Compare the following two statements made by RI House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello near the beginning and end of Monday’s overlong press conference dealing with reforms to the legislative grants process. Mattiello early on suggests that these grants help fulfill the needs of Rhode Islanders in a way that delivers services cheaper, because we can avoid the cost of hiring state employees and giving these new employees benefits such as health care and retirement.
“There are vital citizenry needs that are being performed by community agencies that are not well performed by any other state department or state agencies,” says Mattiello, “And we’re able to address those citizens’ needs without having to hire additional state employees with all the benefits that that entails.”
About 30 minutes in, however, Mattiello bemoans the fact that there is no real way to know how effective these grants are because the legislature doesn’t have “direct control” over the entities receiving the money.
“It’s difficult… to give money to an agency that you don’t have direct control over. You don’t have the same safe guards and systems in place that you do with direct state departments. It’s easier to watch state dollars being administered by state departments so that was an inherent problem and it’s one that we were mindful of when we made the determination of eliminating the entire process.”
Mattiello’s take on legislative grants is incoherent. Since there is no oversight concerning the way much of this money is spent, it’s impossible to tell how effective these grants are. Our state may literally be throwing money away. However, if we demand a system of accountability we would have to fund and staff state employees to do this work, which means paying these employees, which we can’t afford to do, despite the “vital” needs of Rhode Islanders.
Mattiello’s contradictory statements confirm what many Rhode Islanders suspect: Either these grants don’t serve the needs of Rhode Islanders or Rhode Island’s needs are not truly being met by these grants. Worse, it seems that on some level, Mattiello is aware of this contradiction.