Legislative Leadership — First Concern? Casinos

You know how when the kids are upstairs playing and making a lot of noise, and then suddenly it gets real quiet . . . that’s the feeling people on both sides of the aisle are getting about House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, two of the four members of the obscure Disaster Emergency Funding Board which recently approved the borrowing of $300 million.

House and Senate Republicans are uncomfortable with this arrangement, as is every sentient Rhode Islander even remotely familiar with their track record.

According to the Providence Journal:

In emails to their colleagues in the General Assembly, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio laid out some of the known financial consequences so far.

“With the state casinos closed and many restaurants, hotels and stores closed or limited in their operations, action to bridge the short-term financing gap will be required in the near future,″ Ruggerio wrote.

Mattiello elaborated, with numbers: “The casino shut downs … present an immediate impact to revenues, likely over $25 million per month … [and] the three month delay in the income tax filing date means that revenues, potentially measured in the hundreds of millions, will not be received by the time the fiscal year closes on June 30,″ Mattiello wrote.

Casinos. (This piece by Katherine Gregg has an excellent history of the 1973 legislation that created the board.)

State Senator Sam Bell (D-Prov) wrote of his concerns last week in UpriseRI: “People are suffering. The General Assembly must take action.”

The COVID-19 crisis has hit our state hard. Infections are rising. Tens of thousands are suddenly out of work. We are bracing for much worse to come. I want to commend Health Department Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, who has been a beacon of sensible leadership during this crisis, for taking action to ensure public health.

On the other hand, thus far, the response from our state legislative leadership, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, has been stunning. It has been to do absolutely nothing. The General Assembly is not meeting remotely, and right now, no plans have been announced to take action any time soon.

His piece outlines the steps he deems urgent.

On Sunday, House and Senate Republicans sent a letter to every member of the General Assembly calling for a continuity of legislative operations. Also from UpriseRI — “House and Senate Republicans call for the General Assembly to re-open” — the letter states in part:

“Today, our People are governed by Executive Order and debt-financing through the four members of the Disaster Emergency Funding Board (DEFB). This form of government must only exist if time or circumstances do not permit otherwise,” say General Assembly Republicans. “Now is not the time to eliminate legislative participation. Rather, Rhode Island will benefit with the inclusion of more voices and ideas as we navigate these uncharted waters.”

The Republican letter outlines the steps the General Assembly must take.

On Thursday, the Disaster Emergency Funding Board approved the $300 million in borrowing with the support of the Governor saying “We have to keep the lights on to keep Rhode Islanders alive.”

Let’s hope slot machines are not deemed an essential service.

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