Read this part of Ted Nesi’s summary of a legal opinion from the Rhode Island Senate on the possibility of a public referendum on the PawSox and then let it sit in:
In a memo to Senate President Dominick Ruggerio dated Tuesday and obtained by Eyewitness News, Ruggerio’s chief legal counsel Richard Sahagian cited case law dating back to 1937 that he said reinforces a provision in the state constitution saying only the General Assembly has “the power to make and declare laws.”
“As in Rhode Island, courts across the country have also found that the power to make and declare laws is vested exclusively in the legislative body subject to those powers explicitly reserved to the people in each state’s constitution,” Sahagian wrote.
“The Rhode Island Constitution explicitly enumerates which measures must go on the ballot for voter approval. This is not one of those instances,” he continued. “As a result of the above analysis, the legislature cannot delegate this power by referring the matter to the voters for their approval.”
Since we’re talking about the Rhode Island Constitution, here’s Section 16 of Article VI, which is the article granting the General Assembly any power at all:
The general assembly shall have no powers, without the express consent of the people, to incur state debts to an amount exceeding fifty thousand dollars, except in time of war, or in case of insurrection or invasion; nor shall it in any case, without such consent, pledge the faith of the state for the payment of the obligations of others. This section shall not beconstrued to refer to any money that may be deposited with the state by the government of the United States
The General Assembly gets around this limitation of its power by creating so-called quasi-public agencies that technically are separate legal entities and then promising that they’ll pay the debt of these agencies year to year, which technically doesn’t “pledge the full faith and credit” of the state. The end result is that investors get a higher rate of return because there’s technically a risk that the state won’t pay, even as the government has every incentive to treat the debt as fully binding because otherwise the scam would fall apart because investors won’t believe the winks and nods that the politicians are giving.
But think about how brazen the Senate’s legal opinion is, here. The politicians are trying to put together a deal that creates one of these phony “moral obligations” to cover debt for a building project (that helps the Senate President’s labor union), even though the Constitution requires voter approval, and the legislators lawyers (whose salaries the people pay) are claiming that the people can’t have a say because our Constitution gives the legislature power to make law.
How about this: Give the people a vote to express their opinion, and then lawmakers will follow that vote, even if technically they aren’t bound by it. Better yet, do nothing until Rhode Islanders wise up and vote you all out of office.