06/26/13 – House Floor, Budget Round 2

2:13 p.m.
Somehow, I knew there would be no rush to get back here. A quarter of an hour after start time, and there’s no indication that that they’ll be starting soon.

And it’s still hot in here. I didn’t see any signage on the matter, but I suspect it would be frowned upon for me to take my shirt off.

Word on the floor is that they won’t be starting with the budget, but with some of the other 93 bills on the agenda.

And there’s the bell to start.

2:31 p.m.
An observational note as we endure the bell: Freshman Representative Stephen Casey appears to have a liking for bold colored shirts and ties.

Rep. Stephen Casey

2:41 p.m.
Gavel has struck, roll call being taken. 58 present.

2:44 p.m.
Budget articles are “still being printed,” so they’re going on to some regular business.

2:45 p.m.
They’re going to zip through some solemnization of marriage bills.

2:49 p.m.
Interesting to note some votes against the same-sex solemnization of marriage bills: Azzinaro, Corvese, Costantino, Phillips, and one other I didn’t quite catch [Checked: San Bento].

3:06 p.m.
Debating an auto-body/insurance bill, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry stands “primarily for those of you who haven’t been through the auto-body wars before.” He says he’s not sure why the government continues to feel the need to get involved.

Still, he says if the current amendment passes, the bill on the floor should go through. [These things are pretty deeply in the weeds of a business model, well beyond the appropriate intricacy of government.]

3:17 p.m.
Listening to personal testimonials from the representatives on auto body repairs they have had, I think insurance companies should probably implement a premium penalty against RI legislators. Lots of accidents.

3:22 p.m.
From my email, I see that the word has gone out among the Second Amendment folks to fill the galleries related to three bills on the agenda. Contrast that with the response of the Sakonnet River Bridge toll opponents, who’ve been sending out celebratory emails about the promised budget article delaying the tolls until next April.

3:28 p.m.
How are so many representatives experts on the insurance-auto-body nexus of the marketplace? They’re reminding me of the older guys around the construction site who would talk for hours with great passion about any topic that struck a chord early in the day… whether the feasibility of at-home honey farms or the vicissitudes of human fertility… only, these folks here aren’t building anything while they argue.

3:36 p.m.
Interesting exchange at tail end of auto-body debate (before the bill passed): Representative Lisa Baldelli-Hunt wanted to make a floor amendment having to do with digital databases. House Speaker Gordon Fox said it was a substantive amendment and would require the sponsor (Representative Stephen Ucci) to consent.

Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt

Ucci indicated in the negative, and Baldelli-Hunt made a mean face at him and said, “Good job, Mr. Ucci.”

I think Ucci’s response (if I heard right) was, “Thank you, mayor,” referring to Baldelli-Hunt’s anticipated run for mayor of Woonsocket.

3:40 p.m.
We’re on to a bill about discrimination against specific breeds of animals (mainly meaning pit-bulls). Representative Patrick O’Neill is arguing that it’s a local ordinance issue, where the town can better discern its residents’ needs (by noting, for example, that local drug dealers are using pit-bulls as weapons).

Rep. Patrick O'Neill

3:44 p.m.
O’Neill says there haven’t been marches in Pawtucket “to bring back the pit-bulls.”

3:46 p.m.
Rep. James McLaughlin was saying that people make dogs the way they are, and Speaker Fox read my mind, interjecting: “So you want to ban people?”

Rep. Charlene Lima stood up to second the motion. Oh, how we laughed.

3:49 p.m.
As this debate wears on: I recently discovered that certain breeds of dogs (mainly the guard-dog types, like German shepherds, rottweilers, pit bulls) can quadruple one’s home-owner insurance. I haven’t been able to discover, yet, what makes Rhode Islanders’ home insurance have to cover dogs.

3:57 p.m.
Rep. Antonio Giarrusso offered his rationale for supporting the breed legislation: he’s gotten no emails against it, but 300 (from around the state) in support of it.

3:58 p.m.
Rep. Thomas Palangio is the latest to share his family pet story. He’s worried that discrimination will drive pit bulls underground. He says in the ’70s, German shepherds were put upon; in the ’80s, it was dobermans; in the ’90s it was rottweilers; and now it’s the pit-bull.

Rep. Thomas Palangio

Rep. Lisa Tomasso is talking about the “bad person” who lived across the street from her. “He was a drug dealer.”

