Poli-ticks: The sacred cows are mooing!

By Arlene Violet, Esq.
Posted 2/2/22

Forgive me for titling a column that I used almost 14 years ago. Like then, but with more money available now, the State has a surplus ($618.4 million, a $1.3 billion CARES ACT infusion of cash, …

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Poli-ticks: The sacred cows are mooing!

Posted

Forgive me for titling a column that I used almost 14 years ago. Like then, but with more money available now, the State has a surplus ($618.4 million, a $1.3 billion CARES ACT infusion of cash, towns and cities with federal grants and the Attorney General announcing that the state would receive $114 million from opioid litigation settlements). So, what does Rhode Island do?

More at issue is what doesn’t it do. Well, unlike the governor of Massachusetts, Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee has proposed no tax cuts for anyone. No tax revenue will be returned to taxpayers who put the money in the coffers.

Instead, the usual sacred cows, i.e. the special interests who demand fealty from elected officials, will bathe in the cash.

Take just one example of what looks like something good to do with money but which might not turn out as rosy.  The governor wants $250 million spent on housing and homelessness. Certainly it is hard to argue with $5 million for shelter capacity and $21.5 million to remediate homelessness AS LONG AS that is was happens, as opposed to bolstering salaries of non-profit executive directors/staff.

The rest of the allocation will be spent on “increasing housing inventory.” This was exactly the situation 14 years ago when housing was a state priority and which turned out to be a bust. Far too many groups then got the money but didn’t have the expertise to build houses. In 2008 the Providence Journal had an article about the Neighborhood Coalition in South Providence that built six houses in that neighborhood which cost about $345,000 each. The homes were then listed on the market for $147,000. Only one family moved to purchase a house after many months, while the housing stock deteriorated.

The governor has proposed $50 million to provide a $17,500 down payment for first-time home owners. What makes the government think that banks have traditionally had it all wrong requiring folks to have sufficient assets (but for the one time the banking industry employed the same predicate and lost billions of dollars)?

In 2008, the state threw money at wanna-be homeowners who invested in tenements, thinking that the rentals would pay their mortgage. Not only did these owners lose the tenements but also the tenants were evicted too, causing a double whammy. The grand “experiment” of fixing blighted properties in urban areas (which is being proposed anew) left areas looking like Tombstone, without the prairie tumbleweed.

What sounds good isn’t always good. The state has NO PLAN on how to use this money effectively and on how to monitor its successful implementation. Actually, some politicians don’t care, since their largesse using other people’s money gets them re-elected by the very same special interests that get the handouts.

There are some competent people out there who truly serve those in need and who aren’t salivating about a salary hike. Folks who receive state funds, however, should be required to make salaries public and should be held accountable as they spend public money.

As a former McAuley House executive director and an attorney for the developmentally disabled for a large part of my legal life, I yearn for help for those who need housing. Instead, I just hear the mooing of the sacred cows.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

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