As the $110 million deficit of January 2011 recedes in the rear-view mirror, Providence still faces sharp economic challenges. One of the most serious is how Rhode Island's capital city desperately needs a broader tax base, even as its highest-in-the-nation commercial taxes discourages the very economic development that would improve the situation.
During a taping of RIPR's Political Roundtable and Bonus Q+A (airing, respectively, at 5:40 and 7:40 am, and 6:40 and 8:40 am Friday), City Council President Michael Solomon said he favors using more tax stabilization programs to boost development.
"We need to bring businesses in," said Solomon, who is gearing up for a mayoral run next year. "We need to let them know that Providence is open for business. If they want to build here and they need to work with the city, our doors are open."
Yet the Elmhurst Democrat said city officials are limited in their ability to move Providence past its chicken and egg problem on economic development:
"We need to grow our [tax] base," said Solomon. "What we need is more people paying taxes, not less people paying more taxes. And if we can grow that base, I think we can reduce the commercial tax rate."
Solomon spoke amid new developments in the budding Democratic race for mayor: Ward 15 Councilor Sabina Matos announced she'll seek re-election, rather than run for mayor; Brett Smiley stepped down from his roles as Providence's lobbyist and chair of the Water Board. Meanwhile, Jorge Elorza has emerged on the scene, and Victor Capellan is also in the hunt.
Other highlights from the two segments with Solomon:
-- Asked what should be done to improve Providence schools, Solomon emphasized less turnover in the superintendent's job and improving school buildings.
-- "Apartments in downtown Providence, they would go pretty well" at the vacant Superman Building, "but there's only so much we can do on the city part. I think the state really has to step up on this one."
-- David Cicilline and to a lesser extent, Angel Taveras, used a South Side-East Side strategy to win the mayor's office. Asked about his roadmap, Solomon said, "The path to victory is going to be the whole city of Providence."
-- Solomon wouldn't identify a preferred successor as council president. "I think there are about seven or eight people who want to be the council president," he said. "If they want it, they need to work for it."
-- Solomon says he's undecided on whether he'll refuse to take campaign contributions from city employees. "I've accepted them in the past; it's never clouded my judgment .... The city employees don't work for me [now]. They don't work directly for me. So it has no effect on me."
-- Asked about Buddy Cianci's strength as a potential candidate, "I don't want to move backwards. I think the city needs to move forward."