Does Rhode Island Government Work in 2017?

Friday, July 28, 2017
GoLocalProv News Team and Kate Nagle

Gov. Gina Raimondo and Speaker Nick Mattiello
The state budget has yet to be passed, and it is nearly a month into the new fiscal year. The Speaker of the House shut down not just the budget process, but also the balance of entire legislative proceedings. Nick Mattiello claims that he had a deal with Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and that the latter broke his word.

GoLocal asked more than a dozen political leaders and experts, in light of the current situation - does Rhode Island's government work? Governor Gina Raimondo refused to respond. 

SLIDES: Does RI Government Currently Work? See Responses BELOW

Presently, no one seems happy and the constant refrain from both the Democratic House and Senate offices are that "they are meeting."

The implications of the stalemate have an ever-increasing chance that the negative consequences may start piling up.

More than 20 groups around the state recently sent a letter to the legislature calling on the bodies to reconvene. “Despite popular support among lawmakers for legislation that affects hundreds of thousands of state residents, change is stalled until the General Assembly can come back together to complete their work. Based on what we have been hearing in the news, we’re hopeful the House and Senate will come back soon. Rhode Islanders really want that to happen,” said Georgia Hollister Isman, Director of Rhode Island Working Families.

"What has changed in Rhode Island over the past decade is that the idea of solving things behind tightly shut closed doors no longer appeals to voters who are demanding more information and transparency.  This year's budget standoff reflects the fact that the legislative leaders may need more time to adjust to this 'new kind of politics' and the expectation of far greater transparency and accountability than we have had in past years," said Brown University Professor of Politics Wendy Schiller.

According to the Raimondo administration, schools will start taking financial hits. "The FY18 budget includes record funding for K-12 education. July school aid payments next week will be $1.45 million less than what was voted on in both chambers. If the impasse continues for another month, the monthly gap will grow to nearly $4.6 million," claimed the press office of Raimondo on Thursday.

For the cities and towns, the delay in the passage of the car tax has also created confusion. At some point, bond rating agencies may decide to weigh-in on Rhode Island's stalemate and downgrade city and town bond ratings or even issue guidance that adversely impacts Rhode Island's bond rating.

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  • Does RI Government Work?

    Bill Deware 

    State Coordinator, Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America

    "It works when one man doesn't have as much control as Mattiello does. This is a good example as to why Trump style governing hurts working families."


  • Does RI Government Work?

    Wendy Schiller

    Professor, Brown University 

    "Lots of states have problems resolving their budgets - Illinois is a good recent example of how bad it can get.  But smaller states present different dynamics and the legislative process can break down as easily over personal disagreements and "slights" as it can over big policy differences.

    What has changed in Rhode Island over the past decade is that the idea of solving things behind tightly shut closed doors no longer appeals to voters who are demanding more information and transparency. 

    This year's budget standoff reflects the fact that the legislative leaders may need more time to adjust to this "new kind of politics" and the expectation of far greater transparency and accountability than we have had in past years."

  • Does RI Government Work?

    John Marion

    Executive Director, RI Common Cause

    "Literally speaking, Rhode Island state government still works because of the 1930's era law that prevents a state government shutdown in the absence of a budget.

    Metaphorically, we're in a period when the General Assembly isn't working as well as it should.

    In the last three years we've seen Assembly sessions abruptly end twice, and hundreds of bills left on the cutting room floor, because of conflict between House and Senate leadership.

    Whether it's chicken cages, or car tax repeals, the legislature needs to complete its business. In both instances too much work was left until the final days of the legislative session thus increasing the chances of an impasse. The Rhode Island General Assembly needs to manage its workload better in the future in order to finish the peoples' business."

  • Does RI Government Work?

    Mike Stenhouse

    Executive Director, RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity

    "Rhode Island government is beholden to special interests -- whether it's big labor, big corporations, the progressive caucus, the lawyers' lobby, or others -- the House and the Senate are beholden to different masters. Therefore, they will inevitably be at odds.

    If political leaders can put the interests of the people, families, small business owners first, they will find governing is much easier."

  • Does RI Government Work?

    Pat Ford

    Chair, Libertarian Party of RI

    "Is Government even working in Rhode Island? A resounding Yes! Are you a politically connected developer looking to the State of Rhode Island for subsidies for your pet project? Yes! Are you a graduate of the political system/media looking for a high paying middle management job unburdened by responsibilities or accountability? Yes! Perhaps a "Not For Profit," geared towards consulting (but not providing value) in "Government Solutions" is your forte? Yes! Specializing in analyzing, but not quite providing an Education .. The welcome mat is out for you.

    On the other hand, are you a parent desperate to get your children the type of education that will give them a leg up in breaking the cycle of economic violence that has literally waged war on the future of an entire generation in Rhode Island? Are you an entrepreneur, whose tax dollars literally subsidize your competition, scrambling for investment capital? Crushed by a confiscatory tax structure? Elderly? Fixed Income? Property Taxes & Health Insurance forcing you into daily decisions that are incomprehensible? If you answered yes to any of the above ... Well, the answer is obvious."

    Here is the link to the previous piece I wrote on just this subject

  • Does RI Government Work?

    Larry Berman

    Spokesman for Speaker Nick Mattiello

    "Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio have met twice this week. Talks are ongoing."

  • Does RI Government Work?

    Pam Gencarella


    "RI government works, just not for the general public.  It’s not a democracy.  It’s a fiefdom. 

    The budget impasse created by the ruler to maintain his power, the perks given to insiders like Montanaro, the special interest group benefits provided like evergreen contracts for public unions and tolls for private construction-related companies, the constant corruption uncovered and prosecuted at the state and local level, and even the fraudulent voting system we have (recently reported in "America The Vulnerable: The Problem of Duplicate Voting”), all support the assertion that the average Joe is not served by RI government, only the insiders are served.  And they are served well." 

  • Does RI Government Work?

    Peter Capineri

    Spokeman for the Senate President's Office

    "I have no comment at this time. My apology."

  • Does RI Government Work?

    Pat Morgan

    House Minority Leader

    "A constituent told me once, as I was out walking, that if elected officials don’t wake up every day and think about how they can better the lives of their constituents, then they aren’t doing their job. 

    If that is the bar by which you measure whether or not our government is working, then my constituent and I would agree that government is failing.  Too often, we read about legislators who are too busy making back room deals or looking out for their self interests instead of bettering the lives of Rhode Islanders.

    The impasse on the budget seems to be less about policies that benefit Rhode Islanders and more about personalities, power plays and insider deals.  Leadership and priorities come from the top, and when our Governor is too focused on raising money and a possible future presidential run, this is what you get."

  • Does RI Government Work?

    Gary Sasse

    Head of the Hassenfeld Institute, Bryant University

    "Of course state government works. Medicaid, welfare, roads, public safety, education, health, parks programs are delivered every day. But you ask the wrong question.

    You should have asked are state programs being delivered efficiently, and are taxpayers getting value for their tax dollar? The answer is mixed, and too many case the answer unfortunately is no."

  • Does RI Government Work?

    Governor Gina Raimondo refused to give comment.

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