Providence Mayor Angel Taveras took office a little more than a year ago facing a budget crisis so serious it took a financial-panel investigation to peg it at $110 million, one of the worst in the city’s history. Since then, Taveras closed four schools, raised taxes, negotiated union concessions and chopped $24 million from the budget, but is still looking at a deficit of $15 million to $20 million for the current fiscal year.
To close at least part of that gap, Taveras has waged a public campaign to extract larger contributions from the city’s nonprofit colleges and hospitals, a campaign that recently turned confrontational. He is also at the forefront of a push for legislative relief for the underfunded pension plans plaguing the city and other communities.
PBN: So far you haven’t had much success getting more money from local nonprofits. Aside from asking them, is there anything you can do to make Providence’s colleges and hospitals contribute more?
TAVERAS: I think that the most important thing I can do is be straight with the people of Providence and the people of Rhode Island and let them know exactly the situation the city is facing. Let them know that we have had our unions sacrifice. We have had our students sacrifice. We have had to close schools. We’ve cut services and cut city government. We had a city budget that was smaller this year than it was last year in actual dollars. So I am going to keep telling the truth and making sure people understand the situation the city is facing and reminding that to whom much is given, much is expected. That particularly applies to the tax-exempt institutions that have had tremendous benefit from their tax exemption. I think it is time for them to do more.
PBN: Were you taken aback by Brown University declining the agreement that was reached? How exactly did that unravel?
TAVERAS: Let me just say that I was disappointed with the fact that the Brown Corporation never approved the agreement. And perhaps they need to learn a little bit more about what goes on in the rest of the city of Providence. We worked very hard to reach an agreement with Brown and in fact did reach a tentative agreement that would have had to go to the [Brown Corporation] and City Council. It is very disappointing. … We are codependent and need each other. … I know the city of Providence realizes it; I am not sure that Brown does.