One Legislator’s Pay Raise = A Mini Legislative Grant Program?

For those possibly unfamiliar with it, the Legislative Grant program is a tax dollar slush fund controlled by General Assembly leadership from which tax dollars are distributed solely by and at the discretion of leadership to benefit those legislators who have been, in the eyes of leadership, good legislative Do-Bees.
We need to clarify that being a “good Do-Bee” in this case does not mean voting in the best interest of the legislator’s district and the state overall. It means voting as leadership wishes. Those who wonder how much the two overlap only have to look at the current condition of the state to realize that, for decades, the best interest of the state has not had too much to do with the best interest of the G.A. leadership.
The beneficiary legislator invariably requests that said grant be distributed to an organization or charity in his or her district. The legislator often personally and publicly delivers the check – to reiterate, drawn on the taxpayers’ checkbook – to the recipient organization. This, of course, makes that legislator look good and helps him/her at re-election time. (Click here for a good article by GoLocalProv about Legislative Grants and who gets them.)
So what does this have to do with legislators’ recent 3.2% [corrected] pay raise? As you probably heard, many legislators are declining the raise, correctly perceiving that, though it is a comparatively small amount in the state budget, the concept itself is quite inappropriate for a number of reasons, most of them relating to the condition of the state’s economy.
Some legislators, however, are not actually declining the raise but are accepting it and “disposing” of it on their own initiative. And this is where we start to creep into questionable territory.
Of these legislators, some are donating their raise to charity. This is probably fine if the legislator does not realize that s/he can simply decline the raise. However, the cynical among us would ask, will the legislator then take a tax write-off? If so, doesn’t that ultimately accomplish the same thing as a raise – and still at taxpayer expense?
Then we come to what Rep Lisa Baldelli-Hunt intends to do with her raise. And that’s when we cross from questionable to promotional.
From her press release of July 13 :

Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt plans to donate the 3.2-percent raise she will get as a legislator this year to local organizations and charities, she has announced. …
That increase this year was 3.2 percent, which amounts to $453.95 that the representative will be divvying up among worthy organizations in her district.
She hasn’t yet decided exactly where she will donate the money, but said she will choose groups based on where she thinks the need is greatest and where the money will do the most good.
“We’re getting this raise because the cost of living has gone up, and that’s causing a lot of hardship in my community, where costs are rising but income isn’t for most people. I think the best thing to do with this money is to pass it on to organizations that help the people in my district and city,” said Representative Baldelli Hunt (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket).”

So now we return to the title of this post: other than cutting out leadership, how exactly does this differ from a Legislative Grant disbursement?
Let’s be clear. Legislators are perfectly within their right to accept or decline or dispose of their raise as they see fit. At the same time, a legislator in that third category does not deserve the applause that we give to legislators who decline the raise outright if his or her chosen method of “disposal” bears a striking resemblance to an existing sleazy practice on Smith Hill.

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