21 Aug 2014
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Incumbents, Challengers Explain Supplemental Tax Positions, Talk Economic Development

Packed crowd favored incumbents with applause as candidates made their case.

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The incumbents received the lion's share of the applause Tuesday night during the  Meet the Candidates forum sponsored by MyWoonsocket.com and 1380 WNRI.

The free, open-to-the-public event was held at , 267 Main St. at 7 p.m. Local journalists Russ Olivo of the Woonsocket Call, Sandy Phaneuf of the Valley Breeze and Woonsocket Patch editor Rob Borkowski each asked candidates individual questions as well as one general question for every candidate. WNRI's Roger Bouchard moderated the event.

The general questions from each panel member were:

A) Olivo: If you could prevent the city from lapsing into bankruptcy by voting for a supplemental tax, would you do so?

B) Borkowski: How have you, or how will you, make yourself accessible to your constituents?

C) What specifically do you think can be done at the state and city level to help the city regrow right now? 

Lisa Baldelli Hunt, incumbent (D-Dist. 49)

Opening remarks: - "I have fought for the people of Woonsocket in the General Assembly where far too often they could care less about us. Case in point: The state of Rhode Island, the local administration, and my opponent chose a massive supplemental tax increase as opposed to responsible government on my watch."

A) “I made it perfectly clear in the last legislative session that we knew that there would most likely be a supplemental tax bill in the city of Woonsocket. But I would not support a supplemental tax bill without a sound plan, without the city of Woonsocket moving to look at all different avenues that they had to make structural change, and to be certain to not tax the people first. The plan that was before us was to tax the residents of the city of Woonsocket and then see what type of savings they could capture. That is not the way you run a business, that's not the way you should be running a municipality,"

B) "You can always access me by calling my home. My phone number is in the book. In fact, I spoke with six constituents today, starting at 7:30 a.m. this morning. My e-mail does work, contrary to what some people may say, although there was a little glitch, due to a State House problem at one point." Hunt also took a moment to respond to remark from Morin, noting she was not in office in 2006 and did not vote for the original bill that reduced taxes on those making $250,000 or more.  (She did, however, vote to table H-7729, which would have  during this legislative session.)

C) "I agree with Michael Morin," on the 38 Studios deal.  She said the General Assembly wasn't told it would all be given to one person. Also, the state should have one rate on motor vehicle tax. "We lose an incredible amount of revenue in the city of Woonsocket, because we have an enormous amount of vehicles registered outside of our city," she said. She also suggested eliminating tangible tax on business. "That will drive business to the city of Woonsocket."

D) Olivo asked if Baldelli-Hunt intended to solve the city's deficit by forcing concessions from unions when she voted against the supplemental tax bill. We need to make cuts across the board," Baldelli-Hunt said. "My request to the municipality was, you need to come forward with a plan, a solid plan, to show us what steps you will be taking to be certain that we will not be in this situation again next year," Hunt said, but that didn't happen. She said it would have been irresponsible to pass the supplemental tax, "When you don't have a plan for solvency," she said.

Stuart Gitlow, Dist. 49 challenger in Sept. 11 primary

Opening remarks: "Rhode Island, like Woonsocket, is a business, and these businesses sell us a place to live." So the evening, he said, is a job interview. He said securing access to health care is a close second to the city’s financial issues. “As a physician with more than 20 years experience running a successful business and developing national health care policy, with masters degrees in both public health and in business, I'm the right person for that job," he said.

A) "What Lisa said. I would agree with her 100 percent," But in addition, he said, Instead of being reactive, we need to be proactive. He noted the city's river, bike path, historic district, office values and railroad. "We need to use all of that in order to be proactive and make money, not squeeze the taxpayers," Gitlow said. 

B) "Your access to reach me will not end the day after election day. I'll be available all the time. I've got a facebook page, I've got a web page, I've got three telephone lines and a cell phone, so I'll be pretty easy to get no matter when you want to reach me."

C) Gitlow said the city is 25 minutes to Providence and Worcester, 50 minutes from Boston. "We are perfectly located to be a commuter city. To be the place that everybody wants to live that gets them a little bit of country, and makes it easy for them to get to where they work if they don't work here in town," with a rail line and parking, "But the city can't make that happen, only the state can. So, if the state can make that happen, Gitlow said, "Suddenly we have money coming in."

D) Borkowski asked Gitlow what the most important thing he'd do for the city would be. "We need to have some healthcare representation there (that State House)," Gitlow said, because of the city's enormous elderly and disabled population. "They need access to health care. If that isn't fixed, believe me, we're going to be in deep trouble."

