Contra Michaud: Governor and House “Get Along” on Budget
One of the central lines of Dennis Michaud’s criticism of Governor Carcieri is that he has a poor relationship with the General Assembly (Remember: “He’s a fighter, I’m a lover.”). Any follower of contemporary Rhode Island politics would probably agree, but that doesn’t mean that tough-minded negotiating on both sides can’t yield positive results. In short, there is no logical link between KUMBAYA circles and fiscal sanity. Rhode Island still has a ways to go, but it appears as if the Governor’s managed to extract some concessions out of the House (and, yes, vice versa).
“I believe that my fundamental principle, which is that we have to live within our means, has finally begun to sink in,” Carcieri said yesterday as he praised the House budget, which raises spending 4.9 percent.
Is that a responsible increase when inflation rose only 2.5 percent last year?
“I would like to see it lower,” the governor said, “but to get a budget that everybody can agree to, you’ve got to compromise on some things.”
House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, added: “This was a budget of shared priorities in a lot of cases. Were there some philosophical disagreements? Yes. But ultimately I think we worked through a budget.”
In fact, things were so cordial between the House and the governor’s office that Carcieri’s chief of staff Jeffrey M. Grybowski celebrated the budget’s passage in the speaker’s office Monday night with Costantino and House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence.
The budget includes several issues that Carcieri and Democratic lawmakers can take credit for in November.
Take the car tax.
Carcieri had proposed raising the exemption from the first $5,000 in value to $5,500. Lawmakers went to $6,000.
The same can be said about local school aid.
Carcieri increased school funding by $20 million. Lawmakers added another $13.3 million, although some communities saw less under their plan than Carcieri had proposed. But in the end, both parties can take credit for more school aid, which in political circles translates into “property tax relief.”
“I bet you have to go back to the late ’90s to see a local-aid package as large as this,” Carcieri said yesterday.
Lawmakers restored many of the cuts Carcieri made in welfare and subsidized health care for the poor, but did end up going along with a few of his reductions. The legislators can campaign that they helped the poor while Carcieri can take credit for “reforming” part of the system.
“They came not as far as I might like to see,” the governor said, “but they came quite a ways toward what we wanted to accomplish.”
For years we have seen the slow, inexorable power of incrementalism on the part of traditionally Democratic constituents who rely on–and demand–tax revenue taken from the wallets and pocketbooks of average Rhode Islanders. This week we’ve seen property tax reform coming from the Senate side and a Budget compromise–that includes tax reductions–coming from the House side. Perhaps this is the beginning of a slow (I won’t say inexorable!) move in the other direction.
In an election year, even Democrats see the wisdom of letting the taxpayers keep more of their own money. These are positive developments. However, we still need to keep the pressure on. Should all of this legislation pass, we still need to make sure that the legislature doesn’t try to take away these tax breaks next year. Re-electing Governor Carcieri would go a long way in ensuring that won’t happen.