Former Gov. Donald L. Carcieri must be having a good chuckle.
While current Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee has dusted off a number of Gov. Carcieri’s ideas for municipal-government reform in his recently introduced package of legislation – initiatives that generally were rejected by the state legislature and in the court of public opinion – the liberal independent is pushing an agenda that is much further along a conservative path.
From freezing cost-of-living adjustments to lifting the school bus monitor mandate to barring locally run pension plans from offering benefits more generous than those in the state-run system, Gov. Chafee’s package is bold, comprehensive, generating resistance … and the right thing to do.
One initiative in particular crystallizes why the governor’s package must be passed now. Chief executives of “highly distressed communities” are given final authority over education budgets, while school and citywide administrative functions can be consolidated.
The president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers complains that these steps strip the power from school committees and undermine the collective bargaining process. He’s right.
With Woonsocket and East Providence as co-Exhibit As, it is clear that the current school- management system is a large reason for municipalities’ fiscal problems. Who can argue reasonably that it should be left alone?
It took a tremendous amount of political courage to pass the state pension-reform legislation last fall. This spring, the state’s leaders need to do the same for municipal fiscal reform. •
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