June 21, 2006

Contra Michaud: Governor and House "Get Along" on Budget

Marc Comtois

One of the central lines of Dennis Michaud's criticism of Governor Carcieri is that he has a poor relationship with the General Assembly (Remember: "He's a fighter, I'm a lover."). Any follower of contemporary Rhode Island politics would probably agree, but that doesn't mean that tough-minded negotiating on both sides can't yield positive results. In short, there is no logical link between KUMBAYA circles and fiscal sanity. Rhode Island still has a ways to go, but it appears as if the Governor's managed to extract some concessions out of the House (and, yes, vice versa).

"I believe that my fundamental principle, which is that we have to live within our means, has finally begun to sink in," Carcieri said yesterday as he praised the House budget, which raises spending 4.9 percent.

Is that a responsible increase when inflation rose only 2.5 percent last year?

"I would like to see it lower," the governor said, "but to get a budget that everybody can agree to, you've got to compromise on some things."

House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, added: "This was a budget of shared priorities in a lot of cases. Were there some philosophical disagreements? Yes. But ultimately I think we worked through a budget."

In fact, things were so cordial between the House and the governor's office that Carcieri's chief of staff Jeffrey M. Grybowski celebrated the budget's passage in the speaker's office Monday night with Costantino and House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence.

The budget includes several issues that Carcieri and Democratic lawmakers can take credit for in November.

Take the car tax.

Carcieri had proposed raising the exemption from the first $5,000 in value to $5,500. Lawmakers went to $6,000.

The same can be said about local school aid.

Carcieri increased school funding by $20 million. Lawmakers added another $13.3 million, although some communities saw less under their plan than Carcieri had proposed. But in the end, both parties can take credit for more school aid, which in political circles translates into "property tax relief."

"I bet you have to go back to the late '90s to see a local-aid package as large as this," Carcieri said yesterday.

Lawmakers restored many of the cuts Carcieri made in welfare and subsidized health care for the poor, but did end up going along with a few of his reductions. The legislators can campaign that they helped the poor while Carcieri can take credit for "reforming" part of the system.

"They came not as far as I might like to see," the governor said, "but they came quite a ways toward what we wanted to accomplish."

For years we have seen the slow, inexorable power of incrementalism on the part of traditionally Democratic constituents who rely on--and demand--tax revenue taken from the wallets and pocketbooks of average Rhode Islanders. This week we've seen property tax reform coming from the Senate side and a Budget compromise--that includes tax reductions--coming from the House side. Perhaps this is the beginning of a slow (I won't say inexorable!) move in the other direction.

In an election year, even Democrats see the wisdom of letting the taxpayers keep more of their own money. These are positive developments. However, we still need to keep the pressure on. Should all of this legislation pass, we still need to make sure that the legislature doesn't try to take away these tax breaks next year. Re-electing Governor Carcieri would go a long way in ensuring that won't happen.

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The governor has had the Democrat laden General Assembly politically moving in his direction on a number of issues over the past couple of years.
Sadly the governor has no clue on how to make that known to the general public. Never in all my years have I seen someone in politics who has so many people skills to offer yet surrounds himself with rank amateurs who have no clue/idea/thought/plan on how to promote this governor on any level.
It's only the end of June, did the governor start his re-election campaign yet? That I'm asking the question tells you what the problem is. I'm completely blown away by the total lack of energy and focus from this governor. Don Carcieri may be running for re-election but it's certainly not a matter of life and death with him. Team Carcieri is writing the book on how to throw away a very winnable race.
Just blows me away!

Posted by: Tim at June 21, 2006 9:12 PM

Michaud's definition of "cooperation" is rolling over...

Posted by: Anthony at June 21, 2006 11:07 PM


Do you live on planet earth?

Michaud is toast. Fogarty is all jammed up. Carcieri will eat them for breakfast.

The only way Carcieri loses is if he hires Guy Dufault as his PR man.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at June 21, 2006 11:18 PM


You do reside on Planet Laffey so I don't expect reasoned commentary from you. Exactly how is Fogarty all jammed up? What are you talking about? Fogarty is running neck and neck with Carcieri in every poll I've seen and he's got a very organized and very motivated labor movement working to get out the vote this year.
Carcieri is in big trouble in this election. Question is does he and his team even realize this? Maybe the bigger question is deep down does he really care? I wonder!

Posted by: Tim at June 22, 2006 7:05 AM


I would equate Fogarty's position in any poll at this time to the position Matt Brown enjoyed when he was running a few months back.

Fogarty's "labor movement" will be the very reason he will loose. The people want someone who will fight for them not someone who will work to maintain the stranglehold special interests have on the one party system that runs our little State.

Carcieri's biggest challenge will be explaining why the GA could not be corralled into addressing the $200+ million deficit we face next year. Fogarty is a part of that problem.

Maybe when the rational people of the state vote down the Casino "amendment" (I can't even believe I'm writing this) and the men and women of the GA realize how moronic they look we will begin to see the kind of reform we need to move our state forward.

Hope is still the State motto.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at June 22, 2006 7:33 AM


I might agree with you re: Fogarty's poll #'s if he were going up against an incumbent governor who had a quality re-election team in place and working hard in the grassroots for the past several months. That is not the case. Carcieri has been so slow to do fundraising and even slower to form his re-election team. There even one professional political person on his campaign team? Even one? Joe I'm serious when I say Carcieri is writing the book on how not to run a campaign and how to blow a very winnable election. Charlie Fogarty being even in the polls with this incumbent governor is a red flag and a huge warning sign for the governor but he has nobody to blame but himself. The old saying "you get what you pay for" is true. Carcieri has consistently surounded himself with second and third rate talent in his administration and those chickens are coming home to roost. It's a shame because he has so much to offer this state as governor.

Posted by: Tim at June 22, 2006 8:01 AM

The Governor apparently does have staff problems as well as the State GOP.He is really SOLELY responsible for retaining Patricia Morgan as State GOP Chair.Apparently the State GOP in Rhode Island has gone through FOUR Executive Directors since she has taken over as State Chair correct me if I am wrong on my count.
I do hear complaints about the Governors staff problems in the Governors office.I understand it goes to his campaign also!
One question:What really happened to Tim Costa as Carcieri's Campaign Manager?
There are seasoned GOP operatives that could help the Governor.If I was advising him I would suggest bringing them in now!
As you probably don't realize, historically speaking, Patricia Morgan apparently is poised to go down in Rhode Island Republican Party history, since the party's founding in the 1800s',as being the only GOP state chair to NOT field a candidate for two major offices:General Treasurer and US House,2ND District;.! I don't recall that EVER happening before.Her "leadership" is NOT funny!

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at June 22, 2006 6:08 PM


In political ideology terms I'm definitely a Republican but will never join the state party because of the very nonsense we're seeing now. Your tiny party is splintering into three groups.
The Carcieri faction, the Laffey faction, the tired old guard faction.
Now true party building could happen if the Carcieri and Laffey factions got together and worked together to expel the tired old guard ie John Holmes, Linc Almond, et al. Who do you think is inspiring Reggie Centracchio to run for Lt Gov? The tired old guard of course. It's so crazy to watch your tiny party spin off in all directions. In my opinion it's all about self interest and never about party building with the tired old guard and they're at it again. It's why you've never built a party. Too many want to climb into bed with the dirty boys on the other side to fatten their own wallets. There are too many double and triple agents in your party to ever trust anyone. Maybe that's why the governor stays clear of involving party "insiders" into his campaign?
Regarding Pat Morgan no she isn't very good but who else was available? Just a guess on my behalf since I know none of the players involved but Tim Costa had no business trying to run a campaign for an incumbent governor and it showed. Why he was ever tabbed for the job to begin with IS the problem with Team Carcieri.

Posted by: Tim at June 22, 2006 8:26 PM

I agree with both Tim and Scott Bill Hirst. Tim is right that this a competitive race, although I think he is wrong when he suggests that Carcieri may not care. I think Carcieri cares deeply about winning reelection, I'm just not sure he knows how to run this race.

Last time, he had the benefit of running against Jim Bennett in the primary. Bennett had never won statewide (or any office?) and his candidacy was muddled. He would have made a strong candidate for a down ticket seat, but governor was a stretch. But Bennett started the race as the perceived frontrunner, so Cariceri's win looked like a come from behind victory with momentum.

Carcieri then faced off against Myrth York, the best gubernatorial candidate the RI GOP ever had. Carcieri won just as a lethargic Linc Almond was able to beat York because half of the state's Democrats hated her.

This is a far different race and Carcieri's organization hasn't yet shown it is up to the task. Scott Bill Hirst is right on this point. One of the reasons the GOP has been successful nationally is that it usually runs stronger campaigns and the party cultivates political professionals. Nobody on the governor's team meets that criteria. I'd be interested to know why.

I hope Carcieri's people don't think they're brilliant just because they were able to pull off a win against an extraordinarily weak Democrat last election.

Posted by: Anthony at June 22, 2006 9:31 PM


Agree with your perspective on the governor. My own theory on this is because the governor did not come from a political background before he ran and won't be immersed in the political life once he leaves office he's never felt compelled to become a political animal or to surround himself with such. That's where he's made a mistake in judgement, in not seeing the need for those around him to be expert in the political landscape and how that could help him on many levels. This lack of political smarts is why a 20something who's never run a campaign gets handed the job as his campaign manager. That move exposed a complete lack of political professionalism on the governor's part. As you rightly point out and as should be stunningly obvious to Team Carcieri, there is a world of difference between running against Myrth Yorke as an unknown candidate and running for re-election against Charlie Fogarty and having a four year gubernatorial record to defend. I guess the real question is can they overcome their own campaign incompetence and win this race. I say it can be done but I'm not exactly overwhelmed by what I've seen so far.

Posted by: Tim at June 23, 2006 7:09 AM

I think Carcieri will win, but he'll have to spend a good deal of his own money to make it happen.

Sadly, this would not even have been a contest if the Carcieri organization had handled it properly. From what I can tell, most (although certainly not all) of Carcieri's political team is either unqualified or they are self-interested and are looking for things such as board appointments, legal work, etc.

Every president keeps a political strategist in the White House to gauge the political implications of legislation and to serve as a bridge between the campaign and the official staff. This is not existent in Carcieri's administration and it shows during events like the Smoke Shop raid.

I know that some politicians hate politics but like governing and this probably describes Carcieri. Yet you can't govern if you ignore the politics, so Carcieri should try to field the best team he can.

Posted by: Anthony at June 23, 2006 11:14 AM