Ken Block, Chairman of WatchdogRI.org
Did you ever wonder how many votes your state senator and representative missed this past year?
I never gave it much thought until the last day of the 2016 Rhode Island legislative session, when the last votes were being cast as the sun was rising after an all-night spasm of deal making and lawmaking. Punch drunk representatives staggered home after casting a mind-boggling 209 votes in less than 48 hours, while our senators cast 141 votes.
WatchdogRI and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity teamed up to analyze the voting records of every incumbent legislator for legislative years 2014, 2015, and 2016. The Center provided raw data in electronic form from their data provider LegiNation Inc., and WatchdogRI performed the data analytics.
After discarding resolutions and marriage solemnizations, we were left with 615 votes in the House and 532 votes in the Senate for 2016.
In the House, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:
- Thomas Palangio (D, Providence): 536
- John Carnevale (D, Providence): 356
- Arthur Corvese (D, North Providence): 263
- Jared Nunes (D, Coventry/West Warwick): 221
- Joseph Trillo (R, Warwick): 209
- John Lombardi (D, Providence): 202
- Robert Jacquard (D, Cranston): 157
- Edith Ajello (D, Providence): 142
- Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston): 126
- Dan Reilly (R, Portsmouth/Middletown): 105
For the Senate, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:
- Frank Lombardi (D, Cranston): 138
- Donna Nesselbush (D, Pawtucket/North Providence): 130
- Edward O’Neill (R, Lincoln/North
- Frank Lombardo (D, Johnston): 115
- Leonidas Raptakis (D, East Greenwich/West Greenwich/Coventry): 107
- Nicholas Kettle (R, Coventry/Foster/
Scituate/West Greenwich): 92
- James Doyle (D, Pawtucket): 91
- Elizabeth Crowley (D, Central Falls/
- Joshua Miller (D, Providence/Cranston): 77
- William Walaska (D, Warwick): 77
Representatives Robert Phillips (D, Cumberland/Woonsocket) and Raymond Johnston (D, Pawtucket) each missed only one vote, joining 23 other representatives who missed fewer than
Senator John Pagliarini (R, Bristol/Portsmouth/Tiverton) did not miss a single vote, joining 15 other senators who missed fewer than 10 votes.
Every representative who understandably decided to go home after midnight on June 18 missed 43 votes or 7% of all votes held for the year. A representative who had a family emergency the last two days of the session would have missed 34% of all votes held for the year.
We all know that the human mind works best well rested, yet 7% of all votes held in the House this year were held after 1:00 a.m. on the last day of the session. Those bills contained 234 pages of legalese. I wonder how many legislators read those pages while most of us were fast asleep?
The practice of pushing most important votes to the end of the legislative session can leave entire legislative districts with no representation. Would you vote for a legislator if you knew he or she would not vote on more than a third of the bills voted upon by the General Assembly in a year? The rules of operation of our General Assembly make it possible for any legislator to miss that many votes if any personal crisis comes up in the tiny 48-hour end-of-session window.
In the seven years that I spent advocating to eliminate the master lever, legislative leadership was fond of explaining away the 50 years it took to get the job done as part of the slow and deliberative legislative process. There is nothing slow or deliberative about the final 48-hour frenzy of last minute bills, amendments, and votes.
Nothing mandates that our legislature operate in such a circus-like manner. Simply passing 10 bills a week over the six-month session would eliminate the end-of-session blitz. Transparency would be increased and legislators would theoretically be better informed about the bills they were voting upon.
The legislature should consider a 25-bill weekly limit (not including resolutions and marriage solemnizations). As a deliberative body, no floor votes should occur after 9:30 p.m. — ever.
Rhode Island needs leaders who are dedicated to changing our political culture. Will we get the leadership we need, or will we be perpetually left with an annual legislative hangover?
Click here to see responses from lawmakers who claim there were extenuating personal circumstances that caused their missed votes.
The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has occasionally weighed in over the years on the energy and related regulatory issues facing Rhode Island, finding that “green” policies cost Rhode Islanders both their wealth and their jobs. Already suffering from one of the worst business climates and Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) ratings in the nation, Ocean State families and businesses cannot afford further increases in energy costs or losses in job opportunities.
Click here for the full RI report.
Yet, as the list of legislation at the end of this document shows, Rhode Island lawmakers are poised to make a deteriorated situation even worse.
Existing renewable portfolio energy standards (RPS), combined with an aggressive 2016 energy policy, will take even more taxpayer and ratepayer dollars out of the general economy in order to fund a special interest climate agenda and result in higher energy costs and a negative drag on the state’s economy. As this document shows, the harm done by these costs will all be in the name of a very low-impact, inefficient policy.
Based on this study’s findings, the Center strongly recommends that lawmakers reject all proposed new energy mandates in 2016 and, instead, repeal those that are currently written into law.
Because of its high dependence on electricity generation via natural gas production (98% of in-state generation), Rhode Island can boast a relatively low carbon footprint. However, to increase its renewable energy portfolio from its current level to its RPS-mandated target of 14.5% by 2019, for only a slight improvement, a massive influx of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars will be required, leading to higher electricity prices and a net loss of jobs.
Rhode Island, despite its ocean proximity, is rated as having a low capacity utilization factor for wind and solar. This means it could be very difficult — and costly — to reach its 14.5% target over the next three years.
