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.

1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |   next >
  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, J Michael Downey,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY IAN DONNIS
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   RHODY'S LOCAL FOOD MOVEMENT FINDS ITS GROOVE  |  February 23, 2009
    Five years ago, when Farm Fresh Rhode Island (FFRI) launched its mission of promoting Ocean State-produced food, co-founder Noah Fulmer discovered a curious disconnection in the local food chain.
  •   TICKET TO RIDE  |  February 11, 2009
    In April 1999, two weeks after I started on the job at the Providence Phoenix , the FBI raided City Hall, formally unveiling the federal investigation that would land Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr., Rhode Island's rascal king, behind bars.
  •   ADVOCATES RENEW PUSH FOR PUBLICLY-FINANCED RI ELECTIONS  |  February 04, 2009
    During a news conference Tuesday afternoon in the State House rotunda, proponents of significantly expanding publicly financed elections in Rhode Island — a concept they call "Fair Elections" — cited a litany of reasons for why it would be good for the Ocean State and its citizens.
  •   THE UPSIDE OF HOPE IN RHODE ISLAND  |  January 29, 2009
    Everywhere one turns these days, there's seemingly more bad news about Rhode Island: the unemployment rate, one of the highest in the nation, tops 10 percent — and the state's running out of unemployment assistance.
  •   BROGAN TAKES ON TEENS, SOCIAL NETWORKING IN TEASER  |  January 28, 2009
    Former Providence Journal reporter Jan Brogan is out with her fourth mystery, Teaser .

 See all articles by: IAN DONNIS