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Editorial & Opinion

Reclaim RI decries Brett Smiley’s implementation of funding cuts to Providence and other “distressed” communities

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…cutting funding to Providence and the state’s other impoverished and most diverse communities during the midst of the ongoing pandemic and recession is utterly unconscionable and demonstrates where Smiley’s and Raimondo’s priorities lie…


Last week, Department of Administration head Brett Smiley sought the Ethics Commission’s blessing to raise money for a potential run for Mayor of Providence, even as he continues to serve in the Raimondo Administration.

Reclaim RI leaves it to the Ethics Commission to determine whether potential conflicts should prohibit Smiley from raising money while serving as one of the state’s highest functionaries. But there exists another disturbing conflict between his current role and his potential ambitions which he must seek to cure: under Smiley’s leadership the Department of Administration is implementing likely illegal cuts to impoverished communities in Rhode Island – including the city he might want to lead.

In early 2020 the Raimondo Administration proposed to slash in half, from $12.4 to $6.2 million, state expenditures in a budget line item for so-called “distressed” communities: Central Falls, Cranston, North Providence, Pawtucket, Providence, West Warwick and Woonsocket. At the time the Administration argued (wrongly) that the economy was so robust that these funds were no longer needed.

Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and a generationally severe economic crisis – both of which have disproportionately impacted poorer communities like Providence – Smiley is nonetheless ordering his Department of Administration to implement these cuts. During the largest racial justice movement in this country’s history, it is equally shocking that Smiley would order cuts to the municipalities that are home to the most Black and Latinx Rhode Islanders. He is doing so even though the state has not passed a budget for the current fiscal year, meaning that the cuts are likely illegal: state law dictates that when the state has not passed a budget it must expend funds in accord with the prior fiscal year’s budget.

“Rhode Island provides notably paltry assistance to its municipalities even in the best of times, but cutting funding to Providence and the state’s other impoverished and most diverse communities during the midst of the ongoing pandemic and recession is utterly unconscionable and demonstrates where Smiley’s and Raimondo’s priorities lie,” said David Segal, a member of Reclaim RI and a former Providence City Councilmember and State Representative. “Moreover, doing so through a likely illegal power-grab indicates an unacceptable disregard for the law, separation of powers, and the underpinnings of our state’s democratic functions. Anybody who cares about Providence and its residents would push back forcefully against these cuts.”

Reclaim RI started when a group of volunteers decided that the organizational capacity of Bernie 2020 needed to continue after the campaign ended. Our view is simple: Rhode Island has never belonged to the people. But if we work together, it could.