Economy Trims Some Govs’ Inauguration Plans

By: - December 24, 2008 12:00 am

In a bleak economy that has led even some of the most financially stable states to grow uneasy, some governors who were elected or re-elected in November are skipping the typical inaugural balls and toning down the glitz at their swearing-in ceremonies to cut costs.

One new governor canceled his ball – a first for the state – and another first-time governor has called for a potluck dinner. Among the other nine governors elected in November, a few will have minimal swearing-in ceremonies in their state capitol buildings. In other state capitals, however, some governors are celebrating their election the old fashion way.

Facing an estimated $545 million state budget deficit, Delaware’s new governor-elect, Democrat Jack Markell, is foregoing the traditional ball and instead is encouraging state residents to volunteer at non-profit organizations and charities the weekend after his swearing-in.

“The governor-elect wants to minimize the costs of the celebrations in these tough economic times we face,” said Joe Rogalsky, the governor’s communications director. He added that, to the governor-elect office’s knowledge, a Delaware governor has never rejected the ball.

Delaware governors are sworn in on the third Tuesday of January, which falls next year on Jan. 20, the same day as the presidential inauguration . But Markell will be sworn-in at midnight to avoid the conflict, and a reenactment will take place the following day.

“Jack wanted to be respectful of the historic moment in Washington and give the citizens of Delaware a chance to experience both ceremonies,” Rogalsky said.

Markell also plans a prayer service and reception in each of the state’s three counties, and since Delaware is so small, he will drive to each event. The inaugural committee is raising funds and downsizing the festivities, and any minimal costs will not be paid by the state, if it can be avoided, Rogalsky said.

“People are losing their jobs; the governor-elect is adamant that we make sure this won’t cost the state anything,” Rogalsky said.

Another new governor, Missouri governor-elect Jay Nixon (D) , promised on the campaign-trail to stage the first-ever inauguration potluck, if elected, in light of the state’s more than $340 million budget shortfall. Those attending are invited to bring cookies and desserts for everyone to share after Nixon’s swearing-in Jan. 12 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. His campaign committee is supplying hamburgers.

The third newly elected governor, North Carolina’s Beverly Perdue (D) , is the only one to stick with tradition. Despite the state’s grim economic climate with a budget deficit of at least $1 billion and talks of increased taxes, Perdue’s inauguration will have all the trimmings – paid for by donations to the Junior League of Raleigh.

“We’re trying to be mindful of the costs,” said Nancy Coverdell, co-chair of the inaugural committee. “It’s a fundraiser; we’re doing this for the community.” She added that about 400 volunteers will help at the events. Events include the Rock the Ball concert targeted to young voters, a reception, the Gala Presentation where the governor and council of state will be formally introduced and the Inaugural Ball. Tickets range from $20 per person for the concert to $200 per person for the Gala Presentation, which includes a ticket to the ball.

Revelers will pay out of pocket for alcohol at cash bars, but Coverdell said the past 18 inaugural celebrations have also had cash bars.

Profits from the state’s inaugural events benefit community projects. This year, the proceeds will go to the Junior League’s Center for Community Leadership , which offers training programs and shared meeting space to non-profit organizations throughout the state.

Re-elected governors are also cutting back celebrations. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) , Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) will be sworn-in at government buildings. Schweitzer will be sworn-in Jan. 5 in the Capitol rotunda . Daniels will take his oath of office Jan. 12 on the second floor of the Statehouse , and Huntsman will reportedly save the $150,000 cost of holding the swearing-in inside the capitol, choosing instead a ceremony on the capitol steps.

But West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) will ring in his new term much the way he did in 2001.

“We wanted to be consistent,” said Sarah Payne Scarbro, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee. “Everything flowed so smoothly four years ago that we were able to allow all West Virginians to partake in the festivities then.”

He will be sworn-in at the Capitol on Jan. 19, followed by an open reception at the Cultural Center in West Virginia . That night, a ball just as glamorous as the one in 2001 will take place at the Charleston Civic Center , Scarbro said.

Costs for the ball and the entire day’s events will be covered by the $50 ticket price and the $1.3 million already raised from private donors. Scarsboro pointed out that Manchin’s administration in its first term created 23,000 new jobs and shaved $1.8 billion from the state debt.

“We have made great strides over the past four years and this inauguration is a celebration of that progress,” she said.

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