The state budgeting process has once again turned into a farce. This has been particularly true under Speaker Fox’s leadership. However, unlike previous years, the forced House rubber-stamping of the budget is in serious doubt. And that’s a good thing.
The 38 Studios’ bond repayment debacle seems to be the catalyst for the public’s and much of the House membership’s revulsion at the proposed FY2014 budget. But it’s not the only stinker in the budget. Among others, there is also the lack of an extension of family planning services to all low-income women. But the problem is much bigger than just the monetary impacts of the budget.
The House leadership has conducted a widespread pattern of bait-and-switching of many important bills put forward in good faith by the rank-and-file of the House. This is true even of bills that the leadership purported to support during the 2012 campaign. In particular the gun control bills that had widespread support have been gutted to the point of worthlessness. The NRA won. (Which reminds me: did you know that Speaker Fox received $2,200 from the NRA in political contributions during 2010-2012? Other House members also profited.)
The repeal of the Voter ID act was also sculpted behind the scenes by the leadership to be worse than what was in effect for the 2012 elections, a far cry from a repeal.
Now, despite what your feelings are about the above bills, pro or con, I think we can all safely agree on the farcical nature of the budget process in the House. From this year’s hit parade of what would otherwise be laughable elements of the process, we have the following:
- The Governor’s budget of January was revised behind closed doors by just two or three legislators.
- The House Finance Committee only received an overview of the budget literally a few hours before the Committee met to vote on it.
- Even more ludicrous was that the Committee did not see the actual budget, with the all-important details, until just before the relevant part of the budget was discussed during the meeting. The poor staff were running continuously between the meeting room and the copier and back to keep up.
- At one point, for the final Section considered, the Appropriations’ section, which was also the longest (over a hundred pages), the staff couldn’t handle the volume and Chairman Melo had to pause the proceedings for some time until the Committee members got their copies.
- The fiscal staff spent about 5 minutes, plus-or-minus, of the two-hour-long meeting describing the Appropriations’ section and its changes.
- The main negative point brought up by committee members, especially Reps. Newberry and Ferri, was the presence of the 38 Studios bonds repayment in the budget.
- After all that, the clout of the House leadership truly became apparent. The vote was to pass the budget 12-0-2: all Democrats in favor, no committee member opposed, and two abstentions, both from Republicans (even they couldn’t say an outright ‘NO’).
The Speaker wants, and so far is, controlling everything that goes on in the House. But he cannot be trusted. See yesterday’s Nesi’s Notes for evidence of Speaker Fox’s lying about 38 Studios and what the House knew, or rather didn’t know, before voting for the relevant approval bill in 2010.
It’s time for Rhode Islanders to say “Enough is enough! Vote ‘NO’ on the budget!” Put yourselves back in charge. I’m making a Call for Action to anyone and everyone who has some time today. Come to the State House at about 1 PM and talk to your Representative before the debate and vote on the budget that starts at 2 PM. For those who’ve never been there, you first go through security on the side of the statehouse farthest from Providence Place, then go up the rotunda stairs (or the elevator) to the second floor. The House entrance is there. There are also visitor galleys on the third floor. Lastly, all House sessions are televised and shown in both real-time both on the web and on cable, and later-on on the web.
I know that’s a bad time for many of us, and perhaps that’s why it was scheduled then, two hours early, but this is a rare perhaps even once-in-a-lifetime moment when your voice can truly be heard and recognized.
If you can’t come in person, see if you can find time to call your Representative in the morning/afternoon/evening (they’ll probably be there for a while). See here to determine who your Representative is, and here to look up her/his phone number. Don’t know what they look like? Go here and click his/her name. Still need help? I’ll be around and do my best. I’ll be the guy with a sign on his back.
I hope to see you at the Capitol.
Keep the faith.