Former gubernatorial candidate Ken Block is calling on Governor Gina Raimondo to ask the state Supreme Court for an opinion on the constitutionality of legislative grants.
"The recipients of these grants are selected by legislative leadership, and the entire program runs without any input from the executive branch of government," Block said Tuesday, in a statement released by his WatchdogRI organization. "The grant program likely violates RI's constitution as it pertains to separation of powers."
Block and other critics have contended for years that the legislative grant program is heavily politicized and requires rank-and-file lawmakers to curry favor with House and Senate leaders.
In a statement, Raimondo spokeswoman Marie Aberger was non-committal on whether the governor would back Block's request for a state Supreme Court opinion.
"The governor always wants people engaging and sharing ideas," Aberger said. "We take accountability seriously for any program spending taxpayer dollars, and our team is going to look more into the concerns raised."
More than $1 million in House and Senate grants have been awarded in the latest round of grants, typically in allotments ranging from $1,000 to a few thousand dollars for youth sports leagues, soup kitchens, and other community-based nonprofits across the state.
In a statement, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello defended the grant program.
“The grants are administered in a non-partisan manner and most Republicans have participated in the program in order to assist their communities," Mattiello said. "The only ones complaining are partisan politicians not in office. I strongly believe that worthy community organizations appreciate the support that is provided to them through the grant program.”
According to Block, former House minority leader Nicholas Gorham made a legal challenge to the legislative grant program and was denied standing by the state Supreme Court. "Based on the Supreme Court's ruling, it is unclear that anyone would have standing to challenge the grant program legally," Block said.
Block lost the GOP Republican primary to Cranston Mayor Allan Fung in 2014. Block previously established the Rhode Island Moderate Party and ran for governor as a Moderate in 2010. He has since disavowed the Moderate Party while remaining active in politics, helping lead the effort to eliminate the master lever in 2014.
With Raimondo working to boost Rhode Island's economy, Block argues that challenging legislative grants is part and parcel of that process.
"The time for wink and nod politics must end in Rhode Island if we are to become a competitive state for business and jobs," he said. "The reluctance of our General Assembly to do the right thing and eliminate this program necessitates that others step in and force reform on the General Assembly."
This post has been updated.