A Legislature Shouldn’t Be Speaker Plus Advisers

We’re all rightly pleased that binding arbitration for teachers didn’t make it into law, but there’s something in the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition’s post-victory press release that taps into a disconcerting aspect of the process:

“We commend Speaker Fox for giving this legislation the burial it deserves in the final hours of the session but we also recognize the 17 Senators who truly began the momentum to kill this bill with their courageous votes against it on the Senate floor Wednesday,” states RISC Executive Director Harriet Lloyd.

As much as we may want a particular bill to go away, we’d do well to avoid acceptance of the the lopsided power of Rhode Island’s Speaker of the House. The Providence Journal story on the bill’s death calls it “his decision,” and one wonders why legislators were shielded from a vote. Just as higher profile candidates spread political contributions around to lesser allies, the Speaker appears to have determined that he had some political capital to expend.
It’s not, by the way, just a question of the Speaker putting aside a bill that he believes needs better vetting (and better timing for the outcome that he likely favors). The aspect appears again in this Providence Journal summary of the legislative session’s final days (emphasis added):

“My staff and I worked extremely hard to reach a compromise on the health exchange legislation and I am hopeful that we can work things out for potential passage in the future,” House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, said Friday. “However, I was unwilling to accept the Senate version of the bill, which included the pro-life language.”

To make the process look even worse, the article describes a period during which the House’s computers weren’t able to access the bills and “lawmakers complained they were being asked to vote on bills they could not see.” One wonders whether it’s appropriate for legislators to read bills just before voting on them, anyway. Shouldn’t they have at least a basic familiarity with them before the debate begins?
On the other hand, given the dynamics of the General Assembly’s leadership team, it’s a question whether legislators really need to read the bills, at all; they allow a small group so much power to control their activities. In that regard, another ally of the the center-right movement also offers disconcerting remarks:

“I can walk out that door and feel proud that we did what needed to be done for this state,” [Warwick Republican Joe] Trillo said. “It is your leadership, Mr. Speaker. You have stepped up to the plate. You have proven that you understand what this state needed.”

Bull. The legislature did was it always does and squeaked through with a budget that solves no real problems and ratchets the damaging regulator and taxation regimes just a bit more, in ways direct and indirect. Here’s one of the latter, with a bit of guffaw-worthy rhetoric from the majority leader:

Republicans criticized the potential surcharge on electricity and natural gas bills to fund the [low-income utility aid] plan. “Let’s be honest. We are voting on a $7-million tax increase,” said House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry, R-North Smithfield. “Let’s call it what it is and vote it up or down.”
Responded House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston: “Twenty dollars per year per ratepayer. Do you consider that a tax increase? I don’t. That is our obligation to take care of those amongst us that are meek.”

Rhode Island so loves its meek that it has developed a civic structure and employment environment that makes it unduly difficult for them to cease being meek. Consequently, those who wish to improve their station in life must go elsewhere. Until legislators address that problem, we’ll continue down this road of annual difficulties — annual attempts to slow our decline. Perhaps substantive, positive change can come at the behest of unreasonably powerful legislative leaders, but more likely than not, they’ll have to be knocked down a few pegs before the system receives the hard shakes that it so desperately needs.

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11 years ago

Awesome. Here I am not taking my daughter for ice cream on the fourth of July because that $10 does make a difference in my finances and people like Matiello think it’s no big deal. So first I try to be responsible with my own finances and not spend that $10 and next thing I know, it’s going out the door to someone else now. Why even bother…

11 years ago

Responded House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston: “Twenty dollars per year per ratepayer. Do you consider that a tax increase? I don’t. That is our obligation to take care of those amongst us that are meek.”
“MEEK”???? WTF is that supposed to mean? MEEK? Is this a new level of political correctness? I thought the meek are supposed to inherit the earth!
I would prefer that Leader Mattiello be generous with his own resources. I will choose my own charities, thank you.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
11 years ago

12 weeks to “Pension Reform”…..

11 years ago

I wonder if this also means I’ll stop getting the little yellow envelope with my utility bill and they’ll stop playing the “heat or eat” commercials on the radio. If they’re going to forcefully take the $10 from me, I guess they don’t need anything else.

11 years ago

$20/yr here, an increase in the cost of getting a driving license and registering your car there, a 1% increase in this tax, another small increase in some other fee (beach parking)…
Death by 1000 cuts people, death by 1000 cuts.

11 years ago

I’ve long wanted to try keeping a log of where every penny of my money goes and especially how much I pay in taxes. It’s pretty irritating that we pay the income tax when we get the money, we pay a tax for simply living in our home and owning a car and we pay a tax on many things we buy.
Like Dan has suggested, instead of this nickel and dime thing (or maybe more like $50s and $100s), just send us a bill at the end of the year and tell us how much we owe.
Wait until that nice little liberal family making $70,000 a year gets that bill for $25,000 as their “tax bill” and let them determine whether they’re getting value.

11 years ago

Patrick, I’m not sure you want to do that. You might be surprised “where the money goes”.
Figure you take home about 60% of what you make ( give or take depending on a million things).
IF you are lucky enough to have capitol gains and/or dividends, taxes on a sliding scale based on your income, the more you make, the more they take.
Then there’s property tax on your house and car(s).
All sorts of sales tax
Gasoline tax
etc., etc., etc.
In pretty much every move you make, someone(local,state,federal) is taking a bite, sometimes more than one at a time (meals and gasoline come to mind).
I’d guess that for me ( and this is just a guess) that I get to have and to hold about 40 cents out of every dollar I make, but certainly not more than 50.

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