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RIO DE JANEIRO – More than 1,000 public workers protested in front of Rio de Janeiro's state legislature Tuesday as lawmakers prepared to vote on steep austerity measures that many fear could exacerbate a deteriorating security situation and cause myriad other problems.
Meanwhile, President Michel Temer met with state governors who have been seeking federal help to keep their own struggling administrations afloat. One of the states declared a financial emergency.
The developments underscored the challenge of reviving Latin America's largest economy at a time of large deficits and increasing angst among Brazilians.
The protests were peaceful, but federal and local policemen were deployed in front of the state legislature building to block entry as lawmakers met. Last week, the same place military police clashed with state workers who haven't been paid for weeks.
Rio state Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezao sent legislators a plan that includes higher taxes, the gradual elimination of several government agencies and the end of some welfare programs. It would also postpone planned pay raises.
Pezao, who is facing calls to resign, initially said education and public security would not be affected by the austerity measures. But police union leader Francisco Chao told journalists that many officers have poor working conditions and suffer delayed salary payments.
"There has been no money coming to security affairs; there was some only for the Olympic Games," Chao said. "Rio state government's problem is not Brazil's financial crisis," he said. "It is a problem of ethics, morals, management and incompetence."
In the last week, two former Rio governors were arrested on corruption and vote-buying charges, including Pezao's predecessor, Sergio Cabral. The city has also suffered a wave of violence in recent weeks, particularly in slums.
Many Cariocas, as Rio residents are known, blame the economic problems on corruption, while others insist the government overextended itself to put on the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The protesters included ballet dancers and members of the choir from Rio's main state theater, who sang Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" for passers-by.
Musician Jesuina Passaroto said she and others have faced salary delays since April, a situation made worse for her because her retired husband receives his pension from the same institution.
"I have trouble being paid and he has trouble being paid. Sometimes they pay us in several installments a month, it is very hard to lead a normal life like this," she said. "We actually have ballerinas in our theater doing some cleaning to make 200 reals just to get by." That is about $65 at the current exchange rate.
Temer, meanwhile, met with 22 state governors to discuss how to cope with the financial crisis. Temer is hoping to push through Congress bills to cap spending and overhaul the pension system.
The meeting got off to a bad start when the state of Rio Grande do Sul, on the border with Uruguay and Argentina, declared a financial emergency, allowing officials more freedom in handling their budget. Earlier this year, Rio declared a similar emergency so it could shift funds ahead of the August Olympics.
Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles has said the federal government will not bail out the states. On Monday, Meirelles cut projections of already modest growth for next year from 1.6 percent to 1 percent.