- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2009

PROVIDENCE, R.I. | Rhode Island may shut down its state government for 12 days and trim millions of dollars in funding for local governments under a plan Gov. Donald L. Carcieri proposed this week to balance a budget hammered by surging unemployment and plummeting 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.

Mr. Carcieri, a second-term Republican, 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,” he said at a statehouse news conference Monday. “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, the governor 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.

At least 19 other state governments, including Maryland, have proposed furloughing workers or shutting down government offices to save money amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mr. 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 time is short: The first shutdown day has been scheduled for Sept. 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, Mr. Carcieri asked lawmakers to grant him the power to unilaterally cut spending approved in the budget. State lawmakers rejected a similar request earlier this year.

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