Rhode Island emerged mostly unscathed from the first major snowstorm of the year, although the roads and sidewalks are a different story, in some cases. Thanks for stopping by. As always, feel free to share a tip or your thoughts via idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and to follow me on the twitters. Here we go.
1. It's better to be lucky than good, as the saying goes. Governor Gina Raimondo was both lucky and good as the Blizzard of 2015 dumped up to two feet of snow on parts of Rhode Island. Raimondo got ahead of the story as the storm barreled toward the state, using an authoritative style to warn residents to prepare, get off the streets, and hunker down. She also managed expectations by warning about the possible worst-case scenario of widespread power outages lasting multiple days. Brookings went so far as to say the response of Raimondo and other Northeast governors shows "that government can work" [emphasis in original]. The reviews would certainly be different had the blizzard caused prolonged power outages across the state. Instead, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian was among those praising Raimondo for her communication style: "Not only did we have conference calls and regular telephone conversations, but she was texting me. There were emails coming out from her office .... Her decision to put the travel ban in effect was incredibly helpful to us, to be able to go out there and not have anything in your way to do your job. I'm not sure others would have gotten away with having that kind of buy-in from people. I think it was the way that she was explaining it to people; it was almost like your mom was telling you, you know, 'Stay inside this storm's going to be bad, and you need to pay attention.' "
2. House Fiscal Adviser Sharon Reynolds Ferland offered a startling revelation during a mostly unremarkable House Finance Committee budget briefing Thursday afternoon: a $62 million difference between what state agencies and fiscal staff believe it will cost Rhode Island to offer the same level of state services in the fiscal year starting July first. While fiscal staff puts the