THE PROBLEM WITH LEGISLATIVE GRANTS

Shortly after I was elected in 2010, I made it known to the House Speaker that I would not be taking part in the legislative grant program.  To him, this was bad news.  Even worse was my reason.  I believed then, and still do, that the legislative grant is little more than a currency used by leadership to buy the cooperation of rank and file legislators.

I could not take part in that.

My vote was not for sale.

It’s very tempting for a new legislator to bring back a few hundred or even a few thousand here and there to benefit a pet charity or maybe a personal friend.
Very tempting, especially since it helps at re-election time.

But at what price?

Think about it.  A legislator is supposed to take part in major policy decisions, and vote on a massive, almost nine billion dollar state budget.  Nine billion dollars of your money.
And sometimes that budget can include a few million that’s a bailout of a problem like 38 Studios.  And sometimes that bailout looks more like a coverup than just a bailout.
I wanted to be one of the few who had the freedom to make that decision myself.

Then there’s the problem of where the money comes from.  We all know it’s our tax money being passed around the state to help insiders get elected.  But is that so bad?
The answer is yes, especially when there’s no accountability whatsoever.  All legislative grant money comes out of an allocation of around $41 million that goes to the Speaker to fund the legislature.  But wait.  It comes out of the state budget, so there must be some accountability there, right?

Wrong. – The $41 million is supposed to be spent by the JCLS (Joint Committee on Legislative Services), a group of two members from the Senate, plus the Speaker, and two members from the House.  Except that’s not what happens. 

The Speaker spends it.  Period.  Here are the words of House Minority Leader Brian Newberry who is supposedly a member of the JCLS:  “I have been Minority Leader for six years.  The Joint Committee on Legislative Services has not met.”

And, of course the Speaker gives the most grant money to the legislators he likes the best and who cooperate the most.  Not surprisingly he gave himself the largest amount, by far.  And right there on the list is my opponent in the coming primary.  Incredibly, my opponent seems more than willing to take credit for this while promoting the narrative that since I don’t “get along” with leadership, nothing good comes to District 35. 

She’s overlooking the fact that during my last months in office, the House passed a bond of $120 million for a new engineering school in District 35, at URI.  In my view the best possible expense in terms of return on investment.


But unlike the so-called legislative grants, it went through the normal budget process and then was approved on the ballot by the voters.  I am happy to be able to share in the credit for that.