$2 Million Cost of CRMC Reform Effort Disputed


PROVIDENCE — How much would it cost to ditch the unpaid, part-time, politically appointed executive panel in charge of the Coastal Resources Management Council?

About $2 million, from a certain point of view.

Late last month budget officials released their long-awaited analysis that estimated the cost of enacting the CRMC reform bills (H8148/S2928A) under consideration in the General Assembly. The bills strip away the executive decision-making power held by a 10-member council and gives that power to CRMC’s executive director, similar to how nearly all the other regulatory agencies in the state operate.

The legislation would also require the agency to hire its own legal counsel for staff, instead of relying on a private firm to provide legal services for both the executive panel and the staff below it.

But environmental groups and advocates are questioning the reasoning — and the late-in-the-session timing — of the fiscal analysis from the State Budget Office. Under its analysis, CRMC reform would cost anywhere from $1 million to $3 million, but proponents of reform say the office erred in its analysis when it assumed the council members would be transitioned to full-time paid roles.

“It may accurately reflect the needs of the agency, and it may be reflective that the agency has been underfunded for many years,” said Rep. Terri Cortvriend, D-Portsmouth, the House sponsor of the CRMC bill. “But that is absolutely not what is called for in this bill.”

Cortvriend compared the job of the council to that of a school committee. “The staff does the work and brings the decisions to the committee or council for their approval and their vetting,” she said. “But they are not the ones doing the actual work.”

According to the Office of Management & Budget report, CRMC staff estimated a need for 15 additional full-time positions including four staff attorneys, a hearing officer, three policy analysts, two environmental scientists for enforcement, and fiscal and administrative staff. OMB estimated the cost for the new hires to be between $1.5 million and $2 million, depending on turnover.

“Consulted on this bill, CRMC emphasized that the current resources do not provide them to meet operational need as currently mandated,” wrote OMB in the fiscal note. “The department conversion may provide an opportunity to bolster existing resources to better perform duties as outlined in both existing statute and the proposed bill.”

“OMB made this assumption that the bill implied some level of service enhancements,” said Michael Woods, chair of the New England chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “In reality, the bill did not imply any level of service enhancement. What it did was restructure the statutory authority and made a staffing change.”

Included on the high end of the estimate is $831,000 for office space to house the new employees, as well as $150,000 for a feasibility study, recommended by OMB.

OMB’s analysis also estimated a savings of $200,000 from canceling the existing legal contracts the council has with Anthony DeSisto Law Associates LLC, but noted “this amount has proven to be insufficient as-is, and much legal work is completed pro-bono.”

When asked by ecoRI News for more information on the pro-bono legal work that would exceed cost savings, a spokesperson for OMB replied with a statement.

“The fiscal note identified a range of the financial impact to accommodate differing visions for what was needed to accomplish this transfer,” said Derek Gomes, chief public affairs officer for OMB. “The low end of the estimate was designed to professionalize the duties that were now handled on either a volunteer or pro bono basis, while the high end of the estimate was formulated with additional enhancements to help the agency fulfill its statutory mission.”

CRMC reform has been a high priority for some of the state’s environmental groups, lawmakers, and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha, who held a press event at Save The Bay’s Providence campus in May to call on legislative leaders to pass the legislation.

“It’s still alive, it’s still being under consideration, but there is a fiscal cost,” Speaker of the House Joe Shekarchi, D-Warwick, said at the House rollout of the state budget last month.

CRMC reform bills in the House and Senate are still being held for further study in committee.


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  1. The Budget office made a big blunder, most likely at the direct bidding of the Governor and the real estate interests that run the legislature. Pathetically stupid and Almost criminal considering how often CRMC screws the people of RI and the planet to do the bidding of the rich.

  2. Also missing is due consideration of what the current CRMC configuration costs RI.
    Just total up how much the Champlin Marina affair cost us all over its many, many years!

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