Rhode Island Constitution 101 – Control of the Budget

Both the Providence Journal and A.R. commenter Ken have erroneously amplified the amount of power the Executive Branch possesses over the state budget – more specifically, its control of the amount of local aid that will be disbursed from state coffers.
This week in an article about current events in Woonsocket, the Providence Journal asserted:

For the current fiscal year, the city faces a proposed loss of $700,000 from the governor, who is trying to balance a multimillion-dollar state deficit by cutting money to cities and towns.

And under Justin’s post, “More Taxing Than Expected”, commenter Ken stated:

Why such a surprise? The governor has been publicly telling everyone he was going to spread the state structural budget deficit pain across all 39 cities and towns.

Would that the Governor had more control over the state budget. In point of fact, if he proposed the reverse, an increase in education aid to cities and towns, but the General Assembly did not concur, it simply would not happen. We know because this is how FY 2008 wrapped up.
Some conceptual points suggest themselves out of the observations by Ken and the ProJo.
“Budget deficit pain” is not a completely unexpected, uncontrollable bolt of lightening from the gods. It is self inflicted by our elected officials who do not always make such decisions on the basis of the best interest of the state or even the individual recipients of such funds.
Secondly, contrary to the implication in both those statements, the Governor has proposed to spread budget cuts across the board. He is correct to do so. Our current fiscal problems did not arise out of one budget category so they cannot be resolved by focusing on only one category.
More importantly, however, the Governor this year and the General Assembly last year are correct in finally putting an end to increases in local/education aid. Too often, elected officials on the local level have negotiated and executed local contracts that had no bearing on either the quality of the service provided or the ability of taxpayers to fund them and do not conform to the terms of “contracts” under which most of the private sector (i.e., the taxpayer) operates. Witness our ranking as fourth highest taxed state, which calculation includes the level of property taxes, juxtaposed by the recent NECAP results.
In short, it should not become the burden of the state when local officials have implemented budgets and contracts in an irresponsible fashion.

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