Another Sign That the House Budget Session Was the Beginning of the End


In his Friday column, last week, Rhode Island Public Radio’s Ian Donnis gave a parenthetical nod to my “dissenting view” of the import of the House budget debate.  His link was to my post suggesting that the floor session signaled the beginning of the final phase of Rhode Island’s decline.

I’d come to that conclusion, basically, because the politicians who lead the state had displayed a simple disinclination to continue the performance art that is representative democracy in Rhode Island.  That is, no doubt, a “dissenting view,” but I’d point out that Donnis goes on to offer another bit of evidence, albeit one in which there’s still a good bit of “let’s pretend”:

During Tuesday’s budget vote, when Representative Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick) tried using an amendment to launch an investigation of the state’s disastrous investment in 38 Studios, it took less than 20 seconds before Speaker Mattiellocould be heard saying, “Will someone raise germane on this?” House Majority Leader John DeSimone dutifully made a point of order to ask that Morgan’s amendment be ruled not germane. And of the 11 Republicans in the House, only RepresentativeAnthony Giarrusso of East Greenwich voted with Morgan, against 64 reps, on the issue of whether her amendment was germane. So much for the once-fiery debate over how Rhode Island taxpayers continue paying back bondholders in 38 Studios, to the tune of millions of dollars each year.

And there you go.  Of the Republicans who did not back Morgan on this appeal, only Doreen Costa (R, Exeter, North Kingstown) actually voted with the speaker; the rest simply didn’t want to be on record either way.  The point is emphasized when Michael Chippendale (R, Foster, Coventry, Glocester) stands up as the very next person to speak on the budget article that Morgan had attempted to amend.

I encourage everybody to take a moment to watch the video of the moment.  Check clip 1, here, at the 73:24 mark, at which one can hear Mattiello making his request for somebody to raise the “germane” issue.  When DeSimone stands, Mattiello asks, “What’s your point of order, sir?,” as if he doesn’t know.

That’s just part of a whole process, though.  The idea that Morgan’s attempt to redirect revenue elsewhere is not germane to article 11 is difficult to swallow.  It takes all of a few seconds of skimming through the article to discover language that declaring where tax revenue will go.  So, let’s look at the process, here:

  • All amendments to the budget must be submitted days before the debate.
  • An amendment goes in that is clearly germane to the article, and apparently nobody in the process argues otherwise while there is still time to place the amendment elsewhere.
  • The speaker audibly asks somebody else to raise a point of order, because he cannot.
  • He rules against the amendment, and there is no chance to bring it up again in a more appropriate place.

The only three reasons I can think of for the speaker to take this action and not just let a couple of minutes of discussion play out are that (1) it would have required Democrats to go on record voting against investigation of 38 Studios, (2) it might catch some media or public awareness, and (3) it would have extended the session to a slightly less-record-breaking early end.  Like I said, representative democracy in Rhode Island is dead, at least at the state level.