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Local Politics
Carcieri makes transition from business leader to state�s chief executive
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Nearly two years ago, then-gubernatorial candidate Don Carcieri proposed rewarding bonuses to state employees who help save money.

Once elected, the former corporate executive found government couldn�t easily accommodate an incentive that�s common in the business world.

It was an eye-opening lesson in his transition from corporate leader to state chief executive.

In nearly 15 months in office, Carcieri�s efforts to transfer to government lessons he learned in the private sector have had mixed results.

He�s gotten credit for some of the many commissions and groups he�s organized to examine problems. He�s also been accused of treating lawmakers like his employees and of being insensitive to various constituencies as he�s tried to trim spending. Yet he remains committed to trying to make the state run better�like a business.

�Pushing for government accountability, concern for balancing budget, making government more responsible for spending�it�s a classic CEO perspective,� University of Rhode Island political science professor Marc Genest said.

Carcieri, 61, approaches the job much as he did while president of Cookson America, though he understands there are differences.

�The advantage of a four-year term is it allows you to stand back and say, as you would as a chief executive of a corporation:

How do we run this place?� Carcieri said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. �How do we manage this enterprise better, more efficiently, smarter, and make smarter investments?�

So far, for every problem he�s seen, there�s a commission, committee or group he thinks can fix it.

�To me, that�s the way you approach problems,� he said. �No one person can possibly know all the details, so you put together a team with expertise.�

As governor, he�s organized at least 10 different commissions or groups to study everything from a raid he approved on an Indian-run smoke shop to the health of Narragansett Bay. He�s also asked the General Assembly to approve an independent commission to investigate what he believes is a corrupt political culture in the state.

The fiscal fitness team he organized last year was borrowed from an idea used in the banking industry. About 50 state employees were assigned to look at ways to save money and improve state services.

Their ideas included centralizing many government operations and stepping up tax collections, including requiring all state taxes be paid before new licenses are issued. Carcieri said about 200 jobs could be cut and he projects an annual savings of up to $180 million.

Many of the ideas need approval by lawmakers, but Carcieri has begun implementing others. They include creating a central Office of Health and Human Services to oversee five related agencies.

Administration director Beverly Najarian headed the fiscal fitness team. She doubts a governor without a business background could have pulled it off.

�People (in state government) are just so ingrained in the way bureaucracy works,� said Najarian, a former Old Stone Bank executive. �In the public sector, it�s like wading through molasses.�

Carcieri is among at least five current governors with experience as chief executives or as heads of large organizations, according to Peter Wiley, director of the National Governors Association�s office of management consulting.

He said governors with business backgrounds can quickly use their experience in setting up their administrations.

�You�re almost forming a startup company or a takeover of an existing company,� Wiley said.

But it can take governors with no prior political experience, like Carcieri, a year to fully understand the legislative process, he said.

�In the second year you get your feet under you,� Wiley said.

Carcieri acknowledged it�s been difficult getting a handle on how to control state spending.

�In the private sector, what motivates the whole organization to do better ... at the end of the day is cash. The money is real.  They need cash to fund what it is they want to do. Without it, you are in big trouble.

�In the public sector what I�ve seen is the cash isn�t real, it�s just a number,� he said. The budget has to balance, �so we raise taxes, or fees and other sources of revenues, or we trim back.�

Carcieri last year vetoed the budget passed by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly but was easily overridden.

Some lawmakers don�t like his take-charge approach to running the state and say he too often acts as though they work for him.

�He runs it like a business,� said Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston. �He�s used to running a business and dictating orders, but no branch (of government) should be dictating what needs to be done.�

Carcieri said the criticism is unfounded.

�I bet I know more of those legislators on a first-name basis than any governor in a long time,� he said. �I don�t treat them as employees. They just happen to disagree with me� on some things.

In the end, like all governors, Carcieri�s political acumen will determine his success.

�The question is whether a Republican governor can get a heavily Democratic legislature to go along,� Genest said.

Carcieri will keep trying, another lesson from the private sector. That includes finding a way to reward productive workers.

�There�s nobody to do it, no one to go to who sees this as their job,� he said. �My hope is, when we consolidate, we�ll have authority and responsibility to put these things in place.�


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