Another Week, Another Rejected Public Records Request by the Raimondo Administration (On UHIP)

A few weeks ago, Ted Nesi reported on WPRI:

In July the Executive Office of Health and Human Services filed an application seeking an additional $109 million from the federal government to spend on [the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP)], and said if the request is approved, the project’s cost will total $364.1 million through 2020.

Figuring an application submitted to the federal government should obviously be a public record, I asked for it.  After all, this isn’t some inside memo meant purely to help the state government run efficiently.  This is a document — perhaps detailed and extensive — that Rhode Islanders’ government officials put together and sent to a different government entity (which also works for us, by the way).  If we can’t see that, transparency in Rhode Island is limited, indeed.

Then comes the letter from Gregory Hazian, senior legal counsel for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, under Democrat Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts and Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo:

Please be advised that I represent the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (“EOHHS”) concerning your Access to Public Records Request received on September 14, 2015. Specifically, you seek the following;

“May I have a copy of Elizabeth Robert’s proposal for additional federal funds for UHIP, additionally, if there are any documents related to the budget or progress on the project that would not be included in Robert’s proposal, I would like those as well.”

Your request is governed by Rhode Island General Laws (R. I. Gen. Laws) §38-2-1 et seq. entitled “Access to Public Records” (“Act”). Please be advised that the documents regarding a proposal to request additional federal funds for UHIP are exempt from disclosure pursuant to R. I. Gen. Laws §38-2-2(4)(i)(K) as preliminary drafts, notes, impressions, memoranda, working papers and work products until that proposal is finalized. That proposal is still in development as part of the budget development process. Thus, EOHHS’ request for additional funding for UHIP and documents related to the budget or progress on the project fall within this exemption as preliminary drafts, working papers and work product at this time. However as the proposal becomes finalized we will be sure to provide it to you along with any supporting materials. We are on a very tight timeline to complete this proposal and will communicate with you about it before the end of October.

Because — once again — the Raimondo Administration refuses to release a single document related to the latest UHIP request, or even “the budget or progress on the project that would not be included” in that request, we can only speculate as to what’s changing or why the governor wants to keep the application private.

Maybe EOHHS overreached with its first application and the feds asked the department to rein it in.  Perhaps even the federal government is becoming incredulous about the amount of money being spent on this project, and the application contains embarrassing admissions.  Or maybe the unexpected recent controversy over the size of this project (which has hovered under the public’s radar for years, despite the efforts of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity to expose it) led Raimondo and Roberts to conclude that they had to rework the language of their proposal so it wouldn’t be as obvious what they’re trying to do.

Whatever the case, it’s increasingly clear that Governor Raimondo does not feel Rhode Islanders have a right to keep tabs on their government.  We’re supposed to sit back and let the really smaht folks in the State House take our money and run our lives.

Under Raimondo’s understanding of transparency, the state government could be seeking federal funding to lock up people who publicly disagree with the governor, and we’d have no right to review its request until it was approved, the official propaganda packet was constructed, and the check for manacles was on its way.

In the simplistic cliché of the political divide, conservatives are supposed to distrust the government while having immutable faith in big businesses, while progressives have an unshakable belief in the magnanimity of government but irresoluble distrust of big businesses.  Governor Raimondo (like President Obama, at the federal level) is illustrating that the worst of both worlds can exist when government takes on the characteristics that progressives hate about business while retaining the powers and advantages that make conservatives suspicious of government.

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