Would the GA Vote Out Its Scapegoat?

Andrew suggested to Jim Hummel, on this morning’s On the Record, that the Democrats in the General Assembly are, in some sense, biding their time until they manage to place another Democrat in the Governor’s chair. I’m not so sure the Democrats are (or should be) desirous of such a visible monopoly on Rhode Island government, and the reason relates to something that Matt Jerzyk of RI Future said on the same show.
Jerzyk took the tack that “the buck ends with the governor” — as the executive — when it comes to government spending. Hummel went to commercial too quickly for Andrew to point out such considerations as the fact that it was the GA’s budget that ultimately passed, and that it is the GA that creates and mandates various government programs, and that it is the GA that throws around lavish gifts such as a brandy new $71 million courthouse, and that it is the GA that passed — as an amendment to a budget that Carcieri proved unable to veto — a restriction on the governor’s ability to, well, govern as an executive. And anybody who’s paying attention (and who doesn’t have a preordained partisan view) must admit that the story of the buck’s actually ending with the legislature goes even further than that. Consider the last paragraph of today’s Projo story about state government salaries (emphasis added):

One “department” is described as “other commissions and agencies.” It includes employees of the Coastal Resources Management Council, the public defender’s office and the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. The highest salary in the commissions and agencies category, $137,779.40, goes to Terrence N. Tehan, director of the state’s Atomic Energy Commission. The Atomic Energy Commission is the federal license holder for the nuclear reactor at URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus. The reactor is used for medical, environmental and physical science research.

As Alan Hassenfeld and Christine Lopes recently lamented :

ON THE LAST NIGHT of this year’s legislative session, 33 members of Rhode Island’s House of Representatives sent a clear and defiant message to state voters. The House moved to re-establish the Coastal Resources and Management Council (CRMC) exactly as it exists today, with four legislative members and four legislative appointees.
That appointment scheme flatly contradicts the separation-of-powers amendment approved by 78.3 percent of Rhode Island voters in 2004. The amendment clearly prohibits legislators from appointing themselves or others to state boards that carry out the laws they pass.

The fact that Rhode Islanders felt it necessary to insist on separation of powers leaves little doubt that our government is riddled with this sort of co-option of the governor’s buck, as it were. Which leads me to believe that the General Assembly (aka the Democrats) might be wary of claiming the governor’s seat as explicitly and undeniably as through an actual election. Whom would they use as their scapegoat?

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Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

You may be right Justin, but I still think they want it, for a whole host of reasons. Mainly the PUBLIC SECTOR unions (I believe that today, here and nationally, there are effectively two organized labor wings – public and private sector. The public sector wing is dominant nationally, and overwhelmingly dominant in RI – let’s face it, private sector union members are getting just as screwed with property taxes, lousy schools etc. in order to subsidize their public-sector “union brothers and sisters”). For example, but for Carcieri we’d have unionized daycare workers now – thousands of more dues units for SEIU. A Governor Fogarty would have rubber-stamped this. Then there is the looming unfunded pension liability issue, both at the state and municipal levels. Now that the tobacco money well has been sucked dry, and no casino on the immediate horizon, there’s a perfect storm brewing as three fronts are about to collide. One front is the already overtaxed citizens of RI (including the usually reflexively Democrat supporting seniors who are slowly beginning to catch on that it is the Democrats who are property-taxing them out of their homes. The other front is the never has been / never will be satiated welfare industry. Finally, there is the public sector union front that wants its pensions and perks protected, and expanded. By the time this storm clears there will be winners and losers. Most likely it will be those average citizens and business owners still left in RI – the Democrats who control the General Assembly can, with more than a little justification, assume that they can abuse the citizenry without consequence (and since after RISDIC and all the rest of it over the years we keep returning them to power, I can’t say that the Democrat officeholders are… Read more »

johnpaycheck
johnpaycheck
14 years ago

i was chatting with a few friends yesterday and the question was asked” why and who would want to be governor of ri or mayor of providence or cranston…
there is no fun to it in the next 5-10 years.. there has to be huge changes,,,higher taxes, payroll cuts, pension cuts and service cuts that noboby will like..theere will be no more band aids….only bad news…that will make all of these places a less desriable place to live

