06/07/12 – House Floor: Budget

4:42 p.m.
Lots of traffic in the city, it seemed, and I’ve had some computer difficulties, but I’m up and running to liveblog the House Floor discussion and votes on the budget. I suspect by the end, having gotten a little bit of a late start won’t seem very significant.

So far, Article 2, allowing tax anticipation notes, passed 63-7.

Article 3, having to do with DCYF, passed 69-4 after some objection from Rep. Bob Watson that it was a policy item, not a budget.

Rep. Spencer Dickinson tried to make an amendment to Article 4, but it wasn’t on the floor, yet. And they went to Article 5 anyway, involving bonds for various construction projects.

Rep. Patricia Morgan asked just how much debt the state has. Rep. Roberto DaSilva asked how much debt these bonds would incur. Finance Chair Helio Melo and fiscal staff are scrambling to come up with the answers (seems like pretty straightforward questions).

Rep. Joe Trillo stood and said he didn’t have a question and made a joke about entertaining everybody during the wait. Rep. Dan Gordon stood with a point of order, objecting that it was “ridiculous” to be doing entertainment. Trillo replied that Gordon should sit down, then, because “you’re the biggest entertainer in the room.”

4:53 p.m.
Melo has some answers: $1.7 billion in total debt on the books. This article would add $299 million.

DaSilva: This money is to create a fund for local pork. “If you have the clout to get some of this money to bring back to your community, then vote yes.” “Over $200 million dollars in debt service: that’s insanity.” $5.5 million dollars in pork for those with clout, “that’s bad.”

4:59 p.m.
Rep. Anastasia Williams and Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello argued that the bonds will go to vote, and that’s when to argue against them.

5:01 p.m.
A rep was telling me something, so I missed some debate. While Rep. Michael Chippendale was speaking, some lights went out as well, apparently, also the legislators’ computers. Speaker Gordon Fox voted about doing everything by voice vote. Now they’ve paused as they try to resolve the problem.

5:05 p.m.
While we’re paused, a correction: The state has $299 million of debt service on $1.7 billion in debt. This article would add $209 million in debt.

Pages handing out cookies and ice cream sandwiches (chipwiches). No word whether they were bought with credit.

5:07 p.m.
Hmm. Smells like somebody is smoking in the building. Did they suspend the rules, or something?

5:16 p.m.
The bell is ringing for the legislators to return to their stations. In the meantime, a note that I’m down on the floor, tonight, though I’d prefer the gallery. House Communications Director Larry Berman refused to bring documentation (e.g., amendments) to me up there. (Can you imagine?)

5:19 p.m.
Rep. Gordon asked to divide section 11 out of the article; Fox is going to get back to him.

Rep. Watson objects to legislative grants. Rep. Ray Gallison raised a point of order that the discussion is not germane because those aren’t technically in this budget.

5:22 p.m.
Rep. Morgan notes that every person in RI is indebted by some $1,600, and this would be more “swiping of the credit cards.” She notes that debt service is beginning to crowd out other expenditures.

5:24 p.m.
Melo: “I have every confidence that the voters will make the right decision. We’re all here.”

5:26 p.m.
DaSilva wants to vote on each bond question in the article. Fox says, no, because they’re all in section 1; they can only vote by section.

5:27 p.m.
Morgan: Think of this as a $1.7 billion mortgage. We all know that when we’ve paid all of our debt, it’s almost doubled. “We can’t afford this.”

5:29 p.m.
Mattiello: People usually approve these bonds, which shows that these are services that they want. [Some might suggest that that means the government should pay for these services first.]

“Who are we to take away their opportunity to vote for these.” [To what possible expenditure does that not apply?]

Rep. Doreen Costa: How much goes to bond council (lawyers)?

Melo: It depends on the bond issue. Costa: Ballpark it. Melo: it’s relatively little.

5:32 p.m.
Chippendale is saying that the recreation bond doesn’t lay out specifically where the money is going to go. That’s what DaSilva was talking about: reps with sway will get the money.

5:33 p.m.
Article 5 prevails overwhelmingly, even though section 11 was separated.

5:35 p.m.
On to article 6. Codifies into law practice of applying bond premiums and accrued interest to the RI Capital Plan Fund.

Rep. Karen Macbeth moves to amend a “may” to a “shall,” having to do with seeking lower interest rates.

5:39 p.m.
Macbeth amendment fails. Rep. Larry Ehrhardt offers another, to change the face amount of bonds when the bond issue is “sold at a premium.” He argues that not doing so effectively borrows more money than the public has approved.

5:43 p.m.
Melo stands in opposition. “Representative Ehrhardt might be on to something,” but this goes through the treasurer’s office, and out of an “abundance of caution,” they should vote it down.

Minority Leader Brian Newberry suggested that Melo had just said Ehrhardt’s idea was a good one, but “we’re out of time.” He said that, if more people were involved in the budget development process, they wouldn’t have that problem.

Amendment fails, article passes.

5:46 p.m.
On to article 7, another $254 million in debt. Passes.

5:48 p.m.
Article 8. Funding technology with land sales. Passes.

