Governor Gina Raimondo said the General Assembly's process for providing almost $14 million in grants needs to be changed to increase transparency and accountability.
In an interview Tuesday, Raimondo said she has asked Michael DiBiase, director of the state Department of Administration, "to examine the process by which our cabinet agencies award these service grants and make recommendations to me about specific next steps. It's time for action. It's really a time for us to say, what actions can we take to build and restore confidence in government, and I look forward to working with the legislature to make some things happen."
More than $11 million is being distributed this year through community service grants. A smaller grant program, commonly known as legislative grants, is giving out about $2 million in grants to smaller community-based groups.
Since legislative leaders oversee the legislative grants requested by lawmakers, critics have cited the grants as a way of encouraging conformity in the General Assembly. When former GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Block complained about the process last month, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello called the program non-partisan and said many Republican lawmakers take part.
While Raimondo said she backs the goal of de-politicizing two separate grant programs, she is not yet outlining specific steps for achieving that goal.
"Many of these legislative grants, the money is going to good organizations -- homeless organizations, social service organizations that are taking care of the vulnerable -- so we don't want to do anything that hurts that good work," she said. "However, I'd like to see the legislature make some changes to make the process more transparent, more accountable, more competitive, so I'd like to work with them on that."
Raimondo's comments come one week after House Finance Chairman Ray Gallison resigned in the face of an ongoing federal probe. The cause for the probe has not been specified, although a nonprofit that employed Gallison, Alternative Educational Programming, received a total of more than $2 million in legislative community service grants over a period of more than dozen years.
Speaker Mattiello has called for state Auditor General Dennis Hoyle to perform an audit of the state funds received by AEP.
In related news, Mattiello is expected to unveil Tuesday afternoon his proposal for strengthening the state Ethics Commission. A 2009 state Supreme Court decision undermined the commission's ability to police core legislative functions, and the legislature has made only sporadic efforts to restore ethics oversight since then.
Raimondo said backs restoring full ethics oversight of lawmakers, and creating a line-item veto, as other steps to bolster public confidence in government.