She owns a pit-bull.

Two lessons of today: stay away from representatives’ neighborhoods, both because of dogs and because of the reps’ driving.

Tomasso: “People are the problem, folks.”

4:05 p.m.
Just a time check. Still no budget in sight.

4:08 p.m.
I’ve been noticing that the representatives, no matter where the land on the political spectrum, tend to make conservative arguments regarding legislation that they care about.

By the way, here’s an example of well-heeled House staff sneaking up to consult with each other and the representatives who are part of the leadership team, as I described last night:

Rep. Helio Melo and staff

4:12 p.m.
Now the gun bills are up.

4:14 p.m.
The first bill addresses guns with altered identification numbers. An amendment just prevailed that is supposed to make it possible for gun enthusiasts to interchange parts.

Representative Doreen Costa is saying that, with the amendment, this is a great bill that would protect gun owners (“they’ve been kind to us gun folks”).

4:17 p.m.
Rep. Donald Lally says the bill would let gun owners who have guns that for whatever reason have damaged numbers go to have them re-certified.

Bill passes, with only Tomasso against.

4:22 p.m.
After a procedural error, Speaker Fox quips that he’s distracted, looking for a budget to come out.

4:23 p.m.
The bill on the floor would make it a felony to knowingly transport a stolen gun (the “knowledge” being specifically that the gun is stolen).

Costa stood up and spoke to make sure that the Second Amendment advocates understand that the “knowing” makes it a good bill.

Rep. Deb Ruggero is lauding the cooperation of both sides on this legislation.

4:26 p.m.
Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello stands to congratulate Lally, as well.

Rep. Nicholas Mattiello

Passes, with only MacBeth against.

4:28 p.m.
The last gun bill creates (and sunsets) a task force to look at mental health and guns. It’s been amended to include three new members from the federation of gun owners.

4:30 p.m.
Rep. Costa stands again: “Rep. Lally, can’t thank you enough!”

4:34 p.m.
Rep. Michael Chippendale name-checks Patrick Kennedy for his “bold” effort to bring mental health to the forefront of discussion.

4:42 p.m.
Bill passes, again with only MacBeth against.

4:43 p.m.
Now the bill to sign on to the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, after about a century.

4:48 p.m.
After Rep. Newberry defended the lack of ratification of the 17th amendment, Rep. Christopher Blazejewski rose to respond with the “nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, boo, boo” argument. “How could you not agree with the 17th amendment?”

I’d suggest that that’s pretty much the Progressive argument on everything: “We know it to be right, and anybody who disagrees is either insane or bigoted.” (It appears, by the way, that it has now infected the Supreme Court of the United States, as well.)

They voted to approve the 17th Amendment.

4:55 p.m.
And on to the budget, starting with new articles. No new articles, except for one from leadership on the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls until February 1, next year (changed from the April 1 hinted at last night).

The article would also prevent increases of the Newport Bridge tolls.

4:57 p.m.
Rep. MacBeth asks how this affects the budget. Melo says it doesn’t.

The papers being handed out are still warm.

4:59 p.m.
Rep. Jared Nunes asked if the state can pay for the toll devices that have been constructed without tolls. Melo says they can pay for them with Newport Bridge tolls; he also thinks the tolls were built with the funds from the project.

Nunes goes on to note that the General Assembly has already been down this road, and some of the reps who wanted to stop the tolls voted for the budget nonetheless. He doesn’t know what else can be studied, at this point. “There’s only so many revenue sources that they have at this time.”

5:01 p.m.
Nunes is worried that the study commission will come back and say, “The East Bay is out because we need their budget vote,” so they’ll toll some other bridge, dam, or overpass.

5:03 p.m.
Rep. John Edwards is explaining that the goal of the commission will be to find another source of revenue other than tolls anywhere. (I’d note that the legislation doesn’t prevent the Turnpike and Bridge Authority from tolling the Mount Hope or Jamestown bridges, although WPRI’s Ted Nesi tells me the governor told him that he wouldn’t allow tolls on Mount Hope.)

Representative John Edwards

5:05 p.m.
Rep. Dennis Canario started his comments by mentioning 38 Studios, but I think it was a misstatement, because he went on to say that the toll would cost more in lost tax revenue from other sources.