5:49 p.m.
Article 9. This is the article shifting around licensing fees. (My general sense is that, no the whole, this makes it more expensive to do business in RI.)

5:51 p.m.
Gallison moves to amend. Replaces the whole thing for “technical changes.”

Watson moves to move the article down the calendar so people can review the 65 page amendment.

5:54 p.m.
On to article 11, having to do with medical assistance recoveries.

5:56 p.m.
Article 11 passed (I’m trying to review the licensing amendment). Now on to article 12, creating a uniform budgeting process for schools.

6:01 p.m.
So far, the only difference I’ve noticed in the licensing amendment is that the article appears to have cut out the last couple of lines, including the section that technically puts it into effect in July.

6:04 p.m.
On article 12: Rep. Watson wants to vote on the maintenance of effort section separately.

6:06 p.m.
Watson wants to strike the following language that would otherwise be inserted:

“A city, town, or regional school district appropriating authority may appropriate supplemental funds to eliminate or reduce a school budget deficit. To the extent that such a supplemental appropriation represents payment of past annual expenditure, the payment shall not be used in the computation of the maintenance of effort requirements established by section 16-7-23.”

He says there’s no real local autonomy in education in RI anymore.

6:08 p.m.
After Watson’s argument, Fox simply moved on, essentially dismissing his request.

Macbeth puts forward an amendment that requires schools with deficits to “create a plan to decrease the deficit and submit the plan for approval to the department of education.”

Melo rises in opposition.

6:10 p.m.
Melo says that the relevant section of the article merely leaves extra payments out of maintenance of effort. [I’d note that it also gives the town the ability to appropriate additional money for deficits. I wonder how the term “appropriating authority” will apply with all the variety of budgeting methods in the state.]

6:11 p.m.
Watson: “Vote the whole article down.”

Amendment fails.

6:14 p.m.
On the amendment, Macbeth asks asks about the “minimum housing aid.” Rep. Frank Ferri says it freezes minimum aid at 35% rather than going up to 40%.

Fox broke out the section as Watson had requested, and it prevailed. The article overall prevails.

6:17 p.m.
Article 13: Historic Preservation Tax Credit Trust Fund.

Rep. Morgan asks what the fund actually is.

Rep. Russell Jackson explains funds in a restricted receipt account to a separate trust fund for accounting purposes, to pay for projects that were started and abandoned… including processing fees that were paid for projects that never went forward.

Ehrhardt asks if the refund is new or contractors were entitled to it. Not new. Passes.

6:21 p.m.
Article 14, creating a restricted receipt account “to accept an early childhood grant from the RI Foundation” and exempt it from an indirect cost recovery charge.

6:22 p.m.
An amendment to change a date has come and passed. Now Ferri makes an amendment to eliminate “Title XII loans principal and interest.” from the section of the law, but the amendment failed, with Melo saying it didn’t do what the rep thought.

Article 14 passes.

6:26 p.m.
Article 15, extending uncompensated care payments to community hospitals. Passes.

6:28 p.m.
Hm. Looked like Rep. Joseph McNamara pushed a button on the desk next to his. I’ve heard of that happening, but it doesn’t seem appropriate (assuming I observed correctly).

6:29 p.m.
Article 16, having to do with distressed communities.

Melo makes an amendment deleted language on the “Google money.” The Dept. of Justice “felt uncomfortable” with any kind of language that might interfere with its strict guidelines for the money. But apparently, it won’t affect the program.

Amendment passes. Oddly, the clerk didn’t hand out a copy of that amendment.

6:35 p.m.
Rep. Peter Palumbo has presented an amendment that switches out sexual offender registration. Palumbo says the bill as written has passed the House for several years but keeps dying in Senate committee. He’s hoping it’ll make it through as part of the bill.

6:37 p.m.
Rep. Peter Petrarca says it’s not germane because it isn’t part of the budget and ought to be removed from consideration. Palumbo says it saves towns money.

Fox rules the amendment out of order.

6:39 p.m.
Macbeth challenged the ruling, but the floor voted with the speaker.

6:39 p.m.
Article passes. Meanwhile a page handed out Melo’s amendment that I had noted as missing.

6:40 p.m.
Article 17, on well drilling, moving registration from DEM to the Contractors’ Registration and Licensing Board.

6:44 p.m.
Trillo asks why this article is germane to the budget if Palumbo’s amendment was not.

Melo says it saves money. Trillo says a lot of bills save money, but that doesn’t make them appropriate for the budget.

6:46 p.m.
Fox paused debate to apologize to Macbeth for making a snarky comment when she challenged his ruling before. “You are within your rights to do that, and I shouldn’t have broken decorum.”

6:47 p.m.
Back to the article. Rep. Jared Nunes has offered an amendment that would ensure that DEM doesn’t have jurisdiction over well approvals for residential and commercial properties.

6:50 p.m.
Gallison opposes amendment based on other provisions in the law that require DEM involvement.

Amendment fails. Article prevails.

6:52 p.m.
Article 18, shuffling around offices under Health and Human Services and adding $206 in certain welfare-like payments.

Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt clarifies that the extra payment would go to people who live in non-Medicaid eligible assisted living (or something to that effect).

Article prevails.

6:57 p.m.
Article 19, a Medicaid Global Waiver Resolution, modifying some benefits and payments. She offers an amendment adding reporting requirements. Amendment passes.

Macbeth asks to vote on the article by section.

7:02 p.m.
Rep. Dan Gordon notes language referencing the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare): “I’m afraid that we may be creating a tangle that we may find difficult to detangle depending on what the Supreme Court decides.” He asks legislators to keep that in mind while voting.

7:03 p.m.
Chippendale asks to vote separately on that section.

7:04 p.m.
Macbeth asks them to vote it down, saying that the “most needy” are being hit with the durable medical equipment provisions. Naughton says patients are still receiving the equipment; it’s an issue between vendors and providers.

DaSilva asks for a sense of what sorts of things are on the list. Naughton says it’s a huge range of prices $12 or so to thousands for wheelchairs.

7:07 p.m.
Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt asks if there’s a provision in place to prevent providers from shuffling money around. Naughton says she’s not sure what’s being asked, but she says, “This will not affect the individual.”

7:10 p.m.
Rep. Rene Menard asked if it is correct that patients will see no change in cost or service. Yes, that is correct.

7:12 p.m.
The article passes, section by section.

7:13 p.m.
Mattiello asks to break until 8:00. Shouts of “no,” but Fox allows it.

7:49 p.m.
Well, I thought I was well prepared, bringing change for the vending machine, but it wouldn’t take my money. Oh, well. Maybe I can sort through the garbage out back and grab the legislators’ droppings. Fortunately, I also brought a few snack bars; unfortunately, I just ate the last one.

Meanwhile, the women of Ocean State Tea Party in Action are arguing with Rep. Jack Savage up in the gallery about pensions, teacher steps, and Rhode Island government in general.

8:14 p.m.
And the bell sounds… finally.

8:16 p.m.
As I’m sure was in no way the intention of the folks who determined the sequence of events, tonight, the great majority of the gallery visitors appear to have declined to wait out the dinner break.

8:26 p.m.
I’ve asked around, but nobody seems to know why the licensing article was resubmitted in full if it was a technical correction on the very last page. I did confirm, though, that there’s a net increase. (Who couldn’t have guessed that?)

8:28 p.m.
I’m also hearing that the budget is expected to go to Senate Finance tomorrow and the green floor on Monday.

8:29 p.m.
They’re starting with a return to article 9.

Gallison: “Basically, what we did, was clean up a lot of the language.” He said they put new stuff at the end of the article, but I didn’t see that.

8:30 p.m.
Menard asked whether there’s been a dollar change. Gallison said there’s been nothing like that, saying it’s all technical.

Menard points to specific lines (such as embalmer) that were not in the original bill, suggesting that there must be an increase.

8:33 p.m.
Gallison says the fees already existed but weren’t in the previous article (somehow).

Menard insists the amendment has five new fees.

Gallison says they were already in the law, but now they’re in “their proper place” in the law.

8:37 p.m.
Trillo asked whether the fees increase a net. Rep. Dan Gordon says half of the fees have increased. [As I recall, though, some also went down. Nonetheless, the net, I’m told is up.] “Why are we raising fees? It’s as if we have a cattle prod, ‘Get out! Go find work!'”

8:40 p.m.
Rep. Costa: “This article is a small-business killer.” She’s offering examples of businesses with fees going up substantially. Parts of North Kingstown are “like a ghost town.”

There’s been lots of background talk, so Costa asked Fox to call for order. He did so, and the background talk continued.

8:42 p.m.
Amendment wins 46-23.

Article wins 49-21.

8:44 p.m.
Article 20, Sakonnet bridge tolls. It is estimated that tolls wouldn’t begin until 2014 “at the earliest.”

Amendment to correct spelling of “Conancicut.”

8:46 p.m.
Rep. Jay Edwards offers an amendment to 1) create a locally run authority to review tolls, 2) send the funds to the island, and 3) exempt gas distributors in Newport County from gas tax.

8:52 p.m.
Rep. Stephen Ucci asked for it to be ruled out of order.

Amendment failed 23-50.

8:53 p.m.
Reilly offers an amendment removing Bristol County’s ability to tap into the new revenue fund (for transportation), on the grounds that only Newport County is affected by the tolls. Reilly: “We don’t know how much this is going to be. It could be a very small fund sending revenue as far away as Barrington.”

Rep. Gallison says it’s unfair to Bristol County, saying that people will shift to Mount Hope Bridge to avoid tolls. [I don’t know how anybody with an understanding of the geography could think that. Gallison sites the current traffic increase due to bridge construction, but that’s purely because trucks cannot legally go over the Sakonnet River Bridge, right now.]

8:57 p.m.
Rep. Silva objected, too, saying that the article doesn’t explicitly place tolls on the bridges.

Reilly argues that representatives can “assume that the effect of this article is nothing but to place tolls on the bridge.”

Amendment fails 19-53.

