget is only $15 million higher than the current fiscal year’s $610-million budget. But that is largely because Cicilline’s plan does not include financing for salary increases for any city employees next year, a number that could be in the tens of millions when more than 5,000 city and school employees are taken into account.

The contracts of every major city union will expire by July 1, and when new contracts are reached, the city will have to find money to pay for the salary increases that are sure to come with them. But there is no money set aside in the budget, and city officials refused to discuss where this money would come from.

“I would prefer not to answer that,” said John Simmons, the city’s chief of administration, citing a desire not to tip his hand in negotiations with the city’s four major public employee unions.

The budget also banks on the General Assembly approving several new fees, and on additional state aid on top of what the governor’s budget recommends. Almost half of the revenue increases Providence is counting on to balance its budget require Assembly action.

Then there's this:

In his address, Cicilline boasted that the city’s tax rate would actually drop, perhaps giving the impression that residents would be paying less in taxes. That is not the case. Because of the ongoing property revaluation, the tax rate will be reduced to balance out the rise in property values in the three years since the last property revaluation. But the amount that most citizens pay in taxes will remain the same.

This budget relies far less on one-time revenues than does the current budget. In the current fiscal year, the city sold several buildings to generate revenue, ending up with $23 million in one-time income sources. This year, it counts on only $10 million in one-time revenue.

But it does count on the General Assembly approving a number of new revenue sources for Providence, totaling $10.5 million. It also expects that the state will approve aid on top of the $7 million in the governor’s budget, increasing Providence’s share by an additional $7.5 million.

Meanwhile, with the city looking for every additional parking dollar,

The budget assumes that the legislature will allow Providence to charge a new fee of $500 to anyone who sells residential property, and $1,000 for commercial property. Half of the money would go into an affordable-housing fund, and the other half to help balance the budget — $2.1 million worth.

Cicilline also proposes imposing a franchise fee on Cox Communications, the cable provider serving Rhode Island. The city says that Cox brings in $300 million in receipts from Rhode Island, and that the state should charge a franchise fee that would be split among every Rhode Island city and town. Providence would get $1.4 million.

The city also wants the state to pay Providence $5.1 million for owning and operating the Providence Water system, which is used by 70 percent of the state.

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