Williamson’s Casino Amendment Undermines Separation of Powers
Ed Achorn expounds on how Rep. Williamson’s proposed Casino Amendment will undermine Separation of Powers:
Representative Williamson seeks to amend the Rhode Island Constitution by writing in a specific tax rate for Harrah’s — the first time that a special deal crafted for a corporation would be part of the state’s constitution.
In other states where their constitutions give special tax breaks to private interests — such as West Virginia (coal) or Alabama (cotton and timber) — citizens have found it virtually impossible to get rid of them, notes Philip West, executive director of Common Cause’s Rhode Island affiliate. Those industries have used their influence to control state government, supplanting the public interest with their special interests.
But that’s only part of the plan for Rhode Island.
The Harrah’s-backed proposal seeks an exception from the state constitution’s guarantee of separation of powers, so that those who write the gambling laws (legislators) would also implement and enforce them. The scheme would create a new “gaming commission” with vast powers over the new casino. Four of the seven members would be appointed by the House speaker and Senate president — giving the legislature effective control of a board that would clearly serve an executive function.
As Achorn continues, “It’s as if separation of powers had never happened.” Indeed, as Achorn points out:
. . . in fact, the legislature. . . has not yet passed laws making changes in most boards and commissions to comply with the state’s constitution. Only 26 of 78 public or quasi-public boards have been changed. . .
Achorn does qualify that a “go slow” approach is probably a good idea, but still, to continue “go slow” on the Separation of Powers front whilst putting the Casino Amendment on the fast track certainly indicates the priorities of the State Legislature, doesn’t it?