PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo’s newly released state budget proposal has no wiggle room to cover an expense that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars: potential raises for state workers.
All the union contracts for Rhode Island state employees have expired – most lapsed last June – and the Raimondo administration remains in negotiations with labor leaders to reach new agreements. It’s unclear when they’ll come to terms.
Brenna McCabe, a spokeswoman for the R.I. Department of Administration, acknowledged there is no contingency plan in the $9.4-billion tax-and-spending plan to cover raises or other costs that usually accompany new contracts. The governor has already allocated all but $888,000 of the money in the plan.
“[W]e don’t put placeholders in the budget to address potential outcomes of union negotiations,” McCabe wrote in an email. “We would not know of any budget impacts until those negotiations are complete.”
Rhode Island’s state government employs about 11,500 unionized full- and part-time employees when the public colleges are included in the total, according to the Department of Administration.
This wouldn’t be the first time an unplanned deal with state workers threw a curveball into the budget process.
In April 2014, during his final year in office, then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced he had reached a tentative agreement with nearly all unionized employees that would cost roughly $25 million in the budget year set to begin the following June. Lawmakers made state agencies find enough money in their existing budgets to cover the cost.
State Sen. Ryan Pearson, a Cumberland Democrat who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said that while he sees a number of “bright spots” in Raimondo’s budget, he is concerned about the possible cost of unbudgeted raises. The state is already facing rising budget deficits in the coming years.
Pearson noted that a 1% raise for all state employees would cost about $9.1 million a year, yet “there are no resources set aside in the budget for this.” He added, “These are significant amounts that we must keep in mind as we ultimately work to craft a balanced budget going forward.”
Placeholders for future raises have been put in budgets before. The 2015-16 tax-and-spending plan, Raimondo’s first as governor, earmarked millions of dollars to fund raises for state police troopers and correctional officers even though their contracts had not yet been finalized.
The possible cost of settling the union contracts is not the only question-mark to the budget Raimondo submitted. The governor is also counting on $23.5 million in revenue from the legalization of sports betting, which will only be possible if a U.S. Supreme Court decision goes the state’s way – a ruling that isn’t expected for months.Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook