State house stalemate

Carcieri takes another run at cutting state workers, but the outlook is murky
By IAN DONNIS  |  September 12, 2007

Many Rhode Islanders take an almost visceral delight in those occasions when a state worker is shown to be goofing off on the public’s dime. Beyond the undeniable news and entertainment value, such episodes chip away at public confidence and offer anecdotal justification for Governor Donald L. Carcieri’s efforts to cut what he has characterized as an overly large state workforce.
Yet when viewed in proportion to our population, the number of state workers in Rhode Island is the smallest among the six New England states and just the 40th-largest in the country, according to US Bureau of Labor statistics used in an analysis compiled by Governing magazine.
In contrast to regional leader Vermont, which has 301 state employees per 10,000 residents, the magazine’s sourcebook found, Rhode Island has 164 state workers per 10,000 residents. The comparable numbers for the other states: Maine (221); Connecticut (196); New Hampshire (188); and Massachusetts (187).
This is not to suggest that Rhode Island lacks a serious imbalance between revenue and spending. And with a $306 million structural deficit projected for the next fiscal year, Gary Sasse, executive director of the business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC), puts part of the blame on the relatively high cost of state workers in Rhode Island.
After being easily rebuffed by the General Assembly earlier this year in his effort to cut 1000 state employees — an initiative, marked by a lack of specificity, that was unfurled near the end of the legislative session — Carcieri is now regrouping with additional initiatives to cut the size of state government.
The stakes are high for the Republican governor, particularly considering how he came into office after a campaign touting reform and heightened economic vitality. More than four years later, Car¬cieri couldn’t have been pleased this week when a poll by Brown University’s Darrell West showed that his approval rating has taken a sharp hit since the start of the year — falling from 59 percent to 44 percent.
More ominously, the poll found that only 31 percent of Rhode Islanders (down from 50 percent in January) think the state is headed in the right direction.
Such tidings are clearly unwelcome for any elected official. And while the 2010 gubernatorial election still remains a long way off, this rising level of dissatisfaction, if sustained, could help Rhode Island Democrats to regain the governor’s office for the first time since Bruce Sundlun yielded the reins in the mid-’90s.
For now, the larger implication — that Rhode Island, at a time when many states are flush with surpluses, can’t get its fiscal house in order — is bad enough.

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  Topics: News Features , Bruce Sundlun, University of Rhode Island, Darrell West,  More more >
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