Legislative grants have been an issue as long as I have been paying attention to Rhode Island politics. They are so obviously a vote-buying scheme that legislative leaders use to reward representatives and senators who help to keep the insider game going. They are therefore an excellent symbol for everything that is wrong with Rhode Island politics.
The Providence Journal Political Scene today emphasizes the increase in grants going to groups in the name of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who had a too-close-for-comfort campaign result last time around and has clearly wanted to avoid a second roll of the dice:
The Cranston Police Department ($65,000), Western Cranston Garden Club ($1,000) and Cranston Western Little League ($15,000) were among the groups on which Mattiello bestowed 32 grants under the General Assembly’s legislative grant program this year.
No state lawmaker sponsored more grants individually than Mattiello or more total cash than the $205,048 in those grants, nearly 30 percent more than the $158,500 Mattiello sponsored the previous year, according to a Political Scene review of legislative grants for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
If legislative grants stand as an archetype of Rhode Island corruption, the Little League grants are especially revealing about the unfairness of the granting system. Twenty-eight grants totaling $84,000 went to organizations with “Little League” in their names this legislative session. Mattiello’s gift was the biggest, but that wasn’t it. Cranston, as a municipality, received by far the most Little League grants in Rhode Island: $32,500. The second-place municipality was Warwick, receiving only $11,500.
Those grants go to 19 Little League organizations in 14 cities and towns (out of 39) and are the work of 25 legislators (out of 113). Democrat Senator Felag managed to spread his wealth to all three towns that he represents: Bristol, Warren, and Tiverton. A few more legislators requested Little League donations in their names that don’t appear to have been granted.
There is no justification for a government program that picks and chooses which children’s baseball clubs deserve taxpayer dollars based on the political fidelity of their representatives and senators. But the clear purpose is to keep our elected officials in line and to send a message to voters that the price of replacing their representation at the State House could be access to millions of dollars in cash for their kids and their pet projects.