Who is paying for the Tiverton Community Bonfire?
Tiverton Town Council Member John Edwards V, son of State Rep. John Edwards IV, planned a community bonfire event on Grinnell’s Beach to burn the Christmas trees collected by the town. Sounds like a nice community event. The problem with the gesture is that some of the Council Members knew nothing about the event until they were called to a special meeting to decide if the expected gusty winds were going to warrant a postponement of the bonfire. A fire engine, firefighters and a special police detail for crowd control would have been required as well…at what cost Mr. Edwards was asked by a council member? A General Assembly Legislative Grant would take care of the cost, replied Mr. Edwards. Legislative Grant money is allocated to State Legislators, so does that mean that Representative John Edwards IV is allocating the grant money to his son to pay for the bonfire expenses? Can State Legislators just hand over taxpayer money to individual local Town Council Members?
What are Legislative Grants?
Community Service Grants and Legislative Grants, ($13.9 million in 2016) are taxpayer dollars awarded in the name of the lawmaker who sponsors them, very often with approval of the House Speaker and Senate President.
Community Service Grants often go to non-profit organizations that apply, such as city or town baseball, dance, art nights and parades. The May 2016 Hummel Report uncovered another category of money appropriated by the General Assembly called Departmental Grants. These, as described in the report, as taxpayer dollars allocated to, and distributed by, various state agencies like the Department of Environmental Management, The Department of Administration or the University of Rhode Island.
Rep. Patricia Morgan has been critical of the grant program for many years and she states that “state agencies are being used as a conduit for the money. That gives the legislators in the State House a degree of separation, what’s the criteria for them to give out this money? What value does it add to the taxpayers and how do you judge that value? What metrics, what performance metrics are you putting on the money?
All very good questions for State Legislators with sole discretion to allocate taxpayer dollars.
Link to FY2017 Legislative Grants: