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Key Republicans call for greater budget transparency and a line-item veto in wake of Dr Pedro revelation



Businessman and candidate for Governor Ken Block and Rhode Island Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki held a press conference in the State House Library on Wednesday to call for greater transparency in the wake of the revelations that Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) has appropriated nearly $2M for a politically connected chiropractor over the years and had budgeted $1M more for 2020. After the giveaway was exposed Mattiello removed the money from the budget.

“How Rhode makes it’s rigged, $10B budget and the recently exposed scandals with that process are extremely important stories that come back year after year,” said Block. Talking about the chiropractor in question, Dr Victor Pedro, Block continued, “A huge backlash ensued once this crony deal was exposed to the public.”

Block’s partial solution to this problem is the line-item veto, a tool the Block says “is designed to eliminate the Dr Pedros from our budget.

“Speaker Mattiello,” continued Block, “has made clear that he is a sworn enemy to the line-item veto.” The reason for the Speaker’s opposition is obvious, says Block. If passed, the line-item veto will lessen the Speaker’s “ability to rig the budget and slip taxpayer funds unaccountably to his cronies…”

Block also noted that the Budget process needs more transparency. The Governor transmit a detailed spending plan to the House when she submits the Budget. “Those plans, which include details all the way down to things like Dr Pedro, are not currently made public,” said Block. “They should be.”

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Also, members of the House, as well as the public, need more time to read through and analyze the Budget before it is passed. “House finance received the completed Budget after 11pm last week, and voted to approve the Budget less than 30 minutes afterwards,” said Block. “There was no way for anyone on that committee to even read the changes made to that final document, let alone evaluate them.”

Block suggested that the final Budget should be made available to the public for at least two weeks before the General Assembly votes on it.

Lastly, Block called on every legislator to “prioritize changing how this rigged system works over any small crumbs they may be given by legislative leadership” to go along with the current system. “We need heroes in the legislature,” said Block, “who will “open up the Budget process and provide better stewardship of taxpayer funds.”

“The status quo,” said Sue Cienki, “is killing our State. There are systemic issues in our budget process that hamstring anyone that has an interest in acting in a responsible way with taxpayer money.”

Cienki reiterated Block’s point about the short amount of time legislators have to read and understand the budget before voting on it, saying that legislators should have longer than an episode of “The Office” to do so. She called the money going to Dr Victor Pedro an act of cronyism and asked what other surprises the budget might hold. She also called for a more open and transparent process.

In a press release, Rhode Island Republican National Committeeman Steven Frias, who twice challenged Speaker Mattiello for his representative seat and lost, also called for a line-item veto.

In an oped published in Cranston Herald Online, Frias writes, “If either Governor Carcieri or Governor Raimondo had a line-item veto, perhaps Pedro would never have received $1.88M from the taxpayers over the years. It is certainly difficult to imagine the General Assembly wanting to vote to override a line-item veto that ended Pedro’s funding.”

After the press conference at the State House, Block and Cienki took questions.

Ian Donnis of the The Public’s Radio asked Block what was holding lawmakers back from reforming the process.

I asked if House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly) should decline to agree to an end of session suspension of the rules to try and force some of the Budget process changes Block and Cienki are advocating for.

“I would like Leader Filippi not suspend the rules or no other reason than to watch how the House handles end of session,” said Block. “By refusing to suspend the rules, we are going to slow everything down, and that’s a good thing.”

Beyond that, Block wants legislators to refuse to do anything that leadership wants them to do unless leadership is committed to making the kinds of fundamental changes Block is demanding.

I asked if the issues are systemic, or centered on the person of Nicholas Mattiello.

Why is the effort being made now to reform the system?

The Providence Journal‘s Patrick Anderson asked if Republicans have missed a moment this year when the Reform Caucus, a group of 19 dissident Democrats, were demanding changes to the House rules and the process.

Cienki confirmed that the line-item veto and Budget transparency would be the new mantra of the Rhode Island Republican Party.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.