SusanD
SusanD
14 years ago

“Jerzyk took the tack that “the buck ends with the governor” — as the executive — when it comes to government spending.”
This is a stunning display of ignorance of a basic component of Rhode Island’s government structure. The Governor proposes a budget and then the General Assembly does exactly what it wants with it – adding or subtracting spending and raising “revenue” from whatever sources it sees fit. When it comes to state spending, the buck begins and ends with the GA.
Now if Matt J is encouraging the Governor to meet or exceed the targeted reduction of 1,000 f.t.e.’s, I am with him.

Tim
Tim
14 years ago

Justin,
Don’t quite buy into Andrew’s thesis of the Democrat legislative leadership biding time. The average shelf life of a House Speaker is in the 8 to 10 year range. By January 2011 Murphy will have been there 8 years and the very real possibility exists that along with a new governor the House and Senate will turn over its’ leadership looking for a new direction. Montalbano is currently biding his time waiting to see if a federal indictment is coming his way. If Murphy is playing this game and game playing does seem to be his one and only strength as Speaker that’s quite problematic for him. Murphy has until 2010 to set his legacy and up to this point he’s done very little given the numbers and power he possesses. At some point the ego is going to kick in with these clowns and they’re going to realize they’ve created little that will stand as a testament to their time in office. The legislative leadership just may bide their time right out of power if that’s the game they’re playing.
With regard to the ‘analysis’ offered up by Matilda Jerzyk I would simply ask what did you expect? lol Much credit goes to Andrew for his ability to keep a straight face when doing these TV appearances. If the legislature were all Republican and the governor a Democrat then Matilda would be putting all the blame on the legislature and claiming the buck stops with them. Lightweight is far too generous a term to describe her analytical and truth telling capabilities. lol

Andrew
Editor
14 years ago

Tim,
Those are fair points about the legislature and its natural cycles, but by biding time, I’m thinking less in terms of a well-thought out-grand master plan by the leadership as I am about a gut-level feeling amongst rank-and-file legislators. The Democratic leadership has to know the year-to-year budget fixes can’t go on forever (especially as future tobacco money gets spent), yet they seem have no discernible ideas about addressing the structural problems.
Right now, the path Rhode Island seems to be on is waiting for a major crisis to force big changes. However, I doubt that “wait for a crisis” is being sold to Dem legislators as the game plan, especially since more than anything else likely to happen to RI, such a crisis would increase the chances that individual legislators lose their jobs. Thus, Murphy, Montalbano and their lieutenants have to be able to finish the sentence “don’t worry, it’s not going to get so bad, because things will change when…” when talking to their minions.
If the completion of that sentence is not “…when we elect a Democratic governor, who can offer us better political cover”, what else could it be?
p.s. Call me a softie, but the fact that people who disagree about stuff can sit side-by-side in a public forum discussing political and policy issues that matter to them is one of the things that makes America great.

Tim
Tim
14 years ago

Andrew,
Your points are well taken. You may well be right in the veiled message being sent to rank and file by the leadership. What’s interesting has been certain comments made by some Reps indicating they’re quite aware of just how weak and unproductive this past session was. Just don’t think another 3 years of this directionless quagmire is going to fly with significant segments of the rank and file. The rebuf of proposed legislation that came from the urban core mayors, those who came with hat in hand to the Assembly seeking fiscal relief via all kinds of fees on water, cable was a shot across the bow of leadership. The leadership couldn’t deliver the votes. It’s an interesting dynamic in that building with everyone’s self interest intertwined on some level.
With regard to your PS let me just say that I agree with you. Just hope one day you’ll be afforded the opportunity to share the stage with someone of comparable intellect. You’re a bright guy who makes no secret of your political leanings but one who’s not a party hack whose sole function it is to spew the party line. Sadly that’s as deep as Matilda goes. Only thing missing was her duck suit. lol

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