Scandals at House demand strong line-item veto

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The former chairman and vice chairman of the House Finance Committee have both recently been arraigned on multiple felony charges. The House Finance Committee has primary responsibility for Rhode Island’s $9 billion budget.

The above facts highlight how essential it is that Rhode Island’s governor be given the power of a line-item veto – a power that has been given to the governors of 44 other states. We simply cannot trust our scandal plagued House of Representatives with unchecked power.

A hugely important debate is happening right now regarding the line-item veto over what shape the veto should take and how powerful or restricted the veto should be. This debate is critical, because ultimately Rhode Island’s constitution will be amended in order to create the line-item veto. We have to get this right.

While the line-item veto enjoys broad support among the public (polls have shown up to 74 percent of the population approves of bringing a line-item veto to Rhode Island), our legislature is generally less than thrilled with the prospect giving our governor the power to strike out line items from our budget.

The way things stand now, when the General Assembly places a line item in our budget it becomes a done deal – there is no effective way for anyone (including the governor) to do anything about a bad spending item or any other type of non-spending issue that gets snuck into the budget bill.

Last minute budget bill shenanigans have included a surprise $20 million bond for ProvPort added at the very end of the session in 2016. Most legislators were completely taken by surprise by this addition, and the specifics of this bond issue remain murky today.

Another disastrous last minute ‘budget’ change was the merging of Rhode Island’s education boards that led to dysfunction so extreme that the change was undone several years later. The merger was not debated, the public had no ability to testify, it was presented as a fait accompli by the legislature as a piece of the budget and no one could do anything about it.

Rhode Island taxpayers deserve a very strong governor’s line-item veto. Our legislature should have no ability to place anything into the budget bill that cannot be individually subject to a veto by our governor.

Why would Rhode Island voters want to allow our legislature to make any laws, merge any boards or gin up any bonds without the ability for our governor to veto any of those things if deemed necessary?

Decades of scandal and last minute budget shenanigans by our legislature demand that the strongest possible check and balance be created in order to try to limit the damage that our legislature can inflict on its own.

The twin felony indictments of the leaders of the House Finance Committee seriously violated the public trust. How can the public possibly be made confident that neither of these accused lawmakers (one of financial theft from those most unable to defend themselves and one of perjury) were engaged in selling budget appropriations?

We currently have a despotic legislative committee with unlimited power able to pass virtually anything – unchecked – under the guise of the budget. The only checks and balances are a cowed House chamber, the Senate and the governor. The Senate and governor can only veto the entire budget, which is seldom done for good reason. This must end now!

I look forward to the day when we have a budget process that protects us against last minute and unchangeable surprises.

Rhode Islanders deserve a budget process that is transparent and accountable. We deserve a budget process with the greatest amount of check and balance available.

The time is ripe for Rhode Island to adopt the strongest possible version of the line-item veto.

Sadly, we cannot trust our House of Representatives to simply do the right thing. We need you to lend your voice to the effort to bring a governor’s line item veto to Rhode Island.

Please spend a minute to send emails to our elected leaders pressing them for a line item veto here: www.lineitemveto.org.

Ken Block is a former gubernatorial candidate, local small business owner and Chairman of WatchdogRI.

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