The big news for that very narrow cut of the Rhode Island population that pays really, really close attention to state-level politics is that the House and Senate leaders have agreed to reform the subset of what are known as “legislative grants” that are more specifically labeled as “community service grants.” As Katherine Gregg explains, the current process is that the legislature allocates money to departments within the executive branch and then sends them jointly signed letters of intent that direct each agency which private organizations should receive the money.
Now, it appears, the legislature will include some of those grants as line-items in the budget and let the agency determine what to do with the rest of the money. (Wink, wink.)
As Ted Nesi reports, some good-government types are enthused:
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, welcomed the proposals. He recalled that Rhode Island voters passed a constitutional amendment more than a decade ago requiring separation of powers to remove legislators from telling agencies what to do outside of statutes.
“If they manage to pull off the changes that they proposed, over time this is going to fix the program,” Marion told WPRI.com.
That seems optimistic, to me. If we apply the skepticism that Rhode Island government has done so much to deserve, one could argue that the actual change in policy is that the paper trail allocating the money will now be traded for a telephone call or a conversation in the hallway. Legislators will just have to signal their “intent” by some other means, and it’s sure to be less transparent. Sure, maybe over time legislators will get out of the habit of sending their clandestine signals, but that isn’t likely, unless the character of the state’s legislators changes such that they would reform the program anyway.
In the long run, the only feasible reform is to stop taking some people’s money in order to give it to others. Leave Rhode Islanders more money and get the government out of the way so the economy can thrive, and worthy charities will do just fine. Contrary to the assumptions of people who support big government, we’re good people, around here, who care about our neighbors.