GOP attacks Mattiello over General Assembly’s rising budget

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell is criticizing Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for not knowing how quickly the General Assembly’s own budget is growing.

Eyewitness News reported Friday that legislative leaders are seeking $44.3 million to fund their operations in the 2017-18 budget year, which starts July 1. That’s up from $37.7 million in 2015-16, which would be a two-year increase of $6.6 million or 17%. Most of the money – nearly $32 million last year – is spent on personnel.

Asked about the Assembly’s rising spending during an interview Friday on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, Mattiello said it was “news to me.” The speaker added, “I don’t micromanage the General Assembly.”

In a statement Monday, Bell contrasted the Assembly’s budget with the speaker’s proposal to eliminate the car tax, saying: “House Speaker Mattiello doesn’t even know how much the General Assembly is asking for in next year’s budget but thinks he can find the money to pay for a $220 million tax cut. The speaker seems a bit clueless and needs some help.”

Bell suggested Mattiello should cut the Assembly’s oft-criticized legislative grants program and the tax breaks handed out by the R.I. Commerce Corporation.

“The General Assembly’s budget is bloated,” Bell said. “New Hampshire’s state legislature, which has 424 members, only spends about $18 million on itself but still somehow has figured out a way to make their state the 7th-best business tax climate in the nation.”

“If Speaker Mattiello is looking for waste in the budget he should walk around the third floor of the State House for a while and then sit down and start cutting the General Assembly’s budget to pay for our car tax phaseout,” he added.

However, it’s not clear if lawmakers will approve as large an increase in their own budget as has been proposed. A final budget compromise is expected to come before the House Finance Committee next week, and legislators were facing a shortfall of $134 million even before the car tax phaseout was proposed.

On Newsmakers, Mattiello said he will ask someone to explain who proposed such a large budget for the Assembly next year, “and if there’s a reasonable explanation we’ll consider it.”

“If not, the General Assembly’s budget is not going to grow while everybody else does not, unless there’s a particularized need that I’m unaware of right now,” he said. “So that might be a wish list, but it may not be what comes out in the budget.”

The General Assembly’s budget is put together by the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, an entity controlled by the speaker and currently run by former state Rep. Frank Montanaro. “The JCLS office prepares and submits the annual budget and oversees the finances of the Legislature,” its website explains.

Of the $44.3 million requested to fund the legislative branch, $21.2 million would fund JCLS itself, budget documents show. Another $6.1 million would fund the Assembly, $5.4 million would fund the bill-writing Legislative Council, and $4 million wound fund the auditor general’s office.

The Assembly’s annual spending was below $30 million a year until the 2005-06 fiscal year, audited budget figures show.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook