NBC 10 I-Team: Budget renames 911 fee, but doesn't restrict money
Rhode Island leaders promised to fix the way 911 fees are used following an NBC 10 I-Team investigation. But the 2019 budget bill, released around 11 p.m. Friday, appears to rename the fee while money continues to flow to the general fund.
Budget documents show the current "E-911 charge" is being renamed as "emergency services and first response surcharge," a move that critics of the state's practice of diverting 911 fees aren't happy about.
"Obviously, I'm more than disappointed," said state Rep. Bob Lancia, R-Cranston, who's introduced bills to restrict 911 fees three times. "The Governor said she was going to do something about this. So did the Speaker. They said they were going to take action. And this is the action? To rename it, and still put it in the General Fund? How disingenuous."
Speaker Nick Mattiello, D-Cranston, told NBC 10 in an emailed statement that an additional $1 million was budgeted for the state's E-911 center, inside Rhode Island State Police Headquarters in Scituate. That money will be primarily used to hire more staff.
In a subsequent email, Director of Communications Larry Berman told NBC 10, "The name was changed to reflect what it supports – 911 and other first responder/public safety expenses."
"The general revenue budget for the department of public safety exceeds $100 million with $7 million of that going directly for E-911 operations," Berman wrote.
Lancia said constituents are angry about the state's 911 diversion and "won’t be placated."
"This is the one [issue] that every Rhode Islander is fired up about," Lancia said. "People are on fire for this. They are unhappy."
Lacia said if the 911 language in the budget bill remains as is, he’ll introduce a floor amendment with the goal of forcing lawmakers to vote yes or no on the issue of 911 fee diversion.
"The Governor appreciates that the legislature included funding to hire additional staff and technological upgrades at E-911. Under her direction, public safety has accelerated hiring to fill vacancies. The House Finance Committee proposed this amendment, which the Governor supports to provide Rhode Islanders with added transparency for how fees are allocated. The Governor has said she'd support efforts to make changes to E-911 funding, including the reestablishment of a dedicated fund," said Mike Raia, a spokesman for Gov. Gina Raimondo.
The I-Team will continue to track the issue as the budget process moves forward.