What the Fiscal Cliff Could Mean for My City

12/21/2012 11:25 am ET | Updated Feb 20, 2013

Over the last two years, I have been humbled to witness Providence residents come together and make the shared sacrifices necessary to save our city from financial collapse. Homeowners, business owners, our universities and hospitals, current and retired city employees, police office, firefighters and teachers, our partners in the General Assembly and so many countless others pitched in, in ways big and small, to be part of the solution and to put our city back on the path to long-term growth.

We are just now starting to see the results of that hard work pay off. Back in April, we worked with Providence's state delegation and our City Council to pass a balanced budget that holds the line on taxes, begins to restore the City's rainy day fund and increases investment in our classrooms. This past summer, our hotel rooms reached record high occupancy rates as visitors from across the country came here to enjoy the X FACTOR, Netroots Nation and a host of other regional and national conventions. Others came to enjoy new summer programming in Kennedy Plaza. And, thanks to the overwhelming support of Providence voters, we will soon begin a long-overdue, city-wide program of repaving high-need streets beginning this coming spring.

We are making progress. And that is exactly why Republicans in Washington need to stop the political brinksmanship, reach a compromise on the 'fiscal cliff' and avoid turning back the clock on what cities like ours are accomplishing across the nation.

President Obama has put forth a detailed fiscal plan that creates jobs, invests in competitiveness and strengthens the middle class. I join mayors from across the country, as well as a majority of American citizens, urging Congress to compromise and tackle the challenges that are threatening cities like Providence.

The fiscal cliff would have profound and draconian consequences for the City of Providence. If we go over the cliff, federal support for 21st Century Community Learning Centers will be cut by 20 percent which could force Providence to close up to four after-school programs that serve our highest-poverty neighborhoods. More than 100 young children could be denied access to Head Start -- an early education program that helped me and so many other poor, young children start school ready to learn. More than 150 teachers could be locked out of high-quality professional development, putting our students at a disadvantage.

Beyond our schools, the fiscal cliff would cut energy assistance, elderly and handicapped transportation services, employment training and other vital services the newly reorganized Community Action Partnership of Providence provides.

The fiscal cliff threatens Providence's public safety. The automatic cuts would result in fewer residents getting preventative screenings for HIV and cancer. Fewer people in need would have access to substance abuse treatment, potentially leading to more addiction, more drug crime and other added costs for taxpayers. Since 2010, Department of Justice funding for programs in Providence -- including support of the nationally-recognized Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence -- has been cut by 40 percent. The fiscal cliff would cut an additional 8.2 percent in public safety discretionary funding. These cuts will reduce funding for targeted enforcement patrols and law enforcement training. And our Department of Public Safety would have less funding to purchase vital equipment and technology to prevent crime and violence.

Perhaps most alarming is the Congressional Budget Office's warning that without a compromise, the national unemployment rate will rise and our economy may slide back into recession. The recovery in Rhode Island and -- with it -- Providence is incredibly and dangerously fragile. Rhode Island has the nation's second highest unemployment rate. Our working and jobseeking families cannot afford to take another hit.

Here in Providence, these cuts would hit hardest our most vulnerable citizens: children in low-income households, senior citizens, individuals in need of substance abuse counseling. Nationally, the fiscal cliff would reverse the progress for which we have worked so hard.

Because of the difficult decisions we have made over the last two years, Providence averted its own fiscal cliff. We came together -- City employees, residents, businesses, labor, police officers, firefights, teachers, our tax-exempts and our partners in the General Assembly -- to put the common good ahead of politics. President Obama has asked Democrats and Republicans in Washington to do the same. As a mayor who understands that progress is more important than political wins, I support his efforts and hope that the principles of common sense prevail.