Arlene Violet: Can political leaders stop the madness?

By Arlene Violet
Posted 1/15/20

With the onset of the new legislative session, taxpayers are gritting their teeth to see what fiscal ignominies will be piled onto their backs. One thing is for certain. The governor is out of …

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Arlene Violet: Can political leaders stop the madness?


With the onset of the new legislative session, taxpayers are gritting their teeth to see what fiscal ignominies will be piled onto their backs. One thing is for certain. The governor is out of control with her history of proposed spending. My statistician friend, Lance Chappell, has scoured the last 20 years of budgets and has come up with some interesting data. One highlight (or lowlight) is that Governor Gina Raimondo has racked up over $1.185 Billion in NEW SPENDING during  her tenure, or an average of new spending of $237.2 million per year. Since the days of then-Governor Edward DiPrete, whose 1986 budget was the first billion dollar budget passed, there has been a 10-fold increase in state spending. Query, as Mr. Chappell invites us to do, whether the Rhode Island economy has improved ten-fold as well. NOT!

One of the tricks being used to “save’ money is to consolidate departments but, in reality, the consolidation makes tracking money very difficult. The legislature has individual committees which review one or two social service agencies. In 2006 the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) by law became the overseer and manager of several state agencies so all the money went into a common pot and expenditures could be hidden as money was passed around among these sub-agencies. In effect, EOHHS is controlling over 42 percent of the state budget under one secretary. Mr. Chappell correctly notes that the legislators are under a disadvantage to investigate the sub-departments because of the co-mingling and potential shift of funds.

Now, the governor wants to add the Department of Veterans Affairs to the EOHHS mix. How exactly this will improve service is hard to understand. At least, the legislature is able to look at the veteran’s home budget and take testimony. If the administration is turned over to EOHHS the legislative panel will have to follow the bouncing ball. Economy of management most certainly will be cited as an “explanation” yet, the taxpayer hasn’t seen any such economy of scale. In fact, the opposite has been true. A former head of Health and Human Services resigned and became spokesperson for the department but she retained the same salary! The lack of wisdom of such a transfer of responsibility is easily evidenced by the myriad problems of OEHHS with the UHIP fiasco, the MM transportation problem, and the $22 million DCYF shortfall.

Mr. Chappell has an interesting proposal: The legislature should abolish the "Supplemental Budget" and “forward appropriation” gimmicks, and force these state agencies to live within their budgets. The Supplemental Budget is a relief valve tempting department heads to deficit spend. The supplemental budget  is nothing more than a taxpayer credit card which  forks over about  $10,000 per man, woman, and child to this monster.

Budget talk is boring, as is a column about it. Yet, the consequence to the fiscal health of the state is at issue, as well as actual lives. Services like physical therapy for veterans get sidelined after spending seven figures for a PT room in Bristol and then not using it, while carting veterans into the Veterans hospital in Providence. Waste! Waste! Waste!

Will the madness continue? Well, that’s up to you. Demand accountability.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.