9:00 p.m.
Rep. Gordon is describing personal contacts from constituents affected by the toll. [If I could, I’d testify that this bill is dramatically going to affect my family, which goes over that bridge several times ever day.]

Gordon, quoting Moses: “Let my people go. You got us trapped on Aquidneck Island.” Lots of laughter in the audience. “I know personally people who scrape up change to buy a box of macaroni and cheese.” “Stop holding us hostage.”

9:02 p.m.
Fox: “If you were really Moses and could part those seas, we don’t need the bridges.”

Edwards: “This is nothing but a tax. It’s a tax. It’s a tax. It’s a tax. And it’s a tax on the people Newport County.” Blames governor and DOT director, looking at a map and counting the number of reps who would oppose the tolls. Edwards calls on his peers to show that they “care about their colleagues” from the East Bay.

If they don’t, he says, they (meaning the governor and bureaucrats) will soon be going after everybody else.

9:05 p.m.
Rep. Morgan: “Do you know how much money we make from the restaurant and tourist industry in Newport?”

She’s concerned that tolls are going to adversely affect tourism on the island. [I’ll say that I already avoid crossing the Newport Bridge. Tolls on every bridge would be even greater incentive to head into MA from Tiverton for shopping.]

9:08 p.m.
Rep. Watson: “Think of some of the basic things that we expect from our government.” Quotes John Loughlin on the radio today: You’d think with all the taxes that we pay, they could fix the bridges and the roads.

Watson says he’ll stand with Edwards even though he’s “an EasyPass” away from that district. Says he expects tolls to proliferate.

9:10 p.m.
Rep. Spencer Dickinson: “There are 75 of us in this room.” We all depend on each other. Listening to East Bay reps say that there are unresolved issues tells him that they haven’t thought about it enough, and he cannot support it.

Costa opposes tolls. Says she’s gotten many emails.

9:12 p.m.
Rep. DaSilva opposes toll, saying it’s a targeted burden on just those people who cross those bridges all the day. “It’s not a fair tax.”

9:14 p.m.
Macbeth offers an amendment that allows East Bay residents and businesses to be reimbursed for EasyPass charges over the bridges.

9:15 p.m.
Rep. Silva opposes amendment, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. (Apparently Rep. DaSilva couldn’t either.)

9:17 p.m.
DaSilva says the amendment is “a fair way to deal with this.” “These people are facing 7 to 8 hundred dollar taxes.”

DaSilva says the body should support good ideas, even if they don’t come from leadership, gestured toward fox.

Ucci has a point of order: Asks DaSilva to stick to the merits of the amendment. Fox: “We do not want sermons on the mount with this.”

9:19 p.m.
McLaughlin: Supports amendment. Says if executive keeps pushing tolls, Fox should call for pontoon bridges.

Mattiello: “I’d like to commend the sponsor of this amendment for trying to come up with a good idea.” But he says it exempts the people who use the bridge most from ever having to pay for it. He asks what happens if he starts commuting from Cranston to Newport.

[I’d note that those folks would continue to pay exactly as much as they pay right now.]

9:22 p.m.
Trillo: “This is like me putting a toll on the main street of every one of your communities.” Points out that people bought houses in the area knowing that there were bridges, but not expecting to pay tolls. “We’re coming up with new things.” The least thing we can do is pass this amendment.

9:24 p.m.
[I’d point out that the towns on the island have already been leading the state in population loss.]

Reilly is saying that the bridge authority’s entire argument for the tolls was that they wanted to catch out-of-staters, saying that they had no way to avoid it. The amendment would allow that.

Rep. Jackson (Middletown, Newport) argues against the amendment, saying that even if he wanted to support it, he’d object that the language would exclude Middletown residents.

Macbeth offers to present an oral amendment.

9:30 p.m.
Amendment fails 24-48.

9:31 p.m.
Chippendale: Why is it unfair for the residents of Cranston to pay a little more to go over a bridge, but it is fair for everybody in the state to face less taxes because those in the East Bay are forced to have a heavier burden.

9:33 p.m.
Dan Gordon: Vote with the East Bay, and we can evaluate the issue for another year.

Gallison: “Think of the quandry I’m in.” If this article doesn’t pass, he expects a toll on the Mount Hope Bridge. But Newport and the East Bay are a large economic engine. We were promised that there would be no need for the tolls when the bridge was built. He doesn’t want to see tolls or toll increases anywhere. Will vote against article.

9:36 p.m.
Rep. Richard Morrison says he opposes the tolls, noting that the Pawtucket River Bridge was built and nobody even mentioned tolls. Says this is a tax on people who need to cross bridges to get to work.

9:37 p.m.
Menard also opposes tolls, listing other high-traffic areas that don’t have tolls. Argues that the 6/10 interchange is going to need work, and we’re all going to pay for it.

9:40 p.m.
Reilly says that DOT has never given any kind of estimates for traffic, revenue, and so on.

9:41 p.m.
Says the only number he’s ever heard from DOT was a need for $12 million.

9:42 p.m.
Dickinson refers to a small bridge on Narrow River in South County. “One of the beautiful things about this state is that we can get away.” Argues that mobility helps business in Rhode Island.

