On June 8, 2018, the Rhode Island House of Representatives’ Finance Committee was given and immediately asked to vote on approval of our State’s budget for the upcoming year. Representatives were quoted in the Providence Journal complaining that they weren’t even given a copy of the bill in time to read it before being asked to vote on it.
“We went through $9.5 billion in about 40 minutes,” said Representative Anthony Giarrusso in the Providence Journal. The House Finance Committees is only of the only groups of legislators charged with applying the most intense scrutiny to the budget of all. Despite this, and in spite of Giarrusso and others’ complaints, a majority of the Finance Committee voted to approve the budget with barely any scrutiny.
This is not sound management. If there were any opportunity to directly influence our quality of life in Rhode Island over the coming year, this is it. Yet seemingly by inherent design, the opportunity for proper review by our both elected representatives and the general public is being limited. These are not conditions that are conducive to participation in a free and open government.
We are urging all members of Rhode Island’s Senate to vote no on approval of this budget, because we do not see that proper opportunity has been afforded the citizens of Rhode Island to review, let alone have discourse on how our State government will operate over the course of the next year.
Many aspects of this budget demonstrate the limited opportunity our Representatives had to develop an educated perspective on the facets of life in Rhode Island they govern. In our case, this budget eliminates a provision that would open more medical cannabis compassion centers in our State, which are needed to ensure patients have proper access to medicine. This budget also opens up our compassion centers to out of state patients. Without the additional capacity to serve this increase in patients, many of the State’s recently approved medical cannabis cultivators will not have the proper distribution channels to deliver their medicine to patients in need, and many of them will be forced to shut down, further jeopardizing patient access.
We are a Rhode Island small business. We do not touch cannabis. We collect food waste from local businesses and feed it to worms, creating an all-natural growing product called worm castings, which is basically worm manure. Among our customers are a number of Rhode Island’s medical cannabis cultivators. We have already lost a number of those customers as a direct result of their inability to find sufficient distribution channels for the medicine they grow. According to the RI Cannabis Association, from loss of cultivators alone, this budget will cost 400 Rhode Islanders their jobs, the State an estimated $1.5 million in payroll taxes, and commercial property owners as much as $4.9 million in lost rent. That does not even begin to include the loss to companies like us.
But that is not the point. We wish this were just about compassion centers. It is not. It is about spending—which determines everything. What else might be in this budget that is important to Rhode Islanders? Health care? Road infrastructure? Small business prosperity? 911 Surcharge funds? Most appalling to consider, why might someone seek to limit the amount of scrutiny the public is able to apply to a proposed budget before it is passed? Even more appalling, why have we seen only limited media attention to the unjustifiably limited amount of time the the House Finance Committee spent reviewing this budget?
We do not find it productive to contemplate such questions, but only to advocate for reform. This culture of politics is dangerous, and one we must call out when we see it. As Rhode Islanders, we may have become complacent with this type of procedure in State government. But we do not have to be. Nor should we be.
To our fellow Rhode Islanders, do not allow yourselves to be deprived of your fundamental right to participate in your own governance—call your Senators today and urge them to vote no on this budget. But most importantly of all, demand sound management practices from your government, and do not become complacent with dysfunctional government.
We urge all of our Senators and Representatives to practice sound management and vote no on approval of this budget for the sake of all Rhode Islanders, because 40 minutes is nowhere near enough time to review $9.5 billion.