Reckoning time for a city’s bad fiscal decisions

Providence, Rhode Island Charles Chieppo September 19, 2016 Finance + Operation

The longer a government’s finances are allowed to deteriorate, the fewer options there are when corrective action is finally taken. Anyone who doubts that ought to look at a proposed 10-year plan commissioned by the city of Providence, R.I., and produced by the federal National Resource Network (NRN). It makes a number of important recommendations, almost all of which would require very unpleasant decisions – the kind that all too many local governments are facing after years and decades of imprudent fiscal decisions.

Providence is confronted with tremendous fiscal challenges, ones severe enough that they could lead to municipal bankruptcy. The city faces an ongoing structural budget gap, one of the drivers of which is payments needed to rescue a public employees’ pension that is officially just 27.4 percent funded.

The recommendations by NRN, a public-private consortium that is a component of the Obama administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative, could serve as a template for action for just about any fiscally struggling local government.