Says a toll on the southern end of 95 would raise $41-42 million.

9:45 p.m.
By the way, the gallery is repopulated.

Fox says he’s getting to the point that he’s going to start restricting debate, because there’s still a long way to go tonight.

9:46 p.m.
Watson moves to recommit, saying that Melo is so “nimble minded” that he can find the money in next year’s budget.

9:47 p.m.
Ucci says other bridges need to be maintained, arguing that the state has to start maintaining bridges when they’re new, creating dedicated funds. Suggests that it’ll be 83-cents or less. Cites New Jersey with tolls everywhere.

9:49 p.m.
section 4 prevails 49-29

Another section prevails 46-28

Remainder prevails 44-30

And it’s done (unless the Senate stops it, of course).

9:53 p.m.
Now Article 4, government restructuring.

9:55 p.m.
Melo offered a pretty substantial amendment adjusting the various education boards.

Dickinson says that no committee has heard this proposal. He wants to know if education officials were consultant. “I will tell you the answer. The answer is ‘no.'”

9:58 p.m.
Dickinson says this has nothing to do with money and should not be in the budget, especially since there has been no hearing, with witnesses, of this. He says that if this amendment fails, he’ll propose one that removes this reorganization from the article.

Palumbo: “Why is this in the budget.”

Melo: “We felt that this is long overdue and needs to be addressed.”

10:01 p.m.
Melo: “I’ve heard that this would set education back 30 years. I don’t know that education has moved in 30 years.”

[As an observer, I have to say that what is considered relevant to the budget and what is not appears to be completely arbitrary.]

10:03 p.m.
I may have missed it, but I didn’t hear Melo explain why this is in the budget.

10:07 p.m.
Macbeth is objecting to a seven-page amendment appearing out of nowhere and eliminating the 2014 start date.

Watson: “Why do I hear the echo of George Caruolo’s voice in the room?”

10:08 p.m.
Watson: “We’re not a rubber stamp, here.” He objects a “radical change” like this that already hasn’t been sufficiently vetted then being substantially changed at the last minute.

10:10 p.m.
Menard says in caucus that Melo didn’t know whether there was a fiscal note. Asks if there is one. Melo says, “This is purely a policy.”

Menard raises rule 18. Fox says it’s a consolidation of two boards, so it does affect the budget. Melo adds that the part-time higher-ed position goes to full time. [Arbitrary, arbitrary.]

10:12 p.m.
McNamara mentions the lack of input. He says in a past session Rep. Frank Ferri proposed and had vetted that was similar. He also says Richard Lichte has offered a report covering some of these actions. Says education needs a large change.

10:16 p.m.
Rep. Lisa Tomasso asks a very specific question about meeting frequency and open meeting laws.

10:17 p.m.
[Side note: something in this room has been making my nose run.]

DaSilva rises for a question of Melo. Some banter with Fox that the two could just get together at a Portuguese restaurant in East Providence. He says that Melo at one point said that it was his idea, in cooperation with the Senate. DaSilva says Melo is “self-admittedly” not an expert on education.

DaSilva asks if there was any testimony from education figures in the state. Melo says the two commissioners, the two boards, on related issues. Calls it “alarming” that 77% of new college students need remedial help.

10:22 p.m.
Melo says that no two states are comparable in the construction of their education hierarchies.

DaSilva: “With all due respect, we need more than just a vision from Representative Melo.”

10:24 p.m.
Ferri is talking about a previous session’s commission. The noise around the room is very loud. It’s been tough to concentrate on Ferri’s commentary, but he just point-blank said, “I entirely support this.”

10:27 p.m.
Ehrhardt’s offering a couple of technical oral amendments to the amendment. They should have concession salesmen walking through…

10:28 p.m.
Amendment to the amendment passes.

Dickinson says that he represents 14,000 people, many of whom are experts on education, and they were not asked about this bill. Says he was on Ferri’s commission, and they didn’t have any input on this sort of structural change.

10:30 p.m.
Dickinson says that this would give the same board responsibility for everything from kindergarten to URI, which we’re looking at as an economic engine.

He made a broader, very impassioned broader point that the problem with RI government is that major decisions get made by one or two people. He cited all of the scandals and controversies. “It comes from decisions made by one or two people and others standing up and making excuses for it.”

[Huh. My camcorder just ran out of hard-drive space. Don’t think that’s ever happened before.]

10:34 p.m.
Rep. Joy Hearn supports the article. She’s making the case that RI education isn’t serving its children. [There seems to be a logical gap between the problem and the proposed solution.]

10:36 p.m.
Morgan can’t support the article because she doesn’t think it’s been thought through very well. For one thing, it doesn’t describe the credentials required to be on the board. It also gives $3 billion of spending in the hands of 4 commissioners.

10:39 p.m.
Morgan: “The fact that graduates need remediation is a failure at the k-12 level and requires a specialized board at that level.”

10:40 p.m.
Macbeth, speaking as somebody with education degrees. She says the answer to our problems isn’t a board consolidation, but addressing remedial needs of young children.

10:42 p.m.
Macbeth: “We have an elephant, and we’re going to create a board to look at its tail. And we know what comes out of there: what we have now.”

Melo: “If that’s what we have, don’t we owe it to the children to try to fix it.”

10:45 p.m.
[I read somewhere today that staying awake for 17 hours has the same effect as drinking to .08. Just sayin’.]

10:47 p.m.
Rep. Patricia Serpa says her experience is unique, in that she’s got experience from K through college. She says teachers across the spectrum don’t really know about the challenges of the others. “Layers of bureaucracy are in the way.”

[Still not sure why this debate wasn’t had as a separate bill.]

Serpa’s in support of the article.

10:49 p.m.
Morgan: A single board won’t streamline bureaucracy. [I’d note that Serpa acknowledged that early childhood teachers have as much of a gap from high school teachers as high school teachers have from college.]

Morgan says there are all sorts of initiatives going on in education that haven’t been given a chance to yield results yet.

10:51 p.m.
Newberry: This debate has been going on for 45 minutes now. He doesn’t know how he feels about this bill, but he does know it doesn’t belong in the budget.

Mattiello gets the final word, arguing as if it’s a foregone conclusion that this change will solve education problems.

Amendment passes handily.

10:54 p.m.
Some Occupy-looking people just filed into the gallery.

Meanwhile, Macbeth offered an article, and Fox said it would violate separation powers. She withdrew it.

10:56 p.m.
Menard offers an amendment repealing all unfunded education mandates.

11:00 p.m.
Melo said there are all sorts of mandates, including the 180 days of education.

Macbeth notes that Woonsocket has considered shorter school weeks to shorten the year, and says if they can do that and still meet requirements, then they should be able to do it.

Rep. Jon Brien says he supports the amendment, because he’s from a highly distressed community and needs the tools.

11:04 p.m.
Rep. Michael Marcello has produced a list of unfunded mandates from House Finance a couple of years ago and read a couple of “good mandates,” including keeping records of criminal activity (or something like that).

“This amendment is a sledgehammer where we need a regular hammer.” Laughter.

11:07 p.m.
Mattiello says every child deserves the same education across the state, and allowing exemptions from mandates would allow too many differences. [One wonders about the assumption that state legislators have a better handle on what kids need than the people closest to them.]

Macbeth notes that Woonsocket is considering completely ending busing, so monitors wouldn’t be an issue. Kids are walking in the winter along a highway “because they cannot afford the busing.” “Let’s give them the opportunity to make these decisions.”

11:11 p.m.
Menard: This concept for some reason has cement shoes, not a sledgehammer. If we want these mandates, let’s fund them. We’ve been talking about this for four years, yet we can reorder the state boards in a flash. “Must be in a new movie.”

11:13 p.m.
Amendment fails 21 50.

Article prevails 49 23.

11:14 p.m.
Article 21, Taxes and Revenues.

11:17 p.m.
Melo offers an amendment: Clarifies film tax credit regarding allocation year and eliminates car washes from sales tax proposal.

11:20 p.m.
Rep. Elaine Corderre has taken over as speaker for the moment, and there’s much concern about people not being listed as seconds to the amendment.

11:22 p.m.
Macbeth asked why car washes get a pass.

Melo says an environmentalist came to them and argued that we want people to go to car washes rather than wash their cars at home.

11:25 p.m.
I may be getting to paranoid tiredness, but I imagine this is the article that will see the tax-the-rich push. Curious, then that Fox is not in the room.

Rep Teresa Tanzi asked whether there was something to offset the car wash tax. Apparently so.

11:27 p.m.
Coderre called on “Representative Reinhardt.” Rep. Ehrhardt corrected the pronunciation: “Nice to meet you.”

11:28 p.m.
Amendment passes unanimously.

11:30 p.m.
Then all of a sudden: “Mic check! We are Occupy Providence.” Chanting continued until Ucci asked Coderre to ask for decorum or to have the protestors removed.

Utter confusion until Fox returned, although the protesters were already gone.

11:32 p.m.
Macbeth has an amendment removing certain items, including charter tours in RI. She argues that we’ll tax charter buses that stay in the state, but not that leave the state, driving businesses out.

11:36 p.m.
The amendment would also remove taxis and other transportation businesses from the list.

11:38 p.m.
Menard is amazed that, with a surplus on an $8.1 billion budget, they’re nickel and diming small businesses.

Menard says he talked to a charter bus driver and asked what he’ll do. He said he’ll bring people to MA for dinner, because then it becomes interstate commerce.

11:40 p.m.
Robert Phillips notes prior legislation to help waitstaff get tips, and now they’re going to tax cab drivers?

Gordon: Notes tolls and now taxes. “You’re killing us.”

Melo: “If we pass this amendment, we now have an unbalanced budget.” Argues that the House eliminated the majority of taxes that the governor proposed.

11:43 p.m.
Menard: “The governor’s prints will be on this, but it’ll be our blood.” He’s convinced that they’ll be back repealing this next year.

11:44 p.m.
McLaughlin: “I made a promise to my constituents to hold the line on taxes.”

11:45 p.m.
Mattiello: “You can’t be on the right side of every issue.” Nobody likes taxes, but if you don’t raise taxes, you have to cut something else. Talks about restoring funding to disabled, and so on.

“You can’t have the right side of every issue. That’s being a politician, not a leader.”

11:47 p.m.
Dickinson wonders how many people in the room have actually ever filled out sales tax forms. He wonders how many businesses have gone out of business. Notes that these businesses employ undereducated residents.

Macbeth said there is plenty of new spending that can be cut. Amendment fails.

11:52 p.m.
Newberry offers an amendment removing taxi drivers. He says that Melo left out car washes on the grounds that they found $500,000 money.

Newberry’s amendment funds the tax savings by cutting the JCLS budget; cuts legislative grants. Says it’s a choice between the working poor and buying votes.

11:56 p.m.
Melo made some argument about taxing out-of-staters via drivers.

Newberry says it’s going to cut down on tips, not come out of passengers’ pockets.

DaSilva supports the amendment, “as a Democrat giving the working poor a leg up.”

[The arguments are getting notably less sharp as the night wears on.]

11:58 p.m.
Rep. Savage doesn’t like that they’re picking and choosing… car washes are out; taxi cabs are in.

Trillo: “These are people who don’t have pensions.” How did we determine who gets put on this list? “Did we spin a wheel?”

Melo said they tried to remove from the governor’s list those taxes that would hurt Rhode Islanders least.

Trillo: Governor has been trying to tax services, and that’s what we’re starting to do. “It’s a slippery slope.” If we’re going to go that route, he says, we should tax the lawyers. Doesn’t understand why they’d go after taxi cab drivers rather than them.

12:01 p.m.
Baldelli-Hunt notes that there are people who have vouchers for taxis. “Will this become a wash in the end?”

Melo was not familiar with the taxi cab voucher issue, but he’s being told that the effect is very small.

Amendment fails 27 41. [That seems to be about as narrow as it gets.]

12:06 a.m.
Now Chippendale is attempting to amend to remove pet grooming from the list, with the money coming from legislative grants. There’s no margin for these people.

“This budget and especially this article is so anti-business… that we may as well put signs up that say, ‘closed for business.'”

Ucci moves to lay the amendment on the table.

Chippendale made a good point, saying that they should make businesses “viable.” He may or may not realize it, but that language recalls the casino debate, where the state is taking a 9-figure hit to keep the slot parlors “viable.”

12:09 a.m.
Fox gave an explanation on Ucci’s behalf, saying that specifics are repetitive to Macbeth’s defeated amendment. Chippendale objected that he provides a cut.

The House voted to table.

12:12 a.m.
Menard moves an amendment to extend hotel tax to schools that are renting for a purpose other than for students and their families.

12:16 p.m.
Rep. Don Lally moves to table on the grounds that there’s been no review of this.

Menard: This system has gone amok; this is old-school anti-transparency. “This is a cowardly way not to vote.”


12:18 a.m.
Macbeth amendment now, to delay new taxes until January, to give businesses time to adjust.

Melo: Opposes. Governor wanted implementation on July 1. Finance moved to October 1. Division of Taxation has prepared for the change. Moving to January would put a hole in revenue.

12:22 a.m.
Macbeth said that yesterday, they passed legislation to spend $4 million for kindergarten; surely they can find money for this.

Amendment fails.

12:23 a.m.
Ehrhardt’s turn for an amendment. Trying to remedy elimination in tax reform of tax credit carry-forwards. Paid for out of legislative grants.

12:28 a.m.
Melo objects, on the grounds that they all knew what they were doing when they passed the bill.

Ehrhardt says the state broke its promises.

Amendment fails 19 to 48.

12:35 a.m.
Baldelli-Hunt with an amendment. “I hope you’ll let me explain it before we lay it on the table.” Laughter.

The amendment takes another whack at grooming and eliminates a $10 sales tax registration fee. Also eliminates a “right to know fee.”

Fox’s alarm went off (it sounded like). Baldelli-Hunt: “Is that for me?”

She pays for her amendment by eliminating a tax credit for renters.

12:36 a.m.
Melo notes that eliminating some of the fees will still cost the state money.

12:38 a.m.
Baldelli-Hunt: “I’m not saying that mine is the best idea, but I just find it amazing that the minds in this room can never come up with a good idea. Is there ever an amendment that passes without being repealed a few days later when special interests complain?”

“Why do you have to feel like you’ve got so much power that nobody else can have a good idea?”

12:42 a.m.
Gordon begs for just a little bit of hope for small business owners.

Amendment fails 27 42.

12:43 a.m.
Macbeth amendment would limit tax credits “for the limited use by the entity originally granted such credits. No tax credit, in whole or in part, may be assigned, transferred or conveyed to any individual or entity.”

[I have to say that I support the motivation behind most of these amendments, but this is getting ridiculous.]

12:47 a.m.
Fox has left the room again.

12:48 a.m.
Melo objects.

12:49 a.m.
Rep. Jeremiah O’Grady notes that agrees that these expenditures would be better as grants, but this isn’t unique to RI.