Michael Morin, Dist. 49 challenger in Sept. 11 primary

Opening remarks: "I'm running because I'm tired of the General Assembly turning their backs to Woonsocket." Morin said he sees people every day in worst conditions, which have been worsening. He said he supported the Supplemental tax bill - "I was for it because it was a plan and our representatives didn't offer an alternative plan," Morin said. 

A) “Before I even vote on the supplemental tax bill, I would be fighting to stop these ridiculous tax cuts for the rich that have cost this state $130 million dollars. I would fight against insider deals that gave Curt Schilling $75 million dollars. I would certainly look to do those things first, but if all avenues were looked at, I would certainly entertain a supplemental tax bill. I would have to. Central Falls is not the answer.”

B) "I'm always available. I'll answer phone calls. I'll return phone calls. My e-mail address will work.”

C) Morin said he would stop insider deals like 38 studios. "Why don't we take that $75 million and give $10 million to each community?” Also, he said, he would bring back the historic district tax credit to help build business. 

Morin used the balance of his time on this question to ad-lib. "Everybody's losing track of the fact that they're putting taxpayers against employees. This problem started in 2006, when the General Assembly passed tax breaks for the rich," Morin said, "That has strangled the cities and towns, and did it on purpose. So that's why people are losing their homes. It's not the taxpayers. It's not the employees. It's the General Assembly that put us here." 

D)Phaneuf asked where he stood on repealing pension reform and if he would have supported it as a member of the General Assembly. "I could not support it. I would have to recuse myself," he said, because his vote on the subject could benefit him and the union directly. Morin said his union was never asked to the table during pension reform, but he is not against it.

Jon Brien, incumbent (D-Dist. 50)

Opening remarks:  Brien said he ran in 2006 because he thought the representative at the time was not properly representing taxpayers. The incumbent had voted against pension reform, and to unionize daycare workers, which Brien said was anti-taxpayer.  "I've always put the people first. I voted this year for pension reform, I did not support the supplemental tax. I will not support the supplemental tax until there is shared sacrifice on the part of all parties and not just the property owners. The property owners should be looked at last, rather than first."

A) Brien said he and Lisa Baldelli-Hunt never advocated for bankruptcy. "Did we advocate for receivership? Yes. Because potentially receivership could get us out of this malaise, because they hold the hammer of going to the bargaining units and saying, 'We will go bankrupt if you won't come to the table and share the sacrifice with the rest of the taxpayers,' which is what's necessary to get the structural change in this city, to get this city back on the right financial footing. The point is, when there is a plan, when there is shared sacrifice, absolutely, yes I will have to approve of a supplemental tax, but the taxpayers will not be looked at first. They should be looked at last. That has not been the case and that will be the case as long as I'm in the General Assembly."

B) Brien mentioned his Friday morning appearances on the radio with 1380 WNRI. "I want to continue to be there on Friday mornings so my constituents can hear me," he said.

C) Brien said the city needs to support people who want to stay and contribute, "And stop having them leave and replacing them with people who are choosing to be absorbers and not providers to this community. How do you do that? You fight the state and the feds to allow us to start to get rid of some of the subsidized housing, that we as a community want to get rid of and they don't want to help us get rid of it." 

D) Olivo asked what Brien would say to people concerned that a waste to energy plant would erode the quality of life in the city. "We're called the mill city, there's a reason for that. Not because we're the country club city, because we're the mill city." Brien said a waste to energy plant would solve the problem of the state's continuously growing landfill, and create jobs and energy.

Stephen Casey, Dist. 50 challenger in Sept. 11 primary

Opening remarks: "There's also somebody else running, his name is for rent and for sale, and those are the other signs you see along the streets, and it's really no joke," Casey said. "I think it's going to take the entire village, as they say, we need people to help. We need people to understand the issues, we need people who are going to come forward with ideas, and help the situation. I believe that's the only way that we can accomplish this. We need to work as a team, with the city council, the mayor, and now, the budget commission, to solve the issues of this city."

A) "I wouldn't have let it get to the next session. I would've voted for the supplemental tax immediately. The reason being, we've seen the example of what happened in Central Falls." Casey referenced Brien's statement that there was no plan besides the supplemental tax for fixing the city's deficit. "My understanding is that the they were asked to come to the table and help make a plan, and the lack of teamwork and lack of partnership on that account with the city council and the mayor has now pushed us into a situation where we're under a budget commission where we no longer have a choice. We've taken away the power of the city council and the mayor to run the city as our elected officials that we all elected, and I think that's the biggest problem with this situation. That's why I would've voted for it. I'm not against shared sacrifice, believe me. The union has always sat down and given back to the city, last contract, $7 million dollars."

