Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rep. Blake Filippi Faces Questions from the Audience

State Representative Blake Filippi sat before Charlestown residents in a town-hall-style community meeting at the Quonochontaug Grange last Wednesday night.

Charlestown residents, including Town Council President Tom Gentz, gathered at the grange to hear Rep. Filippi’s report and opinions on state legislation and plans. From behind a folding table in the fluorescent-lit grange hall, Representative Filippi reported on his topics of legislative interest, and residents spoke up with theirs.

Several Charlestown Democratic Town Committee members attended as well. Here is the breakdown of two of the topics discussed:

1. Copar Quarries and pollution legislation

A recently passed House bill proposes to regulate “the blasting, creation, and storage of stone dust at quarries.” The bill addresses Copar neighbors’ years of complaints about silica-dust pollution coming from the now-closed Copar quarry which sits on the border of Charlestown and Bradford. The bill does a few things: it defines the type of dust pollution that comes from quarry-blasting and attempts to control its dispersion so that it does not pollute the air nearby. Developed and sponsored by Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, the bill passed the House and moved on to the Senate, and eventually passed.

Referring to this bill, a member of the audience challenged Rep. Filippi’s taking credit for it. The resident said, 

“You said you spearheaded the bill that was passed, … but Senator Algiere’s office says different, and so does Kennedy’s office. Your bill never made it out of committee.”

Representative Filippi denied her allegation, replying, “I was the co-sponsor of that bill,” and, “I worked on it day and night. Busloads came to testify. Ask your neighbors.”

“I am a neighbor,” she replied. “I never got wind of busloads of people. The bill never got out of committee.”

Checking the record shows:   

1. Rep. Filippi did not lead the legislative offensive against Copar. He did, however, sign on as a co-sponsor to other, successful bills. A co-sponsor is merely someone who signs on to a bill.

2. There is more than one bill addressing quarry-dust pollution at excavation sites like Copar.  Last March, local legislators proposed five bills imposing new regulations around pollutants from excavation operations in Rhode Island. One of these pieces of legislation, House Bill 5680, which passed at the State House, is the one that was brought up at Wednesday’s meeting. It is an amendment to state zoning that would set a new limit on the height of stone-dust piles at 10 feet above the site’s lowest elevation. It would apply to quarries located within 1,500 feet of any other structure (such as a house). That bill was introduced by State Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy and co-sponsored by five additional state reps, including Rep. Filippi.

It is the bill’s sponsor, also known as “prime sponsor,” who can take credit for it. In the case of the recently passed House bill, that person is Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy. The rest of those involved, the “co-sponsors,” supported the bill the way co-sponsors routinely do: by agreeing with them and signing on to them. Rarely do co-sponsors do more than that, because the bill is not considered theirs. They just agree with it and support it in name.

Although he was just a co-sponsor, Rep. Filippi took the opportunity to trumpet its accomplishment of passing the House. He claimed to work hard to get the bill passed, but constituents, like the one who spoke up at last week’s town meeting, have been double-checking these claims. The constituent who spoke up at the meeting corrected Rep. Filippi by reminding him that he was “just a tag-along” to this bill. Rep. Filippi claimed to do “a lot” of work on the bill, and if this is true he could claim some credit for it, but it would be untrue for him to say he was instrumental in winning legislation that protects people against polluting lawbreakers like Copar Quarries, because none of his bills has yet to make it out of committee.

Copar collapsed on itself as a result of a karmic soup of fraud convictions; federal, state and local citations for violations of environmental, zoning and safety laws; debt; litigation; infighting among its crooked leaders; and a conviction of its CEO.      

Rep. Filippi did actually introduce two bills of his own addressing the Copar quarries. But both were “held for further study,” which means shelved.

If Rep. Filippi wanted to boast about successful bills that he sponsored, he will have to wait until that actually happens. According to State House records , Rep. Filippi sponsored 29 bills, most of which were “held for further study,” which is the same thing as “never made it out of committee,” which means they landed, and remain, in legislative limbo. Such bills die at the end of the legislative session. [1]

2. Governor Raimondo’s “RhodeWorks” proposal
to fix crumbling bridges and roads by imposing new tolls on tractor-trailer trucks that use Rhode Island roads: This bill would require a $600 million revenue bond, which would be paid for by an expected $60 million a year in new-toll revenue. Rhode Island-based trucking companies would have the blow softened by $13.5 million in tax credits, rebates and direct grants.

Rep. Filippi stated his opposition to the cost and reach of the project, saying “If we’re going to go the route of debt, it should be a general obligation bond. … We should look at using our own funds instead of state financing.”

But like most states, Rhode Island hasn’t got its “own funds.” Any project of this magnitude requires financing, and repairs are dangerously overdue. Rhode Island ranks 50th (as in last) in the country for the quality of its bridges and roads. Repeat: our little state has the worst bridges and roads in the country. No one of any political affiliation disagrees that we have to address our transportation infrastructure now. Republicans and Rep. Filippi believe that fixing our dangerously decrepit roads should not incur debt. How then would we pay for it? The Republican line is to somehow find money in the budget and hand the deal to a private contractor. Where would that money come from? Severe cuts, of course, to education and social services like elementary schools and programs that help middle- and low-income people.

The Governor’s idea to tie toll revenues to the repair of bridges is sound public policy
Truck tolls are already in place in neighboring states, and truckers would be hard-pressed to attempt an end-run around a set of Rhode Island tolls; the extra fuel and time would negate any perceived gains. States from Maine to Florida toll trucks that pass through their states and benefit from these states’ infrastructures. Rhode Island should do the same.

The proposal states clearly that no tolls will be imposed on passenger vehicles.

Rep. Filippi, who caucuses with Republicans and holds press conferences with Republicans, also failed to mention that Republican governors played a big part in creating the infrastructure mess we find ourselves in today. Rhode Island has had only one Democratic governor in the past 36 years. For 28 Republican budgets, Republican governors could have provided the ongoing maintenance, repair and upgrade funds in their budgets to prevent the infrastructure problems we have today. Had they done the pay-as-you-go budgets that they, and Rep. Filippi, now propose as the solution, there would be no need for the current Democrat governor’s toll solution.

Once the critical, overdue upgrades are made, and our roads are safe, we hope Rep. Filippi and the Republicans will finally support budgets with proper levels of ongoing maintenance that will prevent future crises.
Regardless of whether we voted for our current representative, it is up to us to be vigilant, informed citizens, and to keep our elected officials honest. The Charlestown Democratic Town Committee participates in this process by informing the electorate and fact-checking the claims of our elected representatives. 

Check back here for news of upcoming town hall meetings and other news of interest to voters.

Westerly Sun, “Legislative remedy sought for quarry issues,” Published: March 27, 2015 Last Modified: April 2, 2015

[1] Rep. Filippi’s successful resolutions amounted to: two condolence resolutions, two allowing non-clergy to perform weddings, and two town bills, neither of which were for Charlestown

For more information about the RhodeWorks bill, see:] template=printart