Numbers, Facts, and Another Budget Battle


Over in Tiverton, we’re engaged in our annual budget debate, during which I have the new-to-me experience of being on the Town Council, this year.  This budget year is also unique because the full $3 million in minimum revenue from the new Twin River casino is in the budget for the first time.

Given these realities, I’ve been pushing for a compromise that would allow the town to reset local politics and spend the next year developing a long-term plan that allows us all to get our expectations on the table.  Maybe, just maybe, we could move forward from that exercise working together like a community rather than lurching from election to budget to election in a whipsaw of factions.

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Unfortunately, given the recent history of the town, trust is an issue, and (from my perspective) it seems as if the old familiar strategies are difficult to move beyond:

During his initial pitch to the Budget Committee, Tiverton’s new superintendent, Peter Sanchioni, suggested that people had to trust him to set our school system aright.  He is correct that trust is critical, and distrust is the major hurdle facing anybody who wishes to bring Tiverton back to a place of compromise and cooperation.  That is why the superintendent’s final presentation to the Budget Committee before it voted on a budget for his department was so disappointing.

At the highest level, the School Committee never really compromised.  They asked the town for the highest budget they could possibly request by law.  (Actually their request exceeded the maximum by $3,624.)  On top of that, they appear to have overestimated state aid by $92,004 (which local taxpayers would have to make up for) and added $311,000 in “critical” capital expenses that they’d planned to fund out of their own reserves but now want the town to cover.

Two more-specific parts of the presentation, however, are where trust really takes a hit.

The closing sentiment of the post is key for Rhode Island as well as for Tiverton:  numbers have to be seen as an area of common ground rather than as an opportunity to mislead.  If I present numbers that lead me to a particular conclusion, somebody who opposes my position should explain which statements are incorrect or why they should lead to some other conclusion.  We at least have to share the the goal of agreeing on what the facts are, even if nobody changes his or her views because of them.

  • D. S. Crockett

    Not surprised. Any windfall derived from the casino was meant only to benefit the intended beneficiaries the municipal unions. Wake up people.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    In the U.S., much government is by amateurs, sort of the way we send provincial lawyers to Congress. It is perhaps something we have to accept, though not with approval. The alternative could be worse,

    • ShannonEntropy

      Wm F Buckley famously said I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University

      Of course, we now have an entire generation of people who donut know what a telephone directory *is*…. but that’s another prablem altogether

      • Rhett Hardwick

        My favorite WFB incident was during a televised debate with Gore Vidal. Vidal called WFB a “crypto Nazi”, WFB responded by calling Vidal a “queer”. They took a break. Following the break WFB appeared with hair and clothes out of order, Vidal had the beginnings of a “shiner”.

  • Northern Exposure

    I don’t understand why the town would be required to make up for a state aid shortfall. The town should only be obligated under maintenance of effort to make a local appropriation that is at least as much as the previous local appropriation. State Aid and any federal medicaid reimbursements should be reported as estimated amounts of “pass-through” funding over which the town has no claim, nor any responsibility to provide for in the case of a change in the state appropriation.

    • Justin Katz

      The school department sued the town a couple of years ago, and RIDE (the first “court” in that situation, apparently) ruled that we have to make a total appropriation sufficient for the basic education plan, which includes state aid, such that the town is liable for the whole amount that it approves.

      I think a lot of legal ground has to be explored in that ruling, but that’s the project of years, so for now the law is what it is interpreted to be.

      • Northern Exposure

        I suggest that you consider that the total appropriation does not necessarily represent the “sufficient” amount for the basic education plan, unless you truly believe that Tiverton only provides the basic education! I would suggest appropriating what you believe to be the needed amount of local funds that also meets the MOA and leave the rest to the school department to prove. Much more often than not, they won’t be filing a Caruolo action; more likely they will adjust their budget to reflect the modified amount of funding available. Caruolo is a very tough lift for a school department.

        • Justin Katz

          I suspect that you are right. The problem is that the same people who collect the money also hold a monopoly on information about what the basic education costs. Flushing out that information is challenging.

          Of course, they don’t ONLY adjust their budgets. They also go around your town telling people how horrible you are, including people in the school department telling your children’s friends how horrible you are, and that sort of thing. It’s a difficult beast to tame.

          • ShannonEntropy

            Justin, you have not even seen the beginning of “horrible” and “anger” and “violence”

            Just wait until the firefighters union gets pi$$ed off at you

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