Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello did the right thing in killing a measure that had been quietly slipped into the budget after midnight last Wednesday.
The measure would have benefited a big campaign contributor by overturning a decision made by state regulators after lengthy consideration. In announcing its removal Tuesday, Mr. Mattiello said he did “not want any distraction to deter from our focus on an excellent budget.”
It was stealthily inserted into the budget last week, critics say, as a favor to Wind Energy Development, which is completing a 10-turbine wind farm in Coventry, repairing the wind turbine at Portsmouth High School and planning to install a large turbine in North Smithfield, as Journal Staff Writers Alex Kuffner and Katherine Gregg reported on June 13 (“Favor could cost electric rate payers”).
The company is headed by Mark DePasquale, who had given more than $23,000 in campaign contributions over the last five years to government leaders, including Mr. Mattiello, House Majority Leader John DeSimone and Gov. Gina Raimondo. June DePasquale, of the same home address, contributed another $12,000. Over the last two years alone, campaign contributions by DePasquale employees exceeded $64,000, according to records.
The special-interest measure – championed by another recipient, Rep. John Carnevale, D-Providence, vice chair of the House Finance Committee – might have saved Wind Energy Development a great deal of money, while shifting costs onto National Grid, which means onto the backs of ratepayers.
The matter was debated at length before the Public Utilities Commission, with input from experts in the field, before the commission ruled against Mr. DePasquale’s company. “They got a decision they didn’t like,” said state Rep. Michael Marcello, D-Scituate, a critic of the measure. So “they come running to the legislature … We are not experts in tariffs or electric generation.”
In other words, until The Providence Journal’s coverage alerted the public, House leaders seemed willing to substitute a political process for the regulatory one, giving the company a chance to get around an approach that was established to serve the public interest.
Given the odor it exudes, this measure could not pass as freestanding legislation. It thus got slipped into the budget, where the governor could strike it down only by vetoing the entire budget, something she would be very reticent to do. Without a line-item veto, something 44 other states benefit from, Rhode Island’s governor is powerless to single out such special-interest measures.
Speaker Mattiello did the right thing in spiking this ill-considered special favor. The citizens paying the electric bills deserve to have someone in their corner at the State House, even if they fail to make campaign contributions.
But he should also let Rhode Islanders pass judgment this fall on a line-item veto – which Governor Raimondo and three-quarters of this state’s voters support. Do those voters’ wishes count for anything with legislative leaders?