Although far from a love-fest, the heightened degree of comity between Governor Donald L. Carcieri and the General Assembly over the latest state budget signals a sharp change from the last two budget seasons. Call it the flip side of Prussian general Karl von Clausewitz’s time-tested observation about war being nothing more than the continuation of policy by other means.
If either the governor or the legislature was seen as obstructing several highlights in the new $6.35 billion state budget — particularly a heightened car-excise tax exemption, $4 million in property tax relief for low-income residents, and a pension reform expected to yield $44 million in savings — it would quickly become fodder for the fast-approaching 2006 political season. As it stands, the Republican governor and largely Democratic legislature can still be expected to tout their respective roles in trying to slow the rate of state spending, even with a budget that represents a 6.5 percent increase from the previous year.
Asked about some analysts’ view that the pension reform agreement signified a good week for Carcieri, House Finance Committee Steven Costantino (D-Providence) told me on WPRI/WNAC-TV’s Newsmakers it was "a good week for the General Assembly." He pointed to the role of a predecessor, former Representative Antonio Pires, in leading the effort to eliminate the car-excise tax. Overall, Costantino says, "I think it’s been a good meshing of some legislative ideas that we have been promoting for years and that the governor has also been promoting."
Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal noted solid support from the House Republican caucus and "a group of reform-minded Democrats who have helped push through some of the governor’s priorities." In fact, although dissidents backing Representative John DeSimone (D-Providence) came up short in their challenge to House Speaker William P. Murphy earlier this year, they have made life tougher for the West Warwick Democrat. Republicans can be expected to hail Carcieri as the prime mover for pension reform and other reform-oriented elements.
Costantino, though, cites the budget as something driven by sound policy, "not the politics of the dissidents or the Republicans that were upset." Rather than being weakened by a thinner margin of Democratic support, "I think the speaker is actually strengthened by sticking to those issues that were important from day one in the Assembly."
With the legislative year rapidly drawing to a close, several important issues remain unresolved, including BLB Investors’ bid to buy Lincoln Park, and the divisive battle over organizing some 1300 home-based day care providers. While Carcieri raps the effort as a misguided move that would run up state spending, Costantino hails the day care provided by the workers as the main reason why the number of Rhode Islanders on welfare is diminishing. Faulting the governor for exaggerating the cost of collectively bargaining with the workers, Paul Crowley (D-Newport), deputy chairman of House Finance, says the state also risks a more costly outcome because of its involvement in a pending court case related to the dispute.
Issue Date: July 1 - 7, 2005
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