June 16, 2007

House Budget Vote: While You Were Sleeping....

Marc Comtois

The ProJo covers most of the angles regarding last night's budget debate, but I couldn't find anything about the "amendment" (Article 42-RELATING TO PRIVATIZATION OF STATE SERVICES) that Rep. Charlene Lima proposed at midnight. In actuality, it was a full-fledged bill that Rep. Lima explained she had been trying to bring to the floor for 10-15 years. Last night, the House Democrat Leadership allowed her to attach it to the budget at the 11th hour. According to Lima, speaking on the House floor, this was a better method because this way her bill couldn't be vetoed on its own. The text of the original bill: H5315 states:

Prior to the closure, consolidation or privatization of any state facility, function or property, the director of administration or his or her designee, shall conduct a thorough cost comparison analysis and evaluate quality performance concerns before deciding to purchase services from private vendors rather than provide services directly.
(b) The director of administration shall, at least sixty (60) days prior to issuing requests for bids or proposals, complete the...process
Then it lays out the process to be followed. Given the recent stories about the State's recent troubles with privatization or private contracts, this sounds like a fair enough idea, but Rep. Bruce Long (R) rose up to oppose bringing the measure up in this fashion: at midnight with no opportunity for review.

Also, Rep. Robert Trillo (R) proposed (tongue firmly planted in cheek) an amendment applying the new law to both State and local municipal jobs, arguing that if it's so important and such a good idea that it needs to be passed right now--at midnight with no opportunity for closer scrutiny--then the House should pass along the same "benefits" to everybody. Trillo's move cause some debate regarding parliamentary machinations. Fun for all...

All of the debate gave Rep. Nick Gorham (R) the time to delve into the bill, where he found something he thought worthy of pointing out on the floor:

Before any final awards are granted, affected parties must have an opportunity to appeal the final decision. Affected parties include recipients, and their families of the affected public program, state employees and their representative organizations and bidders. Appeals shall not apply to questions concerning awards to one contractor in preference to another or the decision to keep the service in-house....Violation of any of the above contracting procedures shall be considered a grounds for appeal. Decisions on appeals shall be made by an independent arbitration process. (d) Parties shall have a minimum of three (3) weeks after the initial cost comparisons are available to initiate an appeal. No contracts shall be awarded or services converted to vendors if an appeal is pending. All detailed documentation supporting the cost and quality comparisons shall be made available to directly affected parties upon request, when the initial decision is announced. If the documentation is not available at that time, the initial appeal shall be extended by the number of days to equal the delay. (e) The appeals procedure must be independent and objective and provide for a decision within thirty (30) calendar days of receipt of the appeal.
As Rep. Gorham summarized, apparently the law would allow any state worker whose job was about to privatized the ability to appeal the decision in state courts. In short, this would further tie the Governor's hands if he tried to privatize state jobs, as he has proposed doing in the current fiscal crisis.

Rep. Long continued to return to the fact that the proposal may have merits, but he just thought that passing it at midnight with little scrutiny was a bad idea. Then House Speaker Gordon Fox got up and played the "emotion card," explaining that this was about the state workers and their families who are scared and that the House needs to do something "right now, tonight" to alleviate those fears. He also said that he had spoken to the Governor and that they could go back and fix some things after the fact. (Cough cough).

As expected, after about 45 minutes of debate, the amendment passed.

Another Rhode Block to government reform had been put in place.

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Happened to be watching when Charlene Lima (nice dye job and outfit Charl, made for TV makeover?) introduced this attempted strip of Separation of Powers at 11:30 at night and with no prior hearing on the matter. A full hearing was scheduled for NEXT Tuesday but leadership knew it couldn't survive that much scrutiny so they attached it to the budget. Nice eh? Talk about embarrrassing! And speaking of embarrassing every other sentence out of Charlene's mouth (sadly the TV makover doesn't improve Charlene's intellect or her ability to speak anything other than Cranston big hair english) was inaccurate. Did you know the $102,000 typist worked for Smart Staffing? I didn't realize that either. lol Guy Dufault really has to do a better job prepping these clowns to deliver his union missives.
Make no mistake this came directly from labor and because this is union handywork we know it's shoddy and half-assed in its' construction. There are elements within this garbage that will not stand legal challenge.
I applaud the Republicans not only for their reasonable proposals and spirited debate but for their delicious tweaking of the spineless hypocrites on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Several amendments to level fund the General Assembly. lol
Why do I think we haven't heard the last of those votes.

Posted by: Tim at June 16, 2007 8:46 AM

I followed the link and looked at the original House bill. Here's my advice to Rep. Lima -- Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

Rep. Lima and the House Leadership have given the Governor a tremendous opening here.

If I were in the Carcieri Adminstration, I would advise the Governor to embrace this proposal and issue the following statement:

"The House has provided us with an excellent first step toward a framework for large-scale privatization of state services. I am today instructing the Department of Administration to commence the sixty-day study period for ALL STATE SERVICES, so that we may begin to do what the Rep. Lima's bill suggests, and compare the cost of providing these services in-house with bloated union contracts, or go out to private industry which might produce considerable savings.