“They built the Taj Mahal at the end of the Newport Bridge; that tells me that they don’t manage their money very well.” (Not sure what he meant by that.)

5:12 p.m.
Rep. Peter Martin says he’s probably the only representative from Aquidneck Island who’s going to vote against this article. He remembers when the old Sakonnet River Bridge was built; it rotted in his lifetime, because the RI Dept. of Transportation does not maintain its bridges.

“Why do we expect Newporters to have the only toll bridge in the state.”

He says that while “everybody else has been fighting against this toll,” he’s been working with the Bridge and Turnpike Authority to soften the blow of tolls by allowing out-of-state residents to buy RI transponders and also lowering tolls.

5:15 p.m.
He seems to be saying that the promoted discounts (like multiple trips, which he calls “the soccer mom discount”) would also apply to the Newport Bridge.

5:18 p.m.
He says the Authority has proven that it listened to the concerns of the STOP the tolls organization. He wants the same treatment on his end of the island, so they should take the tolls off the Newport Bridge.

5:19 p.m.
He says his understanding is that if the bridge is declared finished without the tolls being in place, they can never be put in place. (There are a lot of ways that suggestion is suspect.)

5:21 p.m.
Rep. Patricia Morgan asked if not having tolls might lead the Authority to default on bonds. Rep. Melo says that he has not been approached with any such concerns.

5:24 p.m.
Rep. Jeremiah O’Grady is hopeful that the commission will come up with a breakthrough.

Rep. Jeremiah O'Grady

5:25 p.m.
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, as a representative of Jamestown and lower Aquidneck Island, likes that this pauses any increase in the Newport Bridge toll and doesn’t like legislation that pits one part of the state against another.

Rep. Deborah Ruggerio

5:26 p.m.
Rep. Frank Ferri says he’s going to vote for the article, but he is concerned about Martin’s comment about the deadline for tolls and the possibility of bond payment problems. Fox asked if that was a question. Looking somewhat at a loss (I’d almost say defeated), he replied, “No,” and sat down.

5:30 p.m.
Rep. Spencer Dickinson thinks the solution is to move the Newport toll to the other side of Jamestown (in North Kingstown) and increase the cash price to $6.

5:32 p.m.
Rep. Kenneth Marshall, from Bristol-Warren, says he doesn’t have much faith in public hearings… “I can’t even give you a precise number, because at every hearing they change.” He’s emphasizing that the discounted toll changes are new, in response to the outcry.

Calls out Darlington (from the Authority) and Lewis (of DOT), saying he’s personally offended by their actions.

5:35 p.m.
The article passes, with only four opposed.

5:36 p.m.
Next up is the 2014 appropriation, with an amendment adjusting for the $12.9 million grab from the pension that was thwarted yesterday. The revolving road and bridge fund will get $7 million instead of $10 million. There are other trims of various departments.

5:40 p.m.
Just a note to say how glad I am that they’re doing this at 5:40 p.m. this evening rather than 5:40 a.m., this morning.

5:44 p.m.
So, I guess it looks like the House leadership is just accepting that it lost on article 5.

5:49 p.m.
$900,000 of the made-up money is a “scoop” from the attorney general’s mortgage settlement. Apparently, they were allowed to take 10% of the money meant to help people harmed in the mortgage crisis and throw it in the general fund.

Rep. Chippendale proposed an amendment to shift 38 Studios money to developmentally disabled services. But they’ll take it up after Melo’s amendment passes (which it just did).

In the meantime, Rep. Morgan asked to change her vote from positive to negative on the Sakonnet River Bridge toll. I wonder why she did that.

6:00 p.m.
They’re on Chippendale’s amendment. Newberry is arguing that there’s no opportunity for the legislature to pull back the 38 Studios money once it’s appropriated, if the governor decides to go ahead and use it (as he’s said he would).

6:07 p.m.
Rep. Joseph Trillo says to Chippendale: “The truth is, your people have no voice. They have no lobbyists. When it’s in our best interests in this building, we can move mountains. We can knock them down.”

Mattiello stands to declare the whole General Assembly as a lobbyist for the developmentally disabled.

6:08 p.m.
Chippendale points out that the federal government will double the money spent as he suggests. Amendment fails.

6:11 p.m.
Rep. MacBeth moves an amendment to just remove the bond payment from the budget.


