General Assembly Waiting for Problems to Fix Themselves

Honestly, I don’t know how Rhode Islanders can read articles like this one without wanting to storm the State House. In brief, the General Assembly is now letting months pass by without resolving this year’s nine-figure budget deficit, and every day of delay makes the task more difficult, thus building political tolerance for the most dim-witted (but typical) solutions:

Key legislators acknowledge that the delay has forced them to consider options that may balloon future deficits, such as refinancing the payment plan for the $4.33-billion unfunded portion of the pension system for state workers and teachers.

Any homeowner should know that the possibility of refinancing the house to pay the grocery bill ought to be evidence that it’s time to cancel the premium channel package from the cable company, but the General Assembly marches on, even after years of one-time fixes that have without doubt harmed the lives of future Rhode Islanders — applying stimulus funds to programs that will require continued revenue once the federal largess dries up, sacrificing future tobacco settlement money at a loss, and so on. At a first-year savings of $40-45 million, reamortizing the pension debt wouldn’t even come close to addressing the $220 million budget gap, yet it’s the only big idea floated as a possibility in the article. And here’s the shiny new House Speaker, Gordon Fox (D., Providence):

“No COLAs for life, for instance, for me is a non-starter,” Fox said. “Do you want someone when they’re 80 years old to be living in poverty? I don’t think we, as a society, want to do that.”

Being inclined to be charitable, I’m not sure whether to ascribe that statement to stupidity or dishonesty. Eliminating automatic cost of living adjustments (COLAs) to pension payouts in no way prevents the General Assembly from enacting such increases in pension benefits as will prevent 80-year-old former state employees (many of whom would have been retired for more than twenty years, at that point) from starvation. Thus far in his time as speaker, the only case that Fox has competently backed is the case for relocating beyond his taxation reach.
Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel DaPonte (D, East Providence, Pawtucket) dips into the musty playbook for the “blame the governor” card:

“People understand that it’s the chief executive and department heads that manage the state on a day-to-day basis,” DaPonte said. “The General Assembly does not run departments. We pass a budget, and year after year after year, departments overspend.”

I’d replace “understand,” in that quotation, with “have been misled into believing.” It is the General Assembly that tells the departments what work they must do and what money they must hand out. And that’s the one area the shysters refuse to go, because it’s how they buy their offices.

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11 years ago

“Do you want someone when they’re 80 years old to be living in poverty? I don’t think we, as a society, want to do that.”
Mr. Speakah, it will be the taxpayers, not public employees, who will be living in poverty trying to keep up with benefits which
1. are too generous to begin with and
2. were woefully unfunded for decades by the body over which you currently preside.
And no, we as a society do not want to do that.

11 years ago

Some other interesting quotes and facts from Sunday’s paper:
The state’s deficit is currently $220M. The payment to the state pension system for this year is $218M. Hmm. Easy answer? Don’t fund the pensions. It’s been done before.
“The House and Senate passed a joint-resolution late last fall urging the Carcieri administration to produce a corrective-action plan, known as a “supplemental budget,” by Nov. 16.”
Also known as the “put him in a no-win situation where we and the media can beat him up for a while and then we pass what he wanted anyway and he still takes the heat for it” resolution.
““In terms of budgeting, time is the enemy,” Costantino said at the time. “Hopefully, this corrective-action plan is going to come immediately.”
Hopefully? Should I ask who is the House Finance Chair? Oh wait, that is Constantino, right? So if he wanted to have an answer submitted today, he could right? But no, “hopefully” we’ll have a plan immediately. And this is the guy who can cure all of Providence’s ills as mayor? Oh boy.

11 years ago

“The House and Senate passed a joint-resolution late last fall urging the Carcieri administration to produce a corrective-action plan, known as a “supplemental budget,” by Nov. 16.”
Good point, Patrick. Why does the urgency evaporate as soon as the Supplemental Budget arrives in the hands of the body that ACTUALLY HAS THE AUTHORITY TO ACT ON IT??
But perhaps I’m just missing something. Presumably, the longer they wait, the smaller the problem gets …

Tom W
Tom W
11 years ago

Hey all, popped in for a visit from afar.
Now you understand why my wife and I decided to leave RI (after over 45 years in my case) and start over in the Southeast: the General Assembly.
After years of corruption and irresponsibility (e.g., the tobacco money) it became inarguable but that the General Assembly is going to keep the charade going as long as possible, i.e., until the state collapses. Since the General Assembly isn’t going to change its ways, what chance is there for a positive turnaround for RI?
In fact, there’s NO realistic upside scenario for RI. Businesses / employers are going to continue to leave and/or avoid the place, so the tax base is going to continue to shrink even as the pension liability and welfare demands call for higher taxes from those who remain.
So we left. We’ve since had several conversations along the lines of “I don’t miss RI at all / it’s so screwed up — why didn’t we do this years ago?” I now would go back for visits, but never to live.
RI is a great place to be on the public teat — either as an public employee / contractor or welfare recipient. (Though this too will change as the system keeps imploding.)
It’s a terrible place to be laboring in the private sector.
If you’re in that latter category, leave if you can. Why stay and let them keep bleeding you?

11 years ago

It’s high time to let the GA know how they’re performing by cleaning house this next election season.

11 years ago

Tom W,
You and Donald B. Hawthorne both saw the light at the end of the tunnel and went for it moving out of RI! Good for both of you!
Doesn’t it feel wonderful? Like the weight of a thousand people have been lifted off your shoulders. You can finally breathe and enjoy life.
The local politics and laws in your new states are about helping people live a dignified life and not all about the local politician and how much they can rake in off the taxpayers.
Hey the City and County of Honolulu gave me a Christmas present this year! Because of my age I pay the minimum property tax now of $100 a year! They really care about seniors (age 50 and over) who are retired and on fixed income! This would never happen in RI but everybody will grow old!

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