Turnabout: Who, Whether, Why?
Dan Yorke has wondered who among Rhode Island’s governing elites will be the first to break off from the pack and join the governor in taking dramatic steps to stop the sky from falling. While honesty requires me to admit that Yorke’s studies of the topic are much more extensive, and his knowledge of the players much closer, than mine, I’m not yet sold that the question isn’t whether, rather than who.
Rhode Island’s problems are generally obvious to us, but to those who’ve created them, less so. Even if one assumes, for the sake of argument, that some elected officials have a vague sense that they’re getting away with something — that they oughtn’t be creating the regime that they’re creating — there are many layers of self-delusion, groundless hope, and skepticism about strategy between that sense and an attempt to navigate a policy turnabout without highlighting the degree to which an official (and his or her entire party) facilitated the problems themselves.
Such were the thoughts brought to mind by a story Thursday about the initial stages of the RI government’s forecasting of its near-term economic future:
Officials had hoped for good news.
An economic upturn involving substantial job growth, higher wages and lower energy prices would help close a 2008-09 budget deficit now projected at $211 million. More income would mean more income taxes, the state’s largest revenue stream. And more income also suggests Rhode Islanders would have more to spend, which would create more sales taxes, the state’s second-largest revenue stream.
But the economists concluded yesterday that job growth would be relatively flat in the coming fiscal year — up just 1 percent over this year and in line with expectations set last May. Wages and salaries increases across the state will not meet expectations, they said, projected at 3.7 percent instead of 4.1 percent.
We can’t just sit around and hope for good news. Policies must be changed to make it more likely. That which brings the shower of bad news must be evaluated and addressed.
“To think that there may be a slowdown in the Rhode Island economy … it’s the last thing we need,” said Ellen Frank, chief economist for the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College. “A lot is going to hinge on what happens over the next week.”
And yet Ms. Frank’s executive director at the institute is advocating more of the same approach that has doomed Rhode Island thus far. Politicians are a different animal than poverty advocates and other special interests (however difficult it may be to tell them apart in this state), but we haven’t drifted to our current straits, and the paddling has been a coordinated effort. Attempts at delusion and cover-up will be, as well.