Carcieri’s challenges

By IAN DONNIS  |  December 27, 2006

As the ProJo reported earlier this month, these deficits have led directors of state departments to propose a variety of previously rejected cuts, including the layoff of 54 state troopers in the patrol division and the release of minimum-security inmates from the Adult Correctional Institutions.

Will the current deficit compel difficult decisions or melt away like those in the past? Stay tuned. Carcieri's own strategy for contending with this should come into sharper focus in January and February.

Solve the Deficit, Part Two: As Sasse suggests, a structural deficit extends the fiscal bleakness to the long-term state budget outlook, estimated to be about $250 million for the next fiscal year.

As Sasse explains it, three areas form about 90 percent of the state budget: personnel (about 25 percent); local aid (about 20 percent); and grants, benefits, and entitlements (more than 40 percent). Curbing growing spending in these areas, Sasse says, “will require hard choices and leadership by the governor to lay out a plan, and a much higher level of bipartisanship to come up with solutions . . . At some point, we really need to address it.”

While reducing spending on entitlements will not be easy, in part because of the strong constituencies in those areas, Sasse suggests that savings can be realized through streamlining delivery and other approaches. Meanwhile, he says, the structural deficit is impeding the state’s ability to make investments in higher education and other important areas. “It’s like we’re fighting the battle with one arm tied behind our back,” Sasse says.

Rebuild the RI GOP: An implicit and vital part of Carcieri’s promise to challenge the status quo of Rhode Island politics was strengthening the ranks of GOP legislators on Smith Hill. But after some modest gains in 2004, the effort veered sideways during the recent election season.

Although a number of local Republicans put the blame on the national Democratic tide — and that certainly had an effect — the net result is that the Rhode Island GOP remains seriously marginalized. The bottom line: basically, the state’s perennial minority party won’t be taken seriously until it becomes a more effective force.

Last week’s departure of Representative Scott is the latest evidence of this, and the situation is hardly helped by dissension within the GOP legislative ranks. Similarly, the recent difficulties of Representative Bruce Long (R-Middletown) offer a local reminder of how Democrats don’t have a monopoly on such behavior.

Foster Economic Development: In November, Carcieri hailed “Rhode Island’s continued progress on creating jobs and reducing the rate of unemployment.” The optimism was based on how the state unemployment rate had dropped for the second consecutive month, to five percent in October, and how, according to the state Department of Labor and Training, a record 549,000 Rhode Islanders were working.

Rhode Island, though, still has a long way to go when it comes to creating good jobs.

A web of interrelated problems, including underperforming schools and the need for a better-prepared workforce, makes improving the situation more difficult. 

Carcieri himself had to backpedal on his first term pledge of overseeing 20,000 new jobs, settling instead for more than 15,000. Even neighboring Massachusetts, traditionally a strong competitor because of its richer economic infrastructure, was labeled an underperformer on jobs creation in a recent MIT report, due to the challenge from other technology-oriented states.

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