A slowdown in the growth of the size of government is a good thing – except for those who look upon government as the only solution to societal woes.
That was the perspective of ABC’s Oct. 13 “World News with Charles Gibson.” Correspondent Dan Harris looked at how the economy has caused hardship not for an individual, but for the Rhode Island state government.
“If you want to get a sense of how your state government may soon look, check out Rhode Island,” Harris said. “The governor and state lawmakers have had to cut nearly 7 percent of the budget, which has impacted almost every aspect of life here. From putting up bridge repairs, to giving struggling public schools less money than they need, to raising fees at senior centers.”
One of the reasons Rhode Island’s economy and state government budget are struggling is the state’s approach to taxes and regulation. According to the “2009 State Business Tax Climate Index,” a report by the Tax Foundation’s Joshua Barro, Rhode Island has the fifth worst climate for business in the country.
“Rhode Island has the worst unemployment tax system, the fifth worst property tax system, and the ninth worst individual income tax system,” Barro wrote.
Barro credited the state for phasing in an optional flat tax and said its score should improve, but without it, the state would score dead last overall.
According to Harris, another casualty of 7 percent less state government spending was the state’s higher education system.
“At the University of Rhode Island, experienced professors were encouraged to retire in exchange for less experienced, less expensive faculty,” Harris said.
However, Harris neglected to tell viewers the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education voted to hike the college’s tuition by 10 percent for the upcoming semester to offset the 7 percent in budget cuts.
Harris warned that budget cuts would hurt the most vulnerable people – including homeless shelters and food banks, but he didn’t look at other areas in the state that could be run more efficiently. A blog maintained by the Ocean State Policy Research Center, a think tank that examines Rhode Island public policy, pointed to the state’s bloated highway budget as one possible target for trimming.
“According to the Reason Foundation, the annual Highway Study shows that Rhode Island has the 3rd Least Cost-Effective Infrastructure Spending in Entire Nation!” the group said in a Sept. 22 post. “That means we’re one of the top three states that spends the most money on our roads Per Mile AND 53.3% of our bridges are deficient - the absolute highest rate in the nation.”
Harris also complained about other states’ budget cuts and the impact on government employees and initiatives.
“Rhode Island, with the second highest unemployment rate in the country, went into a recession last year, and had to make significant budget cuts,” Harris said. “Now, other states are catching up. Virginia laid off hundreds of state workers. Missouri is delaying plans to fix its main airport. And Minnesota scrapped a plan to expand its 911 system. As often happens when budgets are cut, it’s the poor who suffer the most.”