Some conservatives, including Hawthorne, have pointed to their favorite bugaboo — “the incredibly powerful and entrenched special interests” (read: labor and advocates for the poor), as well as the Rhode Island Republican Party’s inability to offer a competitive alternative — in suggesting, “Maybe the viable solution for RI is to let it all blow up and then pick up the pieces.”
A longtime Democratic observer, not surprisingly, prefers to put more of the blame on the Republican Carcieri, although he indicts “a lack of leadership at all levels of state government.”
“You look at controversial decisions that Bruce Sundlun made at the time [after the credit union crisis], with regard to [building the Providence Place] mall, the Convention Center, and the airport [expansion], in particular,” adds the source, who formerly worked in state government. “They weren’t very popular at the time, but they proved to be successful endeavors for Rhode Island, and right now, we’re lacking that kind of Sundlun-like fortitude.”
This Democrat, who earns a comfortable living, vents about the bite of buying a thankful of gas and paying state taxes, knowing full well that he’s got it easy, compared with those less affluent Rhode Islanders struggling to get by.
“Quite frankly, where are the grownups? That’s where we’re at right now,” he says. “You have a $400-million-plus deficit, our roads are failing, our schools are failing, [public] services are becoming less, and we spend three weeks debating the status of illegal immigrants in Rhode Island,” because of Carcieri’s executive order on that subject.
“I’d love to see a joint announcement from the governor and the General Assembly, saying, we’re going to meet on a weekly basis to solve the fiscal crisis together. That’s leadership . . . . It’s important, and it’s not happening.”
A mixed partisan forecast
Pointing to their agreement on the recently approved supplemental budget, among other things, Carcieri asserts that the Democrat-controlled legislature and he have worked together reasonably well on economic development issues.
Acknowledging that times are tough, the governor says the state will be poised for growth if efforts continue to curb state spending. A five-year forward projection, which, as Carcieri notes, is not based on robust revenue, shows the state to be in balance “and that is huge.”
The governor’s approval rating has tumbled over the last year or so, and as centrist an observer as Brown’s West faults him for not focusing more narrowly on budgetary issues. Carcieri, though, says he has tried since coming into office to grow jobs and to cut spending, and that the state was faring well, regionally speaking, before the broader economic slowdown.
“Unfortunately, it takes time,” says the governor. He believes, however, that if the line is held against increases in taxes and spending, Rhode Island’s economic-development strategy will work.
Representative Steven M. Costantino (D-Providence), chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee, is less sanguine.
The lawmaker considers the situation so serious that he has been informally assembling a group of business and academic leaders to offer a more unified view of Rhode Island’s economic challenges and possible solutions. “I don’t think the people outside of government have been engaged enough to define what the plan should be,” Costantino says.