Supplemental Budget Fallout
As I walked down the cold, dark driveway to retrieve this morning’s paper, it occurred to me that, for all of the badmouthing that Governor Carcieri will be receiving throughout the Christmas season, he’s really set the tone for avoiding large, broadbased tax increases. Doing so has forced conversations about the way government operates that Rhode Islanders have been resisting for far too long… forever, as far as I can tell.
Is the “tax hell” vision so compelling that other governors would do the same? I tend to doubt it, although I suspect the recession will last long enough (in Rhode Island) that we’ll have the opportunity to find out. Hopefully, the in-coming governor will appreciate the warning offered to anybody who has ever been trained to save drowning swimmers: they’re panicking and will drag you down. In this case, the tax-raising government is the swimmer, and a frighteningly desperate grip is sure to make the rescuer (private industry and taxpayers) swim away to a safe distance.
So, for all of the very narrow and wonkish complaints that a conservative blogger might have against Carcieri, this supplemental budget should offer final proof, for any who need it, that he gets the problem to a degree for which we all should be thankful. Sure, Steve Peoples argues that the governor has boxed himself in:
The term-limited governor has painted himself into a corner — through agreements with labor unions and the federal government — that leaves few obvious places to cut the kind of money he needs to close a $219-million shortfall over the next six months. …
Indeed, the governor largely gave up his right to cut Rhode Island’s $1-billion human-service safety net when he agreed to plug prior budget holes with hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal stimulus package. And he surrendered his ability to cut the state’s work force following recent labor negotiations that produced eight unpaid work days.
I’d suggest that some blame ought to go to the legislature and judiciary for limiting the governor’s leverage in negotiating with state-government labor. Additionally, one can imagine the public hoopla had the governor rejected federal funds on the grounds that he intended to cut safety net spending. (If we’re feeling punchy, we could also debate the wisdom of cutting assistance to the lowest rungs of the social ladder in this economic climate.)
And sure, Jennifer Jordan quotes the increasingly pitiful pleas of the usual voices with regard to this:
… Carcieri’s plan to cut about $40 million between now and June from the state’s 38 school districts, 13 charter schools and 3 state-run schools is more than a budget reduction — it’s a message to Rhode Island’s 14,600 public school teachers. Put simply, Carcieri wants teachers to take the same 3-percent pay cut that state workers accepted earlier this year, and he wants their pension plans reduced.
The unionists will scream and cry, of course, because they know that the governor has set the conversation. Well-paid public sector teachers can take a hit, or the various layers of government can attempt to further mug struggling residents, whose average pay is dramatically lower and many of whom all but have their bags packed and others of whom are prepared to ride the voter backlash into office and have their way with the nest eggs and pet projects of the establishment.
Moreover, according to Ted Nesi of the Providence Business News, Carcieri’s got other points that he’d like to enter into the public debate for consideration:
To help municipalities deal with the cuts, the governor proposed a number of measures, including the repeal of minimum manning requirements for local fire and police departments; changes to municipal pension programs; a 25 percent coshare for public safety employees on their health plan premiums; the creation of a statewide purchasing system for education; and the suspension of the Caruolo Act.
The next year — and the foreseeable future — are going to see a tough fight, in Rhode Island, but there can be no denying that our out-going governor is on the right side.