I thank Rep. Lima and the House Leadership for providing this road map toward efficient privatization."

Posted by: brassband at June 16, 2007 8:46 AM

Must say, I was a little confused by a couple of Charlene's statements.

On the one hand, talking about the DOT situation, she said, let's look at how things are done in other states. But at another point, she said, let's privatize all state services. Don't these statements contradict each other?

Or maybe it was a choice. In that case, definitely, let's see how things are done in other states. Let's look at which services are privatized and which are done by the much more expensive public sector union.

"Several amendments to level fund the General Assembly"

Love it.

The other thing would be to inversely tie their funding to Rhode Island's tax standing nationwide. So at fourth highest taxed in the country ... uh oh, it's not looking good, fellas.

Posted by: SusanD at June 16, 2007 12:24 PM

Gordon Fox .. what can I say that hasn't been said? We all know that the best legislation should get no review, no notice, and no hearing, because it feels good to do it right? What could possibly go wrong?

It goes without saying that Charlene is as dumb as a brick ... with apologies to bricks. She's an embarrassment. Might want to tell her hair that it's not the 1980s anymore. So, which union do you think wrote the bill for her? She probably doesn't even realize some of what the language of the amendment actually allows the governor to do. I think Governor Carcieri is going to have a lot of fun in the week ahead slamming this and so much more.

The only thing that her bill attempts to block is "privitization," not laying off workers. It's probably unconstitutional due to SOP anyway, but even if it's not, I think the governor should now propose laying off far more than 1000 employees, and just not replace them with anyone. That will mean that the remaining state workers will be forced to work (much, much harder).

Posted by: Will at June 16, 2007 12:38 PM

Am I reading it wrong or does this bill give the Governor an excuse to get into the underwear drawer of every tiny department in the state and study their efficiency under the guise of 'studying the merits of privatization'? I mean, if the Gov is going to see if it's feasible for a private firm to do a job, he'll have to know exactly how well the PUBLIC employees are doing it, right?

Posted by: Greg at June 16, 2007 1:59 PM

Greg --

You raise an excellent point (see my earlier post). If I were the Gov. I would treat this like an intercepted pass . . . hold on to it an run for the end zone!!

Posted by: brassband at June 16, 2007 2:02 PM

He he he! Once in a great while the sun shines in Rhode Island politics. The Governor couldn't have asked for a nicer gift. He should sign the budget and note this monumental gift from the General Assembly as the reason why.

Posted by: Greg at June 16, 2007 2:25 PM

Brass Greg and Will,

All three of you are spot on with your various comments. My fear is the governor doesn't have the political feel or the brainpower on his team to realize the potential of this and how to exploit it. My concern comes not from the govenor's lack of effort, the man works incredibly hard, but from watching him step in pile after pile after pile of bullcrap since January and much of that bullcrap of his own making. I have little confidence in this groups ability to manage or execute anything at this point. The Steve Kass influence on this governor has not been a good one. Carcieri used to be measured and careful yet with a flare for the dramatic in his approach, very much his personality and very engaging with the public. Now he's emotional and sloppy and that's very much the Kass influence on the governor's personality. Don Carcieri has long needed professional PR and political guru's to guide him. His inability to understand that part of the political landscape (perhaps because of his own ego) has cost him (and us) dearly. He surrounds himself with inferior talent and inferior results are what we get.

Posted by: Tim at June 16, 2007 2:45 PM

If Carcieri doesn't layoff 5000 this year to shake things up he should reseign. This still would leave us with more FTE than New Hampshire.
"The biggest crooks in the state" indeed.

Posted by: Mike at June 16, 2007 3:39 PM

I appreciate the concern that the governor and some of his staff are not political animals. Fortunately, there are plenty of people in the state GOP who are. :)

Although there are a few unnecessary hurdles regarding privatizing currently state-run services, basically, it gives the governor (though the Director of Administration) the power to study every little thing in state government, including but not limited to, the legislative and judicial branches of it, in order to determine how to make them more cost efficient. Remember the "Big Audit"? This could be the "Mother of All Audits"! The appeals provision only applies in the case of a government function to be privatized, not ones that are eliminated entirely. It might cause a judicial logjam in regard to any plans to privatize functions, but the trade off in granting the governor so much oversight power actually may be worth it.

Basically, without realizing it, it gives the governor more power to start giving more people the axe even sooner!

Posted by: Will at June 16, 2007 4:35 PM

Regarding appeals,do the private sector taxpayers ever get to appeal in a formalized way such as state employees do? I think the rights of private sector taxpayers are being violated. We can contact our representatives but we don't have a way to make our voices heard that is protected by law,that is acknowledged.

Posted by: free at June 17, 2007 12:20 AM


Are you making an "Equal Rights" argument? I sure would like to see that fought out in court.

Posted by: Greg at June 17, 2007 10:56 AM
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