6:12 p.m.
MacBeth now moves an amendment to transfer the 38 Studios money to cities and towns.

Mattiello, with exasperation in his voice, stands and says, “Same argument,” meaning against.


6:15 p.m.
Rep. Antonio Giarrusso submits an amendment transferring 38 Studios money to group homes. He points out that the Republicans are supporting disadvantaged people while the Democrats are supporting “millionaires and billionaires.”

6:17 p.m.
Blazejewski moves to table the amendment, but Fox rules it out of order, anyway, saying group homes and developmentally disabled are the same thing.

6:21 p.m.
The 2014 appropriation passes 53-19, with Fox ringing the vote bell to bring representatives back in to be recorded with their vote. 38 Studios money makes the cut.

6:23 p.m.
Rep. Joseph Shekarchi asked to switch his vote, saying he pushed the wrong button, so the total is 54-18… still pretty much the standard split on the “controversial” bills.

6:28 p.m.
Melo is thanking everybody involved in putting the budget together. Rep. Newberry came to the press table to make sure everybody’s aware that the next vote, the approval of the total budget bill, is ultimately the only one that matters.

6:30 p.m.
They’re paused on the final vote because, as Fox says, “one of our members is having a health issue.” [Note later: I’m told it was Rep. William O’Brien with heat stroke.]

6:33 p.m.
Word is that Senate Finance will take up the budget immediately in room 211 as soon as it’s voted on.

6:38 p.m.
Melo moves budget as a whole.

6:38 p.m.
Newberry reminds everybody — “The public doesn’t really get this, but they’re starting to.” — “when you vote for this budget, you own everything in it” regardless of how you voted on the articles.

6:39 p.m.
Trillo: “This is my 13th budget,” and it’s probably the first that they’ve made major changes to on the floor.

6:40 p.m.
Trillo says the 38 Studios deal forced compromises, notably the toll delay. He asks what happens to the $3 million to install tolls. “That $3 million went to the cause of appropriating $2.5 million for 38 Studios.”

He says the same thing of the $12.9 million for the pension fund.

“If you believe you’re opposed to 38 Studios and yet you’re going to vote for this budget, you’re crazy.”

6:43 p.m.
Rep. Joseph McNamara objects on a point of order that Trillo is violating the rule not to attack the integrity of any member of the House. Trillo says he hasn’t called anybody out individually.

6:44 p.m.
He says he wants an investigation of the 38 Studios deal, and the only way that’s going to happen is if the money doesn’t get held over and the insurance companies push for the investigation.

“It’s time to stand up for what’s right.”

6:45 p.m.
Rep. Robert Phillips stands, in light of Trillo’s speech, and asks to be recorded in the affirmative for MacBeth’s last amendment.

6:46 p.m.
Rep. Raymond Hull says he’s upset that nobody has stepped forward to take responsibility for 38 Studios.

Now lots of people changing votes: Keable to negative on article 1; Tanzi to negative on article 19 and affirmative on bridge (now article 5); Casey to affirmative on MacBeth’s last amendment.

O’Grady stands to say that “ironically” the 38 Studios piece is one of the few things in the budget that he’s totally comfortable with in the budget.

6:49 p.m.
O’Grady continues by saying that recent budgets have trimmed from here and there and “gone after the knicky-knacky” revenues and fees on different groups.

6:54 p.m.
Rep. Schekarchi says the budget is the right thing to do.

6:56 p.m.
Giarrusso says “bring on the deep-pocketed Wall Street lawyers,” also says 38 Studio money is the only reason he’s voting against the budget, because denying it is the only way to get to the bottom of what happened.

6:57 p.m.
Rep. McLaughlin is saying that their responsibility to the taxpayers, who were never given a choice about this money.

6:59 p.m.
Ferri doesn’t think anybody deceived them. He says they took a risk because they thought it was going to pay off, but it fell short. He likens that to gamblers at Twin River.

7:01 p.m.
MacBeth says, when they voted for the loan guarantees that ultimately went to 38 Studios, they were “lied to.” (Doesn’t say by whom, though.)

7:03 p.m.
Valencia says it’s tough to vote against the budget, working so closely with Melo. He says they’ve done enough cutting and makes a pitch for his progressive tax increases.

7:07 p.m.
Valencia doesn’t think representatives were misled on 38 Studios. They were “gullible.”

7:08 p.m.
Rep. Robert Craven says he knows the lawyer investigating 38 Studios (Wistow), and he’s sure to find every dollar the state can recoup because he’ll get 16 2/3 percent of what he finds.

7:10 p.m.
Craven’s saying that, if they don’t pay, then they won’t get any damages or liability payments. And if they don’t pay, they’ll be sued because “those bonds were issued fraudulently.” (Another dramatic lawyer speech.) Says it’s now a simple math equation.

7:20 p.m.
Rep. Marvin Abney is talking. [‘m having some technical issues, but we’re mainly hearing general speeches on principle and self-identity.]

7:21 p.m.
Rep. Costa says she was going to vote for the budget, including 38 Studios payments, but “then the emails started pouring in.”

7:23 p.m.
Rep. Scott Guthrie says he’s voting “no” (guess the surplus-to-pension payment wasn’t a purchase of his vote).

Rep. Scott Guthrie

7:24 p.m.
Guthrie addresses that: “You might say that I had a little victory yesterday,” but he characterizes that the Finance Committee realizing that it shouldn’t break the law.

7:25 p.m.
Guthrie says he’s not breaking his anti-toll vow to Rep. Edwards because he expects the budget to pass, with the pause on tolls.

7:28 p.m.
Rep. Maria Cimini is pitching a tax increase on the rich for the budget next year; it’s why she’s voting against the budget, this year.

7:32 p.m.
Rep. Grace Diaz asks everybody vote for the “half-full” not “half-empty” glass of the budget.

Rep. Grace Diaz

7:33 p.m.
Rep. Palangio name-checks former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey (who made his money in finance), saying it’s illogical for him to say that the state can get away with not paying the bonds.

7:37 p.m.
Rep. Lisa Tomasso is up, saying votes are not a reflection of the amount of work that goes into the legislation.

(I’m actually grateful to the reps for talking so long, because it’s giving me time to empty my camcorder’s hard drive. Senate Finance is probably not going to be filmed by anybody other than me.)

7:47 p.m.
Rep. John Lombardi name-checks the bloody sock. “Madness to be starstruck…”

8:06 p.m.
On and on. I have a headache.

8:07 p.m.
Trillo: “Rep. Marcello, I respect you. You’re a smart guy. But you’re relatively new to this body, and you’re naive.” Rejects blaming of Carcieri for 38 Studio and points out that the former governor says not to pay.

Trillo: “How can I be liable for a note that says that I’m not liable?”

8:09 p.m.
Trillo to new legislators: “You vote for this budget, and you own it. You own 38 Studios.”

8:20 p.m.
Budget passes 52-20… just two votes to spare (explains a lot). House Spokesman says that three reps who would have voted for the budget were unable to make it.

8:34 p.m.
On to Senate Finance. Night and day in multiple ways… sauna to AC, small audience, etc.

Senate Finance

8:37 p.m.
DaPonte is reviewing the changes to the budget since the committee got a look at it during the caucus.

8:39 p.m.
I did take a look on the way in: although the agenda was posted outside the door, there was no sign-in sheet for testimony.

8:39 p.m.
Word in the House was that the Senate floor would take the budget up tomorrow. (Guess they aren’t expecting any surprises from the committee.)

8:41 p.m.
DaPonte says there will be greater challenges next year due to the changes in the budget, but says it’s a compromise bill.

8:43 p.m.
Sen. Walter Felag raises the article 5 issue… namely the $12.9 million surplus that will now go into the pension fund. He suggests that there are programs that are not going to have the funds that they expected.

Sen. Walter Felag

DaPonte is summarizing the issue, but hasn’t gone into detail about the budget changes after the rebellion.

8:46 p.m.
Felag also asks about the change of the toll freeze from April to February. He’s describing the timeline: The study commission has to report by December 1, a bill will be pre-filed, and then they’ll have just January to hammer out any legislative changes.

Sen. David Bates (the lone Republican) is going to abstain from the vote because he wants to take a look at the changes, first.

8:49 p.m.
Sen. Ed O’Neill (the lone Independent) says he’s going to have to vote against the budget.

8:53 p.m.
DiPalma moves. Passes, with Bates abstaining & O’Neill opposed.

8:55 p.m.
Budget goes to Senate floor at 4:00 tomorrow.

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