The Slight Of Hand.
The Speaker and the Senate President will not release campaign account bank statements, even though these represent records that simply corroborate what they have already reported to the Board of Elections. Not only that, Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva Weed have gone out of their way to email everyone in the General Assembly and let them know it wasn't necessary for any of them to hand over their bank statement to the media. It seems the Speaker made an about face on his open and transparent government. Similar to the Speaker's stance on ethics, the electorate is supposed to blindly trust our elected officials.
The problem is, we all expect that there are more Gordon Foxes and more Rep. Almeidas who do not follow the campaign contribution rules. Perhaps this perspective should come as no surprise from a Speaker who believes that there is no conflict of interest related to renting office space to the fire union. An inquiry to the ethics commission would be in order there, save for the fact that the commission really has no teeth because that same Speaker will not allow an ethics reform bill to come to the floor for a vote. Now there's a Catch 22.
Our leaders pay lip service to transparency and to ethics, but as taxpayers, we expect action. The Speaker is touting the campaign reform bill H 5789, now law, which has no teeth since we the taxpayer nor the media are able to obtain the supporting documents. It is quickly becoming more apparent that the new leadership is no different from the old leadership.
Past Projects An Indication Of Current Projects.
Rep. Morgan wrote an op-ed that laid bare the history of the Convention Center project. It included the promises that were made about its cost, its potential economic development contributions and the method for funding it. None of the promises came to fruition. The ultimate cost to build the Convention Center, originally estimated at $100 million, ended up at more than 3 times the projection, a whopping $356 million. The bonds were to be fully paid from expected revenues. That never happened. A lease deal put the taxpayers at risk for the cost of the debt as well as any additional subsidies needed for ongoing expenses of the Center. All told, the Civic Center is expected to cost the taxpayer three quarters of a billion dollars by the time the debt is paid off. No bargain for the taxpayer. And consider that this arrangement was brought to us care of Mr. Skeffington, the same individual bringing you the Pawtucket Red Sox deal. The RI taxpayer should be afraid, be very afraid.
No Really, It's A Really Bad Idea.
Former state attorney general, Arlene Violet, laid out the professional consultant's case against public-private partnerships in stadium building. Andrew Zimabalist, the state's Red Sox deal consultant, has written a book that apparently concludes these partnerships do not work for the taxpayer. The promises of economic development and job growth are non existent, and as most people are coming to realize, it's simply a numbers issue - the overall benefits do not exceed the taxpayer subsidies, not by a large margin.
One of the nation's best known sports economists, Victor Matheson, presented the facts against the Red Sox deal to an assembled group at the BlackStone Valley Tourism council. He told the audience that moving the venue 5 miles down the road will not generate any significant new economic activity. He explained that in a world where you cannot find consensus among economists on many issues, the consensus on subsidizing AAA ball stadiums is that the taxpayer is a loser in the deal.
But yet, our elected leaders continue to pursue this deal. Governor Raimondo has squashed any open discussion about a potential deal so we are now left in the dark. And now the owners say it could be 3 weeks or 3 months. What happened to making the decision before the end of this legislative session? What does that portend for taxpayers and this year's budget? Will the General Assembly leave "wiggle" room in the budget with their new found revenue in order to allow negotiations to proceed after the close of the session? Will they come back for a special session?
It looks like more backroom deals where the taxpayer is left out of the discussions but footing the bill, a typical Skeffington deal. Let Governor Raimondo and Speaker Mattiello know where you stand on the stadium project.
And Speaking Of High-Risk Projects…
Teetering on the verge of bankruptcy for years, the City of Providence is pushing forward with the trolley car idea at a cost of over $100 million. And that is just Phase I. This is all to be funded by taxpayers in one form or another, $57 million from the Providence taxpayer, $30 million from the state taxpayer and $13 million from the federal taxpayer. And it looks like any "user" fee, if charged, will be nowhere near large enough to cover the cost because the city is proposing to tax the property owners in the area serviced by the trolley "a little bit extra".
Former Mayor Paolino has said this project is unnecessary and too risky, especially in light of the city's "beer budget". The Providence Journal editorial board virtually pleaded with the Providence City Council to step back and keep perspective on this. OSTPA believes it is inconceivable that elected officials would propose an absurdly risky project at such a precarious time in our economically troubled city. Fortunately, Speaker Mattiello has said it is not on his radar for this session.
It Is Past Time To Get Back To Basics.
Last week OSTPA wrote an article on the purported new surplus monies found in the budget. While the immediate reaction is to offer new ways to spend the estimated $173 million, we urge our elected officials to use this money to fund much needed spending in true government services - roads and bridges and repairs to our schools.
Please contact the Governor and the Speaker and urge them to use your money in the best interests of all taxpayers and stay the course with much needed spending reforms.
Update From Last Week's Hearings.
Representative Morgan's bill, H 5566 was heard in House Finance on Wednesday, May 13th. This bill would prohibit moral obligation bonds not secured by the full faith and credit of the state (Constitution VI:16) or secured revenues (RI Constitution VI:17). It was not listed in last week's Alert as it was posted subsequent to the Alert's distribution and just 2 days before the hearing. Moral obligation bonds were issued in the 38Studios scheme to avoid having to place it on the ballot as a referendum item and therefore avoiding public scrutiny and a public vote. If you would like to weigh in on this bill, please email Finance Chairman Gallison and let him know your thoughts.
Representative Filippi's bill, H 5715 was also heard in House Finance on Wednesday, May 13th. This bill would require audio and video recordings of all meetings of state and quasi-public agencies and bodies to be transmitted to the secretary of state's office for posting on its website and made available for public access. It also was not listed in last week's Alert as it was posted subsequent to the Alert's distribution and just 2 days before the hearing. Perhaps this transparency bill would have helped avert what happened with 38Studios, a deal behind closed doors. If you would like to weigh in on this bill, please email Finance Chairman Gallison and let him know your thoughts.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S 624, a bill to create a joint committee of the repealer to compile suggestions for repeal of over burdensome statutes, regulations and executive orders.
Legislative Hearings 5/19/15 - 5/21/15
TUE, MAY 19
Room 211, rise (4:30)
S 257 requires regulations granting preference in awarding of state contracts to businesses that pay executives a maximum salary, attempting to squash a free market economy.
Sponsors: Conley, Goldin, McCaffrey, Ruggerio and Goodwin
Room 101, rise (4:30)
H 6178 RI Lobbying Reform Act.
Sponsors: Jacquard, Nunes, Hull, Corvese and Williams
Room 35, 2:00
Review of Executive Office of Health and Human Services
Room 35, rise (4:30)
Art. 3 Relating to Licensing of Hospital Facilities
Art. 4 Relating to Hospital Uncompensated Care
Art. 5 Relating to Medical Assistance