TGIF: 20 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Oct 13, 2017

Mid-October is here and we're zipping through the calendar. So thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As usual, your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Rhode Island state reps asked some sharp questions this week about the PawSox' proposed stadium deal, reflecting a continued level of unease among many legislators from outside Pawtucket. Yet the Senate seems more open to the stadium plan, and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has spoken about how he'd like to see the deal get a vote in November. The PawSox point to growing support from chambers of commerce around the state, and the team got a boost this week when General Treasurer Seth Magaziner offered his endorsement for the project. Meanwhile, stadium opponents continue to canvass in House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello's district in Cranston. One of the most outspoken critics, David Norton of Pawtucket, tweeted a picture of himself with Steven Frias, Mattiello's GOP rival from 2016, sending a not-so-subtle message that the PawSox issue could play big next year in House District 15. (The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats plan to return to the area Monday, October 16, instead of holding their regular meeting in Providence. "Battling against corporate greed is [a fight] that requires constant opposition," the group said in an email, "and there's no better place to start than with an out of state billionaire like Larry Luchino." For wavering lawmakers, a statewide referendum on the stadium would offer political cover, tossing the decision to voters in November 2018. But some PawSox boosters say delaying the issue for more than a year would kill the deal. Lucchino himself has repeatedly expressed frustration about navigating Rhode Island's political culture. But with no public offers of a financial deal from outside Rhode Island, are the PawSox' implied threats to go elsewhere bluster or the real thing? And after the abrupt end to the legislative calendar last June, can Mattiello and Ruggerio get together on the PawSox? Asked about the speaker's view on the PawSox' proposal, spokesman Larry Berman said Mattiello wants the House Finance Committee to receive public testimony next week before offering his assessment.

2. Although the Pawtucket City Council has yet to pass a resolution in support of the PawSox stadium plan, Mayor Don Grebien remains an outspoken supporter. Some highlights from Grebien's appearance this week on RI Public Radio's Political Roundtable (exclusively PawSox questions) and Bonus Q&A (a mix of topics): Will the PawSox leave if Rhode Island pursues a referendum?: "They have not threatened us with that, but that is always a fear -- they could not be here ...." Why has no other community made a public offer of any money to attract the PawSox? "I don't know .... We stepped up because we understood the importance of keeping them in our community ..." At what point do Larry Lucchino and his partners decide to turn their attention elsewhere? "That's always the question, right? ...."

3. Tad Devine will work as a consultant on former U.S. Attorney's Peter Neronha's AG campaign, Neronha said. Devine, a Providence native, was a leading strategist for Bernie Sanders during Sanders' insurgent presidential campaign last year.

4. As RIPR's Lynn Arditi reports, the troubled pension for workers at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence doesn't have the same kind of federal protection as many other pension plans: "The government’s hands-off approach to church plans reflects lawmakers’ concern at the time the law was enacted, in 1974, that requiring the government to review a church’s books could be construed as violating the separation of church and state. And legal experts say lawmakers believed churches would stand by their pension plans. There are millions of church plans around the country, [Executive Vice President of the nonprofit Pension Rights Center Karen] Friedman said, including hundreds of thousands run by hospitals and other church-affiliated groups. 'There’s no federal backup for these plans,' she said. 'So the workers and the retirees end up taking the hit in this.' " Lynn's story also looks at who held the responsibility for looking out for beneficiaries in the plan.

5. Gov. Gina Raimondo is using Facebook Live to express her concerns about the Trump administration's moves on the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, a change, she said, that threatens to eliminate healthcare for 16,000 Rhode Islanders. That also adds more stress to an increasingly difficult fiscal outlook in Rhode Island, considering how the state has a projected $239 million deficit for the next fiscal year. "The President has tried three times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and has failed each time because people from across Rhode Island and every other state in America have stood up to protect access to care," Raimondo said, according to prepared remarks. On Thursday "night, he announced a new tax on Rhode Island families’ health insurance. His actions could force Rhode Island families to pay more or lose coverage all together. I’ve directed my team at HealthSource RI and in the Health Insurance Commissioner’s office to take every measure possible to minimize the impact on Rhode Island families, and they’ve already put plans to work. But let me be clear: low income and middle class families are still going to feel the effects of the Trump Tax unless action is taken to override the President’s cruel, immoral and unnecessary actions."

6. More symptoms of budget stress, via CommonWealth magazine: "Nearly 60 percent of the money collected by the Plainridge Park Casino during its first year of operation came from Massachusetts gamblers who previously would have been going out of state to place their bets. A team of researchers from the Donahue Institute at the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences estimated on Thursday that $100 million of the $172.5 spent at Plainridge was “recaptured revenue” – money that would have been lost to another state without the establishment of the slots parlor here. Another $36 million was spent by out-of-state residents and the remaining $36.6 million was spent by Massachusetts residents who previously had not gambled."

7. Then again, Connecticut still doesn't have its own budget.

8. Neronha fleshed out some of his views during a taping of WPRI-TV's Newsmakers this week. (Thanks to Tim White for inviting me to fill in for newlywed Ted Nesi.) A few highlights: Neronha said if he'd been in Attorney General Peter Kilmartin's position (as a 20-year former state rep), he might have recused himself from the 38 Studios investigation. "I think whether you have a conflict or not is only half issue," Neronha said, since perception is also very important .... On the fight over 38 Studios records being fought by Kilmartin and Gov. Raimondo, Neronha said he supports creating a law that would allow grand juries to detail findings in a report, in cases that don't produce charges .... The Jamestown Democrat said he open to considering moving authority from enforcing the state's open records law to a different office. Critics say the AG isn't the ideal office to have that authority, since many open records disputes involve municipal police departments.

