By Calvin Palmer
Under a plan devised by its Republican governor, Rhode Island will shut down its state government for 12 days and trim millions of dollars in funding for local governments.
The proposal was announced today by Gov Don Carcieri in an attempt to balance a budget hard hit by unemployment and falling tax revenue.
The shutdown would force 81 percent of the roughly 13,550-member state work force, excluding its college system, to stay home a dozen days without pay before the start of the new fiscal year in July.
The closures come as the worst recession in decades has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax collections and pushed unemployment to 12.7 percent, the second-highest jobless rate in the nation behind Michigan.
Carcieri predicted the state’s fiscal future could grow even bleaker.
“There are going to be inconveniences for the public, and there are going to be sacrifices, as I said, for state employees,” Carcieri said at a Statehouse news conference. “These steps right now are unavoidable if the state is to live within its budget, live within its means.”
Critical workers such as state police, prison guards and child abuse investigators still will report to work during the shutdown, Carcieri said.
He ruled out raising taxes to balance the budget and said the state cannot lay off more workers since it deeply trimmed its work force last year.
Carcieri said he is willing to negotiate a different deal with state employee unions so long as it saves the same amount of money, roughly $22 million. But the first day of shutdown is planned for September 4. Additional shutdown days have been scheduled every month through June.
His plan is certain to spark a legal fight with state employee unions that contend it violates their contracts. In bargaining last year, state workers agreed to give up a pay raise and pay more for their health insurance as state leaders struggled to balance the budget. They also took a day without pay.
“We did what we think is all we can do as taxpayers and state workers,” said J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94, a state employee union that represents around 4,000 workers. “We’re saying to them that enough of the budget problems have been taken on the backs of state employees.”
Besides shutting down state government, Carcieri asked lawmakers to grant him the power to unilaterally cut spending approved in the budget. State lawmakers rejected a similar request from Carcieri earlier this year.
If approved, Carcieri said he would cut about $33 million in local funding for city and town governments.
I wander if Carcieri is also playing politics and has his eye on the presidential election of 2012 and ensuring that President Obama does not get elected for a second term.
The strategy goes like this, make life more unpleasant than it has to be in these tough times and everyone will blame Obama and, therefore, be more likely to vote for his opponent.
Republican employers are also playing their part by giving employees no wage increases this year, effectively a wage cut given that the price for utilities and property taxes has risen. Such a strategy ensures that people have less disposable income and so the recession drags on longer.
That is exactly what Republicans want in order that Obama can be shown to have failed.
I find it strange that a party that values patriotism so highly is so willing to drag America and its people through the mire in order to seize political control.
But politics always was a dirty business and the Republican Party has always excelled at “dirty tricks” politics. I am not so sure that the American people will be so easily duped as they have been in the past but that will not prevent Coulter, Limbaugh and their political masters from trying.
[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]