A Hummel Report Investigation
Legislative and community grants issued by the Rhode Island General Assembly came under intense public scrutiny this session, prompting the House and Senate to make some changes. But are they enough? This week, Jim Hummel finds there is another layer of money being distributed by the Assembly’s leadership, largely under the public radar.
The 2016 session of the General Assembly will be remembered, in part, as the year many Rhode Islanders got a tutorial on legislative and community grants - a program that distributes millions of taxpayer dollars annually to non-profit organizations at the whim of legislative leadership, in some cases with little oversight.
We’ve all witnessed the legislative grants, often a photo op for the local newspaper, complete with lawmaker, recipients and an oversized ceremonial check.
And the so-called community grants, which have gone to organizations like Crossroads, or St. Mary’s Home for Children or Rhode Island Meals on Wheels.
But The Hummel Report found another category of money being appropriated by the General Assembly: departmental grants: taxpayer money allocated to and distributed by various state agencies like the Department of Environmental Management, The Department of Administration or the University of Rhode Island.
Morgan: `` They give money to the departments and the departments give them out. ‘’
Representative Patricia Morgan has been a longtime critic of the grant program and says that despite the House Speaker’s assertion they are community grants, the departmental grants are really their own entity - because state agencies are being used as a conduit for the money.
Morgan: ``That gives the people up here in this building, in the State House, a degree of separation. What’s the criteria for them to give out this money? What value does it add to the taxpayers and how do you judge that value? What metrics, what performance metrics are you putting on the money? That’s missing in that money.’’
MacBeth: ``I want to have somebody vote for me because I’m doing the right thing here and I’m voting the right way, not because I can pass out money.’’
Karen MacBeth has opposed legislative grants since she was first elected to the Rhode Island House in 2008, submitting a bill during her first term to have them eliminated. She even sent then-Speaker Bill Murphy certified letters trying to personally get on his radar screen with her opposition to the grants.
Hummel: ``You know everybody’s talked about okay the legislative grants and the community grants. There’s really a third subsection, isn’t there?’’