05/31/12 – House Finance Committee

5:22 p.m.
Awaiting the hearing on the House’s version of the budget. Whispers are that there’s a press briefing somewhere in the building in advance of this hearing, but I don’t appear to have been invited. That’s OK; no print or production deadlines on my end.

5:37 p.m.
Would it be confessing too much for me to admit that I miss the days of not knowing or really caring what went on in this building? Watching the milling about of the usual players, though, really helps to emphasize how critical it is that more Rhode Islanders rouse themselves from that blissful ignorance.

5:46 p.m.
Just hangin’ with the lobbyists and union bosses. Every now and then a legislator strolls through. Very full and boisterous room.

6:19 p.m.
Still waiting. I’m hearing that there’s not much surprising in the budget amendment. There is at least one big-deal item that shouldn’t happen. Of course, there are probably a number of devils-in-the-details that passing whispers couldn’t convey.

6:45 p.m.
Randy Edgar from the Providence Journal came through a few minutes ago saying that the press briefing still hadn’t begun. Wonder what that could possibly mean. Could they be making changes to the bill even now? Surely not… right?

6:46 p.m.
The room is thinning, by the way. People may come back, but they may be deciding that hanging around isn’t worth it in the age of Internet technology.

6:52 p.m.
Audience whispers are that there’s still negotiation going on. Who knows?

7:26 p.m.
I really hope this doesn’t take much longer. NEA Executive Director Bob Walsh is getting giddy. Anybody remember what it was like to wait back before smartphones and the Internet?

7:39 p.m.
Ted Nesi just tweeted that they’re still waiting for the press briefing.

7:51 p.m.
Conversation in the room has turned to the intricacies of massively multiplayer online role playing games. Here’s the question: Will the legislature get away with this sort of scheduling for much longer in the high-tech world.

The Projo’s Kathy Gregg just swung through. No movement anywhere on the budget front.

8:14 p.m.
Bob Plain from RI Future tweeted that an empty pizza box just left House Speaker Gordon Fox’s office. No word on the toppings.

8:19 p.m.
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio came in the room and stood ominously just inside the door for a few moments… then left.

8:22 p.m.
Learning a lot just sitting here. Apparently the Providence Journal’s union is part of the AFL-CIO.

8:40 p.m.
So, there’s been a big stack of papers by the clerk’s desk that I was given to believe was at least some articles of the budget. The clerk just came in and grabbed a big stack, saying that he’s not bringing new stuff out, but bringing other stuff back.

9:05 p.m.
Just when I was beginning to consider leaving, Ted Nesi tweeted that the press is now being briefed. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying an excellent interview on Reason TV with Jonah Goldberg.

9:37 p.m.
Looks like we’re truly underway.

9:49 p.m.
Still waiting. The room is full again.

9:53 p.m.
Finance Chairman Helio Melo just wished Ted Nesi a happy birthday. Room is singing. Now that’s fame in Rhode Island.

9:55 p.m.
Much suspicion among the press that somebody will hit the “send/post” button before the embargo on their briefing officially ends.

9:57 p.m.
So Ted makes a big deal about being younger than some of us old guys, but (while I’ve got a moment to kill) I note that he beat me to gray hair nonetheless.

Another note: Bob Plain types loud and angry. Must be a conservative budget.

10:02 p.m.
Melo is highlighting items from the legislation, but I don’t see much reason to post point by point. House Communications Director Larry Berman is passing out hard copies to the press. I notice that the item that was going to give receivers an ability to negotiate contracts up to five years long has also been extended to budget commissions. [Next day note: the budget is available here; scroll to H7323A and related articles.]

10:06 p.m.
The shuffling and (I suspect) overall increase of licensing fees is still in the budget. (Almost $1,000 to apply to be a dentist, and lots of nickle-and-diming.)

10:09 p.m.
The bureau of audits has not been eliminated.

10:18 p.m.
They’re talking about article 4, which shuffles government around a bit.

10:23 p.m.
Did I mention that they’re going to put tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge? That’s going to kill my family.

10:24 p.m.
Skimming through the articles as they’re handed out. Tax amnesty is still on offer.

10:26 p.m.
Looks like tour packages and sightseeing services are off the tax rolls.

10:32 p.m.
Various transportation services are now taxed (cabs & carwashes, etc.)

10:37 p.m.
General Assembly adds $50,000 for the I-195 commission.

10:38 p.m.
Add another $729,471 for fiscal oversight of Central Falls and East Providence, bringing the total in this year’s budget to $1.8 million. (Nothing on Woonsocket, yet.)

11:00 p.m.
I just noticed that the article dealing with Central Falls adds language saying that “the Office of the General Treasurer, in consultation with the Department of Revenue, shall develop a framework for the city of Central Falls to transition its employees and retirees into the Municipal Employees Retirement System.” They must report their findings by January 2013. Wonder if that means the legislation currently in holding is dead.

11:08 p.m.
GA budget creates a “chancellor of education,” a higher position overseeing both the Education Commissioner and the Commissioner of Higher Ed. and serving under a newly created Board of Education appointed by the governor.

Why another layer of bureaucracy?

11:17 p.m.
The $50,000 for the I-195 commission was for 2012. There’s also $250,000 for 2013 and $100,000 for 2014 “for architectural and engineering services.” In total, the GA adds $3.9 million for the the I-195 Commission in 2013.

Actually, the $250,000 appears to be additional, as a capital expenditure.

11:35 p.m.
Amendment passes. 15 for. Dan Reilly opposed. Newberry abstained.

11:39 p.m.
Just clarified with passing legislators and budget staff: The new Board of Education would consolidate the current education board and the Board of Governors of Higher Education. There’s not supposed to be any increase in cost, and they’re hoping for savings in the future.

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