Exacerbating this condition, “renewable” energy is considerably more expensive to produce than “fossil fuel” energy, meaning that an increase in the renewable portion of the state’s energy portfolio necessarily means an increase in electricity costs. Rhode Islanders are well aware of this phenomenon with the controversial Deepwater Wind project, which alone is expected to cost ratepayers upwards of $440 million dollars over its first 20 years.
Overall, the high cost of complying with existing state RPS mandates, combined with the low benefit of a minor reduction of our carbon footprint, should lead reasonable lawmakers to conclude that this so-called “investment” does not present a good value for Rhode Island.
Because of this poor cost-benefit “value proposition,” up to five times less than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–suggested standard, Rhode Island should reconsider its existing energy policy approach. Given its highly unfavorable return on investment, the money targeted to meet its RPS goals could be better spent on sorely needed broad-based tax cuts that would benefit every Rhode Islander and actually spur economic growth.
By the numbers, national research by Dr. Timothy Considine comparing projects to a base case without energy mandates finds that if existing RPS capacity targets are to be met, Rhode Island will experience:
- 4,401–6,068 lower employment levels, despite the few hundred energy jobs created
- $141–190 million per year in total costs required to raise renewable production to targets through 2040
- 49–73% as the range for the sustained increase in the cost of electricity from new solar and wind capacities
- 13–18% as the sustained increase in actual electricity rates expected to be passed on
- $670–893 million per year extracted from the economy in the form higher electricity rate payments by private sector businesses and families, with the “services” and “construction” industry sectors shouldering the largest burdens
- $134–205 per ton as the projected cost of carbon dioxide emission reductions for Rhode Island, well beyond the $40–60 cost standard that the EPA itself recommends
The high costs of achieving small carbon dioxide emission reductions using RPS in Rhode Island prove that it is an inefficient means to address global climate change and represents a poor investment for state taxpayers and ratepayers. As in many other states, the costs of carbon reduction in the Ocean State are significantly higher than EPA standards, while the small stimulus from RPS investment is not large enough to offset the negative effects of higher electricity prices.
Click here for the full RI report.
The Center’s 4th annual REPORT CARD demonstrates how RI’s political class continues to cater to special insiders, while depriving other Rhode Islanders of the opportunity for upward mobility, educational opportunity, and personal prosperity.
[button url=”http://rifreedom.org/RIReportCard/” target=”_self” size=”medium” style=”royalblue” ] 2015 Report Card [/button]
A P3 Model would bypass the troubled RI DOT and enable a private sector partner to deliver vital bridge and road repairs in a timelier, safer, and less costly manner. WOULD REMOVE ALL RISK OF COST OVER-RUNS FROM RHODE ISLANDERS!
[button url=”http://www.rifreedom.org/p3/” target=”_self” size=”small” style=”royalblue” ] Read the Policy Report [/button]
PAY-AS-YOU-GO a Superior Approach.
The plan under consideration would more than double the cost of the project and would enrich special-interests without any added benefit for Rhode Islanders. The Center’s new report shows how to make RhodeWorks “work” for Rhode Island.
[button url=”http://rifreedom.org/2015/07/making-rhodeworks-work-for-rhode-islanders/” target=”_self” size=”medium” style=”royalblue” ] Read the PayGo Report here [/button]
Introducing the RI-DIMES Fiscal Modeling Tool
Empowering parents with greater choices when it comes to determining the best educational path for their children is not only supported by strong moral arguments, but can also lead to a net positive fiscal impact on the bottom line of public school districts, very different from the math of charter schools.
The Center, in conjunction with a PhD economics professor, has developed a fiscal modeling tool, Rhode Island District Impact Model for Educational Scholarships (RI-DIMES), that can project the statewide and district-by-district fiscal impact of the educational scholarship program component of the 2015 bipartisan legislation submitted in both the Rhode Island House of Representatives and Senate. In March 2015, the Center published a report, The Way of the Future, describing the Bright Today Scholarship program outlined by the legislation.
The RI-DIMES projections demonstrate that conventional beliefs about the fiscal effects of voucher-type scholarship programs exaggerate
the risk and, if the policy is well designed, do not apply at all.
In the first year, with fewer than 3% of public school students expected to opt for scholarships, which are capped at $6,000, RI-DIMES projects, under the “core” policy providing scholarships to current public school students who migrate out of the system (including new students), that:
- Public school districts will see large aggregate net fiscal savings. With statewide savings expected to reach $17 million, 33 of 36 local districts will realize net savings in the first year. This figure could rise to $32 million per year and include all districts but one, under more-optimistic assumptions.
- Funding per public school student will actually rise in every school district, by an average statewide increase of $316.
- Total public and private spending on education will increase by $17.2 million, because the scholarships will provide an incentive for families to invest more of their private dollars into their children’s education.
When considering a “universal” policy as described in current legislation, in which current private school students are also granted partial scholarships, the net fiscal impact for public school districts is diminished, providing a wider range of possible first-year outcomes:
- Under the projected assumptions, statewide savings would drop to about $1.85 million, with 50% of the public school districts still realizing net savings.
- Under more-optimistic assumptions, all but
one school district would realize net savings, with the statewide total savings approaching
$18 million per year.
With our public school buildings in dire need of repair and maintenance, and with property taxes already high across the state, the proposed educational savings account legislation in just five years could free up $85 million to $150 million in revenue that could be applied to relieve these two pressing issues.