RI Gov. Chafee lobbies for municipal relief plan
PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Thursday warned of dire consequences for the state's economy if lawmakers balk at his proposal to give struggling cities relief from pension costs and state mandates.
Chafee, an independent, has proposed giving financially strapped cities and towns greater authority to cut pension benefits and waive certain state mandates to save money.
"My greatest fear is that we're going to have more bankruptcies," he told the House Finance Committee during a hearing on the proposals Thursday. "Pass this legislative package and at least give our cities and towns a chance."
Chafee said the state's economic recovery depends on stabilizing municipal finances.
Several cities and towns are reeling from chronic deficits and cash-flow problems. Central Falls is seeking bankruptcy protection, East Providence is under state financial oversight and Providence, Woonsocket and other cities are struggling to close deficits.
Mayors of several struggling cities also testified in favor of the legislation, which has not been scheduled for a vote.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras told lawmakers his city needs greater power to cut pensions to address budget deficits. "Consider them, pass them," he urged lawmakers.
Union leaders are fighting the proposals, which they say would violate promises made to public workers.
Paul Valletta, president of the Cranston firefighters union, said Chafee's bills represent "an attack on the hard working men and women in the state of Rhode Island."
The legislation also is under consideration in the Senate.