9. "Why Big Cities Thrive, and Smaller Ones Are Being Left Behind" Excerpt: "Some of the advantages of big-city living are not hard to find. For starters, big cities have a greater variety of employers and thus more job opportunities in a richer mix of industries than do small cities, whose fortunes are often tied to those of just a small number of employers. Bigger cities are more productive. They are more innovative. They draw better-educated workers by offering them higher wages. They develop a richer variety of industries. It should not be surprising that they are growing faster. It was not always so. In the decades after World War II, the share of jobs in big metropolitan areas actually declined, as employment growth spread to smaller cities. But that was a different economy. Unlike with manufacturing, which took root in cities large and small, and in exurban industrial parks, opportunity in the information era has clustered in dense urban enclaves where high-tech businesses can tap into rich pools of skilled and creative people."

10. State Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston) has dropped out of the race to become RI's Democratic National Committeeman, clearing the field for Joseph R. Paolino Jr. ahead of a state Democratic Committee vote at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Cranston Portuguese Club. In a statement, Miller said, "My candidacy for Democratic National Committeeman was never about any one individual, rather it was about the ideals I believe our party should represent. In 2016, voters overwhelmingly endorsed a Democratic agenda centered on improving the lives of all Rhode Islanders by increasing access to healthcare, raising wages, and putting Main Street before Wall Street. I believe that my candidacy has brought important issues to the forefront. Joe Paolino is a longtime friend and I know he will make an excellent committeeman. As Rhode Islanders strive to make the Democratic Party a place where we can effectively resist the Trump agenda, I urge Joe to embrace the future of our party instead of the status quo.”

11. A not-so-subtle dig at someone else's tech problems from a candidate-in-waiting? "Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung is highlighting the successful rollout of a new online tax payment and electronic billing system implemented by the city’s Tax Collections department this summer at the start of the current fiscal year. About $1.5 million in motor vehicle, real estate, personal property taxes and sewer assessments has been collected through the new system so far, with more than 12,000 taxpayers taking advantage of the fast and convenient service offered on both the web and mobile versions. Mayor Fung is urging all taxpayers to use the system to make their second quarter payments or to sign up for scheduled payments before the Oct. 16, 2017 due date. 'This rollout occurred during an uncertain time with the state budget temporarily stalled for weeks and the car tax phaseout in limbo,' commented Mayor Fung. 'Despite those challenges, our team in City Hall was prepared to launch the new system and worked tirelessly beforehand to ensure they could handle any hiccups along the way.' "

12. Rhode Island is among eight states that have passed laws this year meant to protect victims of domestic violence from abusers. As The Trace reports, "All told, 27 states have adopted laws that take steps to keep guns from domestic abusers.  According to the Law Center, 23 states have not passed any such laws."

13. How did 13 become an unlucky number?

14. Rhode Islanders who get home delivery of The Providence Journal have grown accustomed to getting occasional magazine-style supplements with their Sunday ProJo. One edition featured classic photos from the Journal's archives -- a nice way of tapping into the news organizations' rich legacy. The most recent supplement featured a well-written collection of short essays by an out-of-town critic about some of the classic musical recordings issued since the mid-20th century. Yet the publication also ran about 40 pages (with no ads), raising the question of whether that's a good use of GateHouse Media resources in an era of buyouts/layoffs, longtime staffers not getting raises, and an increased reliance on less-costly freelancers. ProJo Publisher Janet Hasson didn't respond to a request for comment.

15. Invenergy, the company proposing a controversial energy plan in Burrillville, is trying to exclude from a court case how 32 of Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns have offered resolutions against the concept. As RIPR's Avory Brookins reports, "This would remove the resolutions from the official record of the power plant's application and possibly give them lesser weight as the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board considers the plant. 'Our motion seeks to ensure these filings are treated appropriately in this process. They are public comments and should be treated as such. They will continue to be available to the public and the members of the Board for their consideration,' Michael Blazer, senior vice president and chief legal counsel for Invenergy, said in an emailed statement. Burrillville and the Conservation Law Foundation, parties that are opposing the plant, have filed objections to Invenergy's request. Jerry Elmer, attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, said the resolutions are relevant in deciding whether the power plant is in the best interest of Rhode Islanders. 'These resolutions, passed by the city councils, the town councils, that are directly responsible for public safety and health are telling the siting board that Invenergy is not good for the public safety and health of the people of the state,' Elmer said."

16. While legislative Republicans and some others believe an office of inspector general can root out waste and fraud, Peter Neronha is not a fan of the concept. "The last thing we need is more bureaucracy, and an independent experienced AG ought to be able to fill all of the role [of an IG]" Neronha said.

17. Cumulus Media, the owner of WPRO, filed a recent appeal with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to remain a publicly traded company "despite it falling below the required $1 per share mark for 30 consecutive business days." The company reportedly faces more than $2 billion in debt.

18. The New York Times unveils a new social media policy for its newsroom.

19. Changes in the union leadership at the Providence Police Department could signal a renewed fight over the Community Safety Act, the controversial measure passed earlier this year.

20. The latest winners of the so-called "Genius Grant" include human rights strategist Greg Asbed, a 1985 graduate of Brown University.