From an email sent to IPR by Ken Block
‘Wink and nod’ – and the tax payer loses
‘Wink and nod’ politics and governance has brought Rhode Island to a financial precipice.
Whether it is a huge issue like our completely broken pension system or a small issue like an individual falsely claiming disability to collect a tax advantaged disability pension, inadequate governmental oversight exposes the tax payer to unconstrained and inappropriate costs.
In any organization, the tone and mind set of the enterprise is set from the top. It is time for Rhode Island’s elected leaders in the legislative and executive branches to set the appropriate tone and lead by example.
A prime example of the good old wink and nod is the continuation of the Legislative Grant program. This program, where local and statewide organizations are given state tax payer dollars in the name of a local legislator, distributes between $2 and $3 million tax payer dollars a year at the sole discretion of legislative leadership.
Analyzing where and how this money is spent is not a simple task. While the Senate’s grants are itemized with all of the relevant information (benefiting agency, city, amount requested, amount granted and legislator requesting the grant) on a single line on a single page, the House’s grant information is itemized across two pages which have to be printed out and pasted together to figure out who requested what (wink, wink, nod, nod).
While I spent 4 hours waiting to testify about these grants last night to the House Finance committee (I eventually bailed out because it was looking like the grants would not be heard until very late) I stapled the printed pages together and itemized what members of the House Finance Committee had received for Legislative Grants through 4/1/2011.
Legislator Town Total
Hearn Barrington $3,000
Silva Central Falls $9,000
Slater Providence $4,500
San Bento Pawtucket $5,000
Gallison Bristol $8,000
Carnevale Johnston $1,000
Ucci Johnston $4,500
In total, these members were responsible for requesting and disbursing $35,000 to senior centers, little leagues, libraries and the like in their districts. Sounds noble, right?
More than $3,000 of the $35,000 in state tax payer dollars went to volunteer fire departments in Bristol and Johnston.
At least $3,000 of the $35,000 went to institutions that are also polling places (wink, wink). What better way to ease reelection than to provide a little cash to the tenants association for a senior residence which is also a polling place, or helping with some infrastructure needs for a senior living facility which is also a polling place (nod, nod). All done using state tax payer dollars.
At least $1,000 of state taxpayer dollars from the group above was given to a parent’s organization for a private, catholic school.
‘House Leadership’ claims credit for a $100,000 grant to Crossroads.
While most of the individual grants are for good or even great causes, Rhode Island is in the midst of an epic financial crisis which demands strong accountability, transparency and particular attention to better stewardship of the tax payer’s dollars.
Why does the Barrington library get a grant but not the Warwick library? Why does the Central Falls little league get funding but not the Woonsocket little league.
These grants are bad for Rhode Island because of the wink and nod factor. These grants are bad for Rhode Island because we can’t afford to be spending a dime that is not absolutely necessary to be spent.
It is time for our elected leaders to lead by example.
My votes in this next election will be driven in large part by how my current legislators handle the grant program moving forward.
If House Finance re-schedules a hearing for a bill to abolish Legislative Grants, I plan to go again to testify. I fully expect the bill to be heard at the end of the hearing schedule (wink, wink), requiring an endurance test to make my voice heard (nod, nod).
Rhode Islanders should expect more.