Legislation Under the Radar – Mo’ Money for the General Fund

I’m going through all legislation as it’s introduced to the Rhode Island General Assembly, and the Center for Freedom & Prosperity will be putting out a real-time Freedom Index — essentially a watch list — in a couple of weeks.  That’ll have the collection of good and bad within the think tank’s scope.

Card check? Check.  Master lever? Yup.  Mail ballots for lazy voters? Uh-huh.  General Assembly term limits? Absolutely.

But in keeping with yesterday’s post about overly discreet legislation concerning Bryant’s taxes, I’m not able to resist mention of bills that I find intriguing, including those that are of interest because of the way they’re presented.  In that category, 5073 is an excellent example, submitted by Representatives Jeremiah O’Grady (D, Lincoln, Pawtucket), Teresa Tanzi (D, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Arthur Handy (D, Cranston), Lisa Tomasso (D, Coventry, West Greenwich), and Cale Keable (D, Burrillville, Glocester).  (There may be more sponsors, but the online system only allows for five.)

The official bill description proves the legislation to be bad enough: “would include public transit in the Rhode Island highway maintenance fund and accelerate the surcharges that support the fund.”

Basically, in 2011, the General Assembly implemented a phased-in increase of automobile registration fees as funding to pay off the state’s irresponsible transportation debt related to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.  Fairness to the Rhode Island public should force the government to take that money out of existing spending, but at least the economic principle behind it is sound: paying down expensive debt.

This legislation would make the fees go up faster and would redirect 35% of the proceeds to public transportation subsidies and expenses.

It’s worse than that, though.  Scroll down to page three, and you find that the above-listed Democrats want to fluff their own budget with most of the new money for a few years. Beginning this year (fiscal 2013), 80% of the money collected for this purpose would actually go into the general fund, for regular spending by the state government. The percentage would go down by 20 points every year until, finally, the money would all go to its intended purpose in 2017.

A state with a functioning civil society would have these legislators plastered across the front page of its paper of record (i.e., the Providence Journal) as examples of irresponsible and sneaky governance.  Of course, a state with a functioning civil society probably wouldn’t have agreed to so much debt in the first place, but we have to start somewhere.