12:50 a.m.
Macbeth: RI is ripe for corruption. Just before the vote, as reps ran in, McNamara asked somebody: “What is this, an amendment?”

Amendment fails 15 48.

12:52 a.m.
Palumbo amendment, having to do with cigarette paper rolls.

Fox is back.

12:58 a.m.
Amendment fails 20 49

12:58 a.m.
Macbeth: “This is my last amendment on this article.” Gives business owners some extra time to file a return (not counting weekends in the count). Melo says it would be a bigger burden on enforcement.

Hey, guess what? It failed.

1:01 a.m.
On to the article. Macbeth says cigarette sales are down. Taxes are down. “If we’re not bringing in revenue, why do we think adding four cents would bring in revenue.”

1:02 a.m.
Amendment from Grace Diaz. Try to close a loophole related to little cigars.

Melo opposes. Says the budget already captured cigarillos.

1:08 a.m.

1:09 a.m.
Trillo says past budgets were tough, but this one should have been easy. “But we messed it all up.” All they had to do, he said, was not spend all of the surplus. They hurt people last year, and now they’re undoing that and “whacking a whole bunch of new people.”

They’re going to vote. Coderre is going to run one section of the bill because Fox might have a conflict because of involvement with PPAC.

Meanwhile, I’ve been told that tax the rich is a whole new article coming at the end of everything else. Just great.

1:14 a.m.
The sections of the articles are being passed one by one.

1:16 a.m.
Article 22, $2.6 million for Central Falls.

1:18 a.m.
Lots of seconds. Melo moves to amend, clarifying language with regard to bringing retirees into MERS. Passes unanimously.

1:20 a.m.
MacBeth moves to modify language to remove Flanders’ name. Melo says there’s no need. Watson says that Flanders made the agreement.

Amendment fails.

1:23 a.m.
Article passes, all but 6 for.

Now article 10, revised 2012 budget.

Trillo moves to amend. Something about moving contract employees to FTEs.

1:26 a.m.
Jim Baron has left the building.

1:29 a.m.
Trillo: “You’re assuring me on television that the federal government is going to pick up all of the cost for these employees.”

Many repeat assurances that everything will be fine.

1:32 a.m.
Chippendale: how many employees are in the department of health. (100-something) “Can I assume that this is ObamaCare money?”

Chippendale: When ObamaCare gets overturned by the Supreme Court, I hope everybody understands that we’re on the hook for this. Melo won’t answer the question, and nobody else has the information. Thinking Jim Baron had the right idea…

1:36 a.m.
Melo point of order: “Rep. Trillo’s discussion is not germane to his amendment.”

Amendment withdrawn.

1:38 a.m.
Guthrie offers an amendment to restore revenue sharing to cities and towns by adding 2% to the tax for those making over $500,000.

Says that the budget “taxes little old ladies taking their puppies to the groomers.”

1:43 a.m.
Watson objected that Guthrie is just rambling about how he’d like to spend “other people’s money.”

1:44 a.m.
Melo objects. “We need to continue” on the tax reform and see the result.

Ucci moves to table.

Guthrie: “It just seems like we do things to hurt people in the state.”

1:47 a.m.
Tabled 50 22.

Article 10 prevails.

1:49 a.m.
Cimini moves tax the rich bill as a new article. Adds 2% to tax on income over $250,000 and specifies where the revenue will go. Cities and towns.

1:52 a.m.
Melo: Opposes amendment, even though he supports the intent. Says the retroactivity is a sticking point (applies back to Jan 1).

Rep. Edith Ajello thinks this is what we should be doing (specifies “highest income, not highest earners”). But, she says, she’s heard the leadership’s calls for discipline. Thinks we needs the investments. But, wants to give it time. In January, if the economy has not improved, she’ll be begging to sign on to the legislation. Does not support.

Ucci move to table.

1:59 a.m.
Tabled. Very few votes not to table.

2:04 a.m.
Nunes makes an amendment to make sure that new FTE employees switching from a federal grant would not leave the state with any additional responsibility.

Melo is repeating what he told Trillo.

2:06 a.m.
Watson thinks the amendment might make the federal government withdraw its funding.

Trillo’s asking a question about the employment situation of these employees: are they fed employees in the state or people we’ll be hiring.

[We’re going in circles.]

2:11 a.m.
Nunes amendment goes down. Palumbo moves eVerify as a new article, saying it will make a lot of money.

Melo rises in opposition because it “is undeterminable how much it would cost.”

Petrarca moved to table.

Fox says it was a bill heard in committee, so it is out of order.

2:15 a.m.
Savage moves an article increasing taxes 1/4% from $50-125k and 1/2% increase above that.

Specifies that money is distributed according to 2009 revenue sharing formula.

2:16 a.m.
Savage: “We are in part to blame” for the woes of cities and towns.

2:17 a.m.
Melo repeats his prior argument. Ucci moves to table.

2:20 a.m.

Menard offers an article adjusting pension calculation for appointed and elected officials to full-career averages. Tabled.

2:25 a.m.
I hate to sneak out before it’s all over, but I really have to get up early, so I’m gonna sign off and hope nothing surprising happens.

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