B) "I'm a pretty accessible guy, easy to get along with. If you can't get out of your house, give me a call, I'll come and visit you. I'll make the time to see you."

C) Casey said the city needs to talk to businesses in town. "We've got to find out what's going to keep them here," he said. Also, strong schools will drive the real estate market, and the tax base. 

D) Borkowski asked Casey how he planned to get the cooperation of more affluent communities when urban and suburban interests conflict. "I don't think that in a lot of cases on the state level urban and suburban interests should conflict." He said he was confident that getting the right people together to focus on important issues wouldn't be a problem.

Robert Phillips, incumbent, Dist. 51

Opening remarks:  Phillips said he passed educational aid, accelerated $11 million to cities and towns above the normal second-year appropriation, and also started motion on moving four communities from half day to full day kindergarten. He said he's also helped farms and sea-based agricultural business.

A) Phillips said as long as the city had a solidified plan, to get the community solvent long-term, he would support a supplemental tax, if properly timed. "If it's 14 percent at the last minute then we can't do that. There's not enough time for people to get together and be able to pay the bill. If you give us six months, nine months, a year, to pay it, most of the taxpayers that I talked to said that we can pay it out over the year, the six months. We can't do it in the last month or the last month and a half, like what was proposed to us. They knew the deficit was coming up back in November, when it first came out, why didn't they start back then and why didn't they give us the opportunity to start in January to start working on the supplemental then?"

B Phillps listed his phone number, 401-762-2010, which he said he is diligent about responding to when calls come in from constituents. He said he is also available while helping and working for various charitable organizations in the city.

C) Phillips said he's put in legislation the last two years to lower the gas tax, and also to lower the cigarette tax to stop business from going over the border. He said the city could bring business in by providing a three-year 50 percent tax break for those that hire two or more people, and 25 percent for the next three years.

D) Borkowski asked Phillips his reasons for deciding against the supplemental tax, and how they might differ from those of his colleagues. "I didn't like it from the start," Phillps said, but he was willing to give the city the benefit of the doubt, and support it as long as a plan was being put together to make the city solvent. He said he was assured of that by the Mayor and members of the city council. "Then I found out I was lied to," Phillips said he lost faith when he learned the city didn't have a plan, and he, Brien and Hunt tried to bring a compromise, but it was rejected.  

Chris Roberts, challenger, Dist. 51

Opening remarks: Roberts noted he has served as a library trustee, Zoning Board member and on the School Committee. "So many of the challenges we face really emanate from the state level. There's been a number of initiatives that we've tried, that I've personally tried, and we really are handicapped, in my opinion by what's decided at the state house. So it's maintaining my desire to continue to provide for Woonsocket's youth while at the same time achieving some additional fiscal stability that's really driving me to run today."

A) "Shared sacrifice is definitely something that I buy into. The supplemental tax is coming," he said, since the city's money is going to run out without it.

"I've been to a number of budget commission meetings and I have to say that I have never seen in attendance a Rep or Senator. So I hope that the teamwork is actually going to happen considering that I haven't seen that. But it needs to be that everybody participates. Reps and Senators just recently voted down paying a 25 percent co-share on their medical. If we are going and asking unions to contribute, i think that kind of example starts from the State House. So I'm anxious to be part of that solution and again, shared sacrifice form the State House, down to the taxpayer."

B) "I was given the advice, don't put your cell phone on there (the school committee website), so that's the exact number I put on," Roberts said. 

C) Roberts said the state needs to scale back regulations. "When I see the amount of mail and invoices that come in from the state for nonsense, we need to scale some of that back," Roberts said. Also, "We need to work on scaling back some of the entitlement money, I can't argue, that's the number one thing that we need to do. Woonsocket, and Rhode Island, cannot be known as the place to come to get whatever it is that you need." Until the city can scale back some of the entitlement programs, he said, "We need to continue to tax the hell out of businesses," Roberts said.

D) Phaneuf asked if he saw his party affiliation as a disadvantage. "I don't see it as a disadvantage," Roberts said. In fact, he said there are a few Democrats who are actually Republicans in hiding, which got a good laugh from the crowd. He said intelligent thought does cross party lines. 

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