PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — Mayor Angel Taveras said Tuesday that the city of Providence is improving after hard fiscal times, and that his administration is "restoring hope" to the capital.
In his final state of the city address, the gubernatorial hopeful cited progress in stabilizing Providence's finances and his introduction of an economic development plan he says has started to bear fruit.
"These past three years have been a momentous time for our city. Providence was at a crossroads," Taveras said in the 30-minute speech in the city council chamber. "And I can say that because of us, Providence is better off than we were not long ago. We are restoring hope in our beloved city."
The first-term Democrat, who took office in 2011, announced in October he was seeking his party's nomination for governor. He is facing General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell, grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, in the September primary. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, also a Democrat, is not seeking re-election.
In his address, Taveras said his administration averted municipal bankruptcy, turning what was once a $110 million budget deficit into a $1.6 million surplus at the end of the last fiscal year. He cited the pension system overhaul he hammered out with the city's public safety unions and retirees that reduced the unfunded liability by $186 million.
Taveras took on critics who said the city didn't go far enough — the retirement system is still only 31 percent funded — by saying the crisis took years to develop and would take years to be fixed.
He stressed the city must remain vigilant.
"Make no mistake, there's more work to do to restore Providence to full fiscal health," Taveras said, adding that the city's reserve fund needs to be replenished. "We must continue to make every decision with an eye on the impact it will have on city finances and our future."
Taveras said it is getting easier to do business in the city — he froze the commercial tax rate and is eliminating red tape — and that Providence is working to support small businesses and innovation, including with a proposed new $1 million investment in a program for local startups that had ended when funds ran out. He also said the city will launch a new grant program for small businesses this week to fund "storefront improvements."
Taveras also cited progress in education, including a higher graduation rate, and highlighted a $5 million project funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies to boost language skills in children from low-income families.
"We have been through the hard times of the Great Recession," Taveras said. "But we never lost hope. And we never stopped believing that better days were ahead."
City Council President Michael Solomon, who is running in the crowded race to succeed the mayor, praised the speech, saying he too believes the city is moving forward.
"It's a job that's never going to be finished," he said.