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.