Taveras budget plan 'balanced with discipline'
Gubernatorial hopeful Angel Taveras released his final spending blueprint as Providence mayor Tuesday, calling for $10 million in school upgrades and no tax increases in a budget he said is balanced with discipline rather than gimmicks.
The Democrat's $678 million budget plan for the 2015 fiscal year represents a 2 percent increase in overall spending. It includes a $7.8 million hike in the schools budget.
"This budget is not balanced with gimmicks. It does not borrow to plug budget holes. It is balanced with discipline," Taveras said in his budget address to the city council. "It keeps our promises to union employees who came to the table during Providence's darkest hours and agreed to forego pay increases."
The budget maintains current residential and commercial tax rates and includes previously agreed-to raises for city workers, police and firefighters of between 3 percent and 4 percent. The blueprint also has funding for 60 new police officers.
It calls for the Providence Public Building Authority to borrow $10 million for school building improvements.
City officials are projecting a slight increase in tax revenue - about 1 percent - for the year beginning July 1 because of an improving economy. The budget also includes a nearly $1.2 million increase in aid from the state.
The address is his last as mayor. Taveras announced in October he was seeking his party's nomination for governor. He faces Treasurer Gina Raimondo and political newcomer Clay Pell, a former Obama administration official who is the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell.
Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee is not seeking re-election.
Taveras has spent much of his first term addressing Providence's shaky finances, including a $110 million structural deficit that he addressed in part through a pension overhaul and by securing more in voluntary payments from tax-exempt institutions including Brown University.
At one point, the mayor had warned the city might have to declare municipal bankruptcy. But Providence ended the last fiscal year with a $1.6 million surplus, and the leftover deficit is now under $10 million, according to city budget officials. Taveras' spending plan reduces it by an additional $3 million.
The proposed budget also includes money to continue a citywide paving project and provide police with the anti-overdose drug Narcan to help address an increase in overdoses.
It also expands bus pass eligibility for high school students. Students who live within 2 1/2 miles of school - rather than 3 - would be able to get passes. Taveras said the school board has committed to shrinking the radius to 2 miles next year.
The mayor urged continued fiscal vigilance once he leaves office.
"Make no mistake. The painstaking gains we have made over 3 1/2 difficult years could be easily reversed if the city does not continue the fiscal discipline and responsibility that my administration has brought to city hall," he said.
Asked by reporters after the address whether elements of his budget plan were influenced by his gubernatorial campaign, Taveras said the proposal is not about politics, but rather his priorities for the city.
Council President Michael Solomon, who is running for mayor, credited Taveras and said he would keep the capital on the same track.
"We've been responsible for the last three years. I don't think we're going to change course today," Solomon said.