2008-11-20 / Front Page

Budget challenges ahead for state, Paiva Weed says

By Jeff McDonough

Deb Ruggiero Deb Ruggiero The Rhode Island General Assembly will have to make some tough decisions in 2009, State Sen. M. Teresa Paiva Weed said Wednesday morning.

Paiva Weed was one of several Newport County legislators who spoke at a legislative breakfast hosted by the Newport County Fund of the Rhode Island Foundation and the Newport Daily News.

Last week Paiva Weed, who represents Jamestown and Newport, won the endorsement of fellow Democrats and expects to be elected Senate President when it returns to session in January.

"There's a big challenge ahead," Paiva Weed said. "Things are complex. There is no simple solution."

The veteran state senator talked about how the legislature will need to respond to the projected $300 million state budget shortfall. She suggested that some "mandates" may be required to prompt all of Rhode Island's 39 cities and town to participate in series of statewide programs designed to consolidate administrative costs and purchasing power.

Paiva Weed said economic experts are forecasting that the economic downturn could last "two to five years" and that in addition to putting people to work, cost savings will have to come through good policy.

Teresa Paiva Weed Photos by Jeff McDonough Teresa Paiva Weed Photos by Jeff McDonough Possible savings could be achieved in areas such as combining school and town payroll departments, she said, and in health care by offering the elderly care at home instead of in nursing homes. She also said money could be saved through a statewide consolidation of school transportation program and school lunch purchases.

"Efficiency is critical," Paiva Weed said of state money spent on education. "The time has come to demand accountability from cities and towns. A lot of waste is on the administrative side."

Paiva Weed also said the legislators might consider "decreasing and broadening" the state sales tax. She said that might mean cutting the sales tax then taxing more items, such as wholesale gasoline.

Paiva Weed said that the legislature would have to work with the governor's office and with businesses in the state to create jobs, citing historic tax credits and infrastructure funding as two areas that would possibly put people to work.

Most of the questions from the audience focused on preserving and expanding social aid programs in Rhode Island. Paiva Weed said there would be increased pressure on state and private social service agencies and that more private and civic support would be needed.

On her recent endorsement as president of the senate, Paiva Weed said "as a woman, the bar is a little higher for me." Paiva Weed pledged to work hard for everyone in Rhode Island.

State Representative-elect Deb Ruggiero (D-Jamestown, Middletown) said she saw "opportunity in crisis" and that she wanted education to be a part of the state's economic development. She said the state had to stop dismantling higher education and suggested that job growth would be found in environmentally-related jobs in developing biofuels, solar and wind energy applications in Rhode Island.

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