Some important bills for a Wednesday House Finance Committee meeting were posted on Monday afternoon, i.e. with about as little notice as is legally required:
The most important of the bills concern moral obligation bonds:
- H5443: Restrictions on the issuing of moral obligation bonds, requiring them to be put to the voters for approval, unless 1) they will be entirely funded by the Federal government, 2) they are issued after the General Assembly has adjourned, and “the governor certifies that action is necessary, because of events occurring after the general assembly has adjourned, to protect the physical integrity of an essential public facility, to ensure the continued delivery of essential public services, or to maintain the credit worthiness of the state in the financial markets” or 3) they fall under the “borrowing in anticipation of receipts” process described in Article VI section 17 of the state constitution.
- H5566: An almost total ban on the issuing of moral obligation bonds, unless they will be entirely funded by the federal government, or fall under the “borrowing in anticipation of receipts” process described in Article VI section 17 of the state constitution. This bill also repeals the bonding and long-term debt issuing authority not requiring specific General Assembly action that has been granted to a large number of Rhode Island quasi-public agencies; that authority is formally, at least, left in place in H5443.
Several other bills of interest are on the committee agenda. Note that the first two below relate directly to quasi-public agency finances:
- H5927: Authorizes the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to issue $65M in bonds, without voter approval, resulting in $152M in debt to paid out over 30 years, “for the purpose of providing funds to finance the renovation, renewal, repair, rehabilitation, retrofitting, upgrading and improvement of the Pell Bridge, the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge, the Sakonnet River Bridge, Mount Hope Bridge, and other projects authorized under the Act, replacement of the components thereof, working capital, capitalized interest, a debt service reserve and the costs of issuing and insuring the Bonds”. And don’t worry, the bonds don’t need voter approval, because the resolution says “that the Bonds will not constitute indebtedness of the State or any of its subdivisions or a debt for which the full faith and credit of the State or any of its subdivisions is pledged”.
- H6087: “Fifty percent (50%) of any net profit identified by an annual accounting approved by the corporation shall be applied to reduce any existing corporate debt”.
- H5514: Requires an annual appropriation of $12.5M “in capital financing for affordable housing development” but then adds the qualifier “or whatever amount deemed necessary to enable the commission to carry out its assigned purposes under this chapter”. Mandating an appropriation like this, outside of the budget process, is very unusual in the Rhode Island system of government, to say the least.
- H5242:, New homeless shelter “standards”, including a problematic section giving private organizations; e.g. “the Rhode Island homeless advocacy project”, “the Rhode Island coalition for the homeless”, special seats on a government board with the power to draft legally-binding government regulations.
- H5390: Requires the 911 surcharge on people’s phone bills to be deposited into “a restricted receipt account to be administered by the general treasurer for the sole purpose of operating, maintaining and otherwise administering the E-911 uniform emergency telephone system”, instead of into the general fund.
- H5715: Requires that audio and video recordings of public meetings be transmitted to the secretary of state within 35 days of their occurrence, “who shall post the same on its website and make them available to the public in such format or formats as are commonly used for internet transmission”.