Pushin’ and Shovin’

Posted on Friday, October 7 2005 by Heather Brandon

During last night’s first Springfield mayoral debate between Mayor Charles Ryan and School Committee Vice-Chairman Thomas Ashe, Mayor Ryan mentioned a June 2, 2004 letter he wrote to Eric Kriss of the state’s Office for Administration and Finance. The Pioneer Valley Union News, an AFL-CIO publication, published a short piece on the subject on June 15 that year in which Ryan dictated a portion of the letter he emailed and faxed. The letter expressed Ryan’s displeasure with Kriss’s perceived threat to “destroy the right of city workers to collectively bargain.” Ryan wrote in response, “This is a long journey we are going to take. We must give the workers a voice and a process that can be used.”

During last night’s debate, Ryan went on to describe an interaction days later with Kriss where Ryan felt bullied into a corner to give up the unions’ rights to the collective bargaining process. In response to this statement, debate opponent Thomas Ashe commented that the unions should have been forced into binding arbitration a long time ago—in part just so they would have meaningful contracts, one way or another, was his implied meaning.

Around June 8, 2004, Kriss presented the “Springfield Turnaround” proposal, one that assessed the city’s financial situation and described how city employees’ wages and salaries are the biggest drain on finances. And it very clearly elucidated that lack of proper revenue is not the problem for our fair city. Only ten minutes into last night’s debate, Ashe named lack of revenue our main problem (thus the need for increased state aid), and Ryan pointed to political corruption in response as one thing we should not overlook while we peek back over our shoulders at the last two or three horrific years.

What’s true? What’s right and wrong here? How can we tell with all the pushing and shoving, smoke and mirrors, and suspicious intentions? How can the people of Springfield, who may or may not have been paying attention to all this, make any sound judgements for themselves about the reality of the recent past, and an honest, reasonable notion of what’s best for the near future?

Either we have enough revenue, or we don’t. Either we’re spending it well, or we’re not. You’d think the numbers wouldn’t be so hard to agree to. It’s all the hoo-ha behind the numbers that leaves room for political wrangling. It reminds me of a couple of argumentative parents shouting at each other over what should be served for dinner. Meanwhile, the kids sit there with empty plates.

The need for a just amount of state aid is where I think the two mayoral candidates really do agree. My humble request: let us concede that an approach to the state for a reasonable and fair amount of aid emerge as a mutual campaign promise. We’ve seen enough divisiveness here in local politics to suffice for several years of recuperating. For now, just for now, all I ask is that we just let the dust settle, and with a single voice, let the state hear from us that the numbers need to speak for themselves, for once. No more shouting and empty plates.

For further consideration, below is an excerpt from an email Mayor Ryan submitted on September 2, 2004 to Thomas Trimarco (now taking over Eric Kriss’s role as Secretary of Administration and Finance), Michael Jacobson, Domenic Sarno and Philip Puccia. It would appear to share the gist of the June 2 letter Ryan referred to in last night’s debate, but with meatier bones, about the mayor’s outlook on the needs when it comes to state aid for the city.

See, also, today’s piece in the Springfield Republican about how Boston may not be too far off from going down the tubes right along with us—financially speaking, of course.

Re: Springfield Finance Control Board

…The Necessity of Additional State Aid

There are many causes of Springfield’s present financial collapse including poor management of the responsibilities of the City government. However, the primary and overwhelming reason is that since 1992 (13 straight years) the City of Springfield has been discriminated against as to the amount of state aid from the Additional Assistance Fund. There is $379,000,000 annually in the fund. The only two significant areas of substantial state aid to the general government side of municipal government are lottery receipts and the Additional Assistance Fund. For all of these years Springfield has languished in the 35th position with respect to aid from Additional Assistance in spite of the fact that it is the 3rd largest city in the Commonwealth. Springfield receives $1,829,000 annually from this source. Somerville, which is half our size, receives $16,219,000. Cambridge, one of the richest communities in Massachusetts, is 2/3 our size in population and receives $17,956,000. Boston which has four times as many people receives $164,211,000 or 91 times as much as Springfield. A string of small, affluent cities and towns with populations of 18,000 or 22,000 receive more than Springfield does.

This is not a secret even though no one wishes to talk about it or face the implications of this injustice which is compounded year after year. Indeed, the failure to face up to this profound injustice is a scandal which now the Control Board evidently intends to leave unchallenged by the September 1 report of the majority which indicates that no new state aid beyond normality will be presumed.

For the Board to so presume at this stage of the Board’s life is irresponsible, short sighted and chilling. I say “chilling” because it means that the extraordinary size of the budget gap is evidently destined to be dealt with exclusively by increased taxes and fees from the people of our city and wage and benefit reductions for our employees. Such a blueprint or road map is a disaster for this city and the people who call it home.

Not only must additional state aid, over and above “normal” state aid be forthcoming, but also the fight for such aid should be led by the Board to fill the budget gap which is left after sensible increases in revenue and expenditure reductions through efficiencies and productivity gains have been effectuated.

To do otherwise, to indicate that we, the people of Springfield, have to do this all by ourselves, without any additional state aid, is destructive and removes from us the essential ingredient of hope.

Originally published at MassLive.com

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