But Leaves $168 Million of RI Taxpayer Dollars on the Table
The budget unveiled in the Rhode Island House Finance Committee, last week, showed a $13.3 million decrease in state spending, compared with the governor’s proposed budget. Approximately $3.1 million of the reductions overlap with the Spotlight on $pending report that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released in March, after a review of the governor’s proposal.
Another $52.9 million in Spotlight on $pending suggestions were in the budget, but were either not counted as a line item or amounted to transfers to federal funds.
“The legislature clearly has different priorities than the Center, but the fact that some of our suggestions found their way into the budget shows how important it is to have alternative voices,” says Justin Katz, who is the research director for the free-market think tank and a coauthor of the Spotlight on $pending report. At a State House press conference promoting Spotlight on $pending on April 2, Katz had told reporters that the Center hoped legislators would look to their analysis for ideas no matter what fiscal goals they were trying to reach.
Specific areas of agreement between the Center and the House were as follows (note that reductions are from the governor’s proposal, not from current spending):
- A $1 million reduction in local funding for the State Council on the Arts.
- Savings of $834,512 in “inmate population-related operating expenditures.”
- Eliminating a $500,000 increase in workforce training programs.
- Over $323,973 in savings by not adding new employees to a consolidated Diversity, Equity and Opportunity office.
- Ending $159,585 in Public Utilities Commission personnel previously funded by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), rather than absorbing them into state spending.
- Saving $145,303 by running a new certificate of good conduct program for parolees with existing personnel.
- A $100,000 reduction in payroll within the governor’s office.
- Not adding a $75,000 per year Creative and Cultural Economy Coordinator to the state’s payroll.
The House also agreed with the $50 million in savings the Center recommended by not expanding the historic tax credit program as the governor wanted. However, neither the governor nor the House included those costs or savings anywhere in the budget.
Another area of partial overlap came with the Unified Health Infrastructure Program (UHIP), which will make it easier to enroll people in multiple government programs when they apply for any one of them. The Center expects this program, operated using the state’s health benefits exchange (HealthSource RI), to amplify the cost of social service programs and called for it to be ended. Instead, the House budget managed to transfer $2.9 million in near-term spending on the project from general revenue to federal sources.
“It’s going to take more feedback from Rhode Islanders to change way the state government operates,” says Katz, who would prefer the savings to be used to reduce the state sales tax rate to 3%, creating over 13,000 private-sector jobs. “Still, counting the tax credits and UHIP, the House budget includes 25% of the savings that we identified in Spotlight on $pending.”
The Spotlight on $pending report was produced in cooperation with the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and coauthored by Drew Johnson and Justin Katz.