November 21, 2007

Can We Have a Rhode Island "Phoenix"?

Marc Comtois

No, not a statewide version of that Phoenix, but a state that rises from the ashes, born anew. That's essentially what the ProJo has editorialized about this morning.

Rhode Island can use this crisis to reinvent itself, operating more efficiently and more realistically in a competitive world, making changes that would benefit its citizens for years to come. If, on the other hand, the governor and the legislature try to do again what they have done for the last several years — apply patches, raise fees or selected taxes, and leave behind massive out-year deficits — they might well hasten the pace of the state’s decline.

Systematic change must take place, starting now. These changes would not be pleasant initially, but it is hard to see how they can be avoided if the Ocean State is to recover any time soon.

After emphasizing that higher taxes is definitely not the answer, the ProJo provides its own wishlist of reform.

  • Reform the benefit and pension packages of state and municipal employees by increasing retirement ages, implementing a 401(k)-style retirement plan, using realistic cost-of-living numbers to calculate yearly raises and supplying a realistic medical benefit plan.

  • Increase transparency in collective bargaining between public employee unions and state entitities.

  • Consolidate services to reduce operational overhead by eliminating state agencies who provide overlapping services or that simply don't justify an entire bureaucracy all their own. They give the Atomic Energy Commission with a director making a salary of $135,000 as an example.

  • Bring welfare benefits in line with national averages. That means less money, higher qualification ceilings and shorter time on the rolls (5 years is just too long). And make sure they're U.S. citizens.

  • Finally, cut staff across the board in the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches. And they note that, so far, only the Governor has been willing to step up and make the tough decisions. Time for everyone else to do their part.

    They conclude:

    ...the easy decisions have been made, and the avoidance tactics of some politicians (and the groups that want ever more services) have brought us to the brink of a financial abyss. Rhode Island must reinvent its government if it is to prosper in the coming years.
    A more cynical way of putting all of this would be to quote Lt. Nick Holden from Operation Petticoat (it was just on the other night), "In confusion, there is profit." In this case, maybe Rhode Island citizens will ultimately "profit" from less government as a result of the budgetary confusion our politicians have created. At least we can hope.

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    It's sad that a paper which runs so many good pieces from Achorn and on its editorial page daily negates all this with Leftist La-La pablum from Kathy Gregg, Steve Peoples, Scott Mackay, Bakst and Kerr.

    Posted by: Mike at November 21, 2007 8:38 AM

    Wow, I never thought I'd see an editorial like this in the Projo--it is 100% correct.

    Mike, you're right about most of the Projo's reporters. I had to laugh when I read Bakst's column about Meals on Wheels that quoted Rep. Slater and talked about "moral choices". He still doesn't get it. It was the choices of people like Slater that put RI in its current position.

    Bakst continually joined in the chorus of liberal overspenders who are trying to place blame for the state's finanical situation on Carcieri.

    I don't fully absolve Carcieri. Maybe he should have vetoed more budgets than he did (not that it would have made a difference with the General Assembly's ability to override). But unlike Bakst and Slater, who merely shrug their shoulders and ask "What can we do?", Carcieri is doing something.

    Posted by: Anthony at November 21, 2007 10:28 AM

    Why is it that the ProJo puts the news of the state's bond rating being put on a "negative rating watch" buried on the third page of the business section.

    Is this not deemed to be front page news?

    Posted by: Michael C at November 21, 2007 10:55 AM

    Even as we celebrate an editorial espousing goals we can all agree with instead of the bellicose rhetoric we're heard too much of lately, we can't let the chance to take cheapies at ProJo staffers pass.
    How come these overlapping state agencies were left in place by the highly touted Fiscal Fitness initiative?

    Posted by: rhody at November 21, 2007 11:13 AM

    I gave the Projo credit where it was due (the editorial) and criticism where it was due (the obvious bias held by the Projo's senior reporters).

    As for Fiscal Fitness, it wasn't that long ago that Democrats were complaining it went too far. Now I suppose they assert it didn't go far enough.

    Posted by: Anthony at November 21, 2007 2:44 PM

    "They give the Atomic Energy Commission with a director making a salary of $135,000 as an example."

    H'mm, interesting point. There's a nuclear reactor at URI and, I think, another one someplace else in the state. Presumably, some oversight is needed of those facilities. How much spending is warranted in this area, however, in a state that lacks the disposition to turn to nuclear energy in a big way anytime soon?

    Posted by: Monique at November 21, 2007 5:37 PM

    The ProJo is breathtaking in its naïveté! While the editorial says the right things, it’s premised on a belief that the Democrats have the potential of standing up to the union / welfare special interests and do the right things to get Rhode Island on a sustainable path.


    They will do the absolute minimum possible reform to maintain the maximum possible status quo. After 70 years of Democrat rule, to even entertain the thought that the Democrats will do a 180 is the height of folly.

    Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at November 21, 2007 8:54 PM

    For that to happen, Ragin, you need some effective opposition. The GOP needs to put up some atrractive candidates, but it either never gets (or refuses to support) candidates who challenge the Democratic leaders who need to be thrown out (i.e., Patricia Morgan had the guts to run against Bill Murphy, but all I hear about her in here is that she's too liberal).
    If the GOP was willing to put up some pro-choice women, it could win some legislative seats (and take down Patches).

    Posted by: rhody at November 22, 2007 6:08 PM

    Forget it Rhody. If you want a baby-killing party you got it already. There is not going to be some magical "Right/Left Alliance" as you seem to keep hinting at. We demand the evisceration of BOTH excess compensation to public employees AND over-generous welfare.
    If you don't go along with this, please stop proposing some phantom alliance. We have already had tooooooo many "me too" Republicans (Chafee, Almond, Di Prete, Traf, Avedesian, Machtley, Sapinsley, Schneider, Farmer and too many more) already.
    I would rather keep losing elections with a fiscally sane platform. Because you know what? With a $600 million dollar deficit and the basic, inescapable economic coda of "as taxes procede capital flees" (especially in a state the size of a postage stamp) we will get what we want-the curtailment of BOTH welfare insanity and public employee compensation insanity.
    It may happen the easy way or it may happen the hard way. It may happen with more Republicans or no Republicans at all. But it will happen. Be sure of that. The "progressives" playground is collapsing on them.

    Posted by: Mike at November 22, 2007 8:18 PM

    Mike, we could fall $1 billion into the hole, and your Lord of the Flies still won't appeal to anybody.
    It's funny, I grew up believing working together solved problems. Forgive me for my ignorance that working together CREATES problems.

    Posted by: rhody at November 23, 2007 11:05 AM

    You see, Rhody, YOUR (and the Democrat Party's) idea of 'working together' or 'compromise' means 'Republicans sacrifice everything they believe in and bend over for the Democrats' and none of us are willing to do that.

    Posted by: Greg at November 23, 2007 11:35 AM

    Greg, I don't bend over for the corporate-lobbyist-consultant complex like the Dem leadership has.
    That's why I'm not a Democrat (or do you actually prefer Democrats over us GD independents who realize traditional Dem-GOP thinking will continue dooming this state to failure?).

    Posted by: rhody at November 23, 2007 12:51 PM

    You CALL yourself an independent but your statements betray you as a liberal. Name one thing you believe in that's not out of the liberal handbook. And I mean besides your knee-jerk hatred of any Democrat in the General Assembly that supported tax cuts for the people in this state that actually keep the whole state afloat.

    Posted by: Greg at November 23, 2007 2:29 PM

    Greg, anybody who disagrees with you is autmotically branded a liberal. Let's call a spade a spade here.
    And there's nothing wrong with tax cuts, as long as they're extended to EVERYONE. I have just as much as right to a tax cut as you do. And it's not a liberal thing, either - conservative working families are just as entitled to that tax cut as the corporate types.

    Posted by: rhody at November 24, 2007 12:27 AM

    >>Greg, anybody who disagrees with you is autmotically branded a liberal. Let's call a spade a spade here.
    And there's nothing wrong with tax cuts, as long as they're extended to EVERYONE. I have just as much as right to a tax cut as you do. And it's not a liberal thing, either - conservative working families are just as entitled to that tax cut as the corporate types.

    Rhody, if there were a per capita tax you'd have a point.

    But since a "rich" person is not only paying more taxes than you on an absolute basis, but also higher nominal tax rates thanks to the "progressive" tax code - for the exact same "government services" - that person is shouldering more of the tax burden than you - so you are the one who has gotten the tax cut.

    Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at November 24, 2007 3:06 AM
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