Mayor Elorza threatens to veto ‘slush fund’ bond proposal

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A month before Providence voters will be asked to approve a $40-million infrastructure bond, Mayor Jorge Elorza is threatening to veto a plan that would give individual members of the City Council more control over how some of the proceeds are spent.

Under a resolution introduced off docket at Thursday’s council meeting, the $40 million would be divided into five pools of money for various types of projects, but the city would not be required to publish a list of individual projects prior to the Nov. 8 election.

Instead, at least $20 million would be split up across the city’s 15 wards for projects identified by individual council members. The rest of the money would be allocated for projects selected by the Elorza administration.

“I am disappointed that the council has once again tried to turn this bond into a slush fund for their wards,” Elorza told Eyewitness News. “If presented with it, I will not allow the city to go back to the wasteful ways of the past and I will veto this resolution unless the slush fund language is removed.”

When the administration and the council agreed to an ordinance in August that allowed the bond question to be placed on the ballot, both sides pledged to work together to publish a list of specific projects by the end of September. The council previously tried to secure more control over how part of the money would be spent, but a deal was reached on the public project list.

The deadline came and went, with aides on both sides pointing fingers at who is to blame for the project list not moving forward.

The mayor’s office maintains it submitted a list to the council on Aug. 29 and an updated one on Sept. 7. Some members of the council held public meetings to discuss potential projects with their neighbors last month. The council submitted a list of projects to the administration on Sept. 29.

Elorza said his administration came up with the idea to use “broader language” for the projects rather than publish a specific list because the city didn’t have time to sort through each proposed project.

The plan favored by Elorza would divide the $40 million as follows: $21.5 million for streets and sidewalks; $4 million for sewer projects; $7 million for bridge and dam repairs; $4 million for parks and recreation facilities; and $3.5 million for repairs to public buildings.

City Council President Luis Aponte said the council is willing to work with the Elorza administration to split the projects into the five pools of money, but said he can’t “envision a scenario where we’re not going to include projects that are encouraged by the council members.”

“My disappointment stems from the fact that they are trying to find a way to disavow the council’s role in identifying projects,” Aponte said. “And that’s something that is paramount and a priority for us.”

The new plan was instantly met with criticism from Councilman David Salvatore, who said the “last-minute” changes leave “little time for taxpayers to be educated on what this proposal aims to do.”

“The language permits full jurisdiction by individual council members in deciding how to allocate taxpayer money,” Salvatore said. “This has the possibility to create opportunities for misuse of taxpayer dollars. Instead of moving our city forward, the leadership team is relying on political tactics of the past that proved ineffective.”

Even if a deal between the two sides isn’t reached by Election Day, the bond question will still appear on the ballot. A spokesperson for the mayor said it is unclear if the failure to reach an agreement would prevent the city from actually borrowing the money if voters support the bond.

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Dan McGowan ( ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan