A Hummel Report Investigation
With many areas of state government looking for savings to help bridge a mammoth deficit in next year’s budget, the General Assembly is asking for an increase on the amount it spends on itself: currently more than $42 million a year. This week Jim Hummel takes a closer look at the numbers, talks with House Speaker Mattiello about what taxpayers are getting for their money - and travels north to see how much New Hampshire spends on its own legislature.
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Heading into the homestretch of this year’s session, the General Assembly has some particularly tough budget decisions to make after tax revenues came in under expectation.
While some other areas of state government are holding the line, Rhode Island’s part-time legislature is seeking $44.5 million to spend on itself next year, up 3 percent from what was budgeted this year and more than 20 percent from what was budgeted just four years ago, although some unspent money has been carried over from year-to- year.
Mattiello: ``And the trend is that it’s becoming more and more full-time as time goes on.’’
In a wide-ranging interview this week, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello defended the Assembly’s burgeoning budget.
Mattiello: ``We’re very, very connected with our constituents and we have to provide them services and I believe that the public’s expectation of government services, especially from their legislation has increased considerably in the past few years.’’
Hummel: ``$42 million, $43 million sounds like an awful lot to be running a part-time General Assembly.’’
Mattiello: ``Yes, but it’s a very complicated operation, we have a television station within the General Assembly, we have the auditor general, two fiscal staffs, one for the House and one for the Senate. Our IT people are top -notch. It takes a lot to put on the operations that we put on, on behalf of our citizens and we need the resources to do that appropriately.’’
So what do you get for $44 million?
The legislators themselves account for just shy of $4 million in salary and benefits.
And the Aditor General’s office accounts also account for just under $4 million.
Capitol TV, which now televises many hearings in addition to House and Senate sessions, has a budget of more than $1.6 million
And the Legislative Council - the research and legal arm of the Assembly accounts for about $5.1 million.
It is the cost of those who work in these divisions and the rest of the Assembly’s 278 employees that accounts for $17.5 million in salary and benefits alone. The workforce includes 219 full-time employees and 59 part-timers.
So how does Rhode Island compare?
We went last week to Concord to take a closer look at New Hampshire’s General Court, as it’s called. While not an apples-to-apples comparison, the states are similar in population and New Hampshire has two-thirds of Rhode Island’s overall budget: $6 billion a year in New Hampshire to $9 billion annually in Rhode Island.
But spending on the legislature differs greatly: At $18 million a year, the New Hampshire General Court’s entire annual budget is about 40 percent of what Rhode Island’s General Assembly spends on itself.