Legislative Grants Are One of the Important Problems of RI


By now, you’ve no doubt heard that RI Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) has been the subject of criticism after taxpayer dollars he handed to a local hockey league inspired the group to thank him with his name on the back of some jerseys.  The money’s distribution was part of the General Assembly’s legislative grant program, whereby the speaker of the House and the Senate president get to exchange thousands of taxpayer dollars for the good behavior of our elected representatives in each of their chambers.

Naturally, the speaker objects to the criticism:

“I encourage the Republican Party to focus on the many important issues facing our state.”

It is neither exaggeration nor partisanship to suggest that legislative grants are among “the many important issues facing our state.”  They’re a clear representation of Rhode Island government’s operation as a favor factory.

If — rather than voting in a way that they believe best serves their constituents’ interests or desires — representatives and senators vote in a way that pleases the leaders of their respective chambers, they get money intended almost literally to buy votes back home.  They could sell their town and their state down the river, but what people notice in our apathetic community is that they gave somebody else’s money to the local kids.

This contributes to the dynamic whereby everybody faults the legislature as a whole for moving our state in the wrong direction but believes that their own elected officials are “good people.”  Ipso facto, the majority are not good people.  They accept the way things work and fall in line, even though it’s destroying the state.  That’s a pretty important issue to talk about.

  • Phil Hirons Jr

    The current legislative grant system is exactly what de Tocqueville warned us about in “Democracy in America”. “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

  • guest

    I agree with you on this one. It would be even more helpful if you could provide us some context and let us know how much this program costs annually.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      It depends what one includes. I included them in the FY15 Spotlight on Spending report I put together for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. These direct legislative grants amounted to $2.3 million that year. There are also “community service grants” that were $8.7 million.

      • guest

        Thank you. Perhaps if the grants were deducted from the legislators compensation we would see a different mentality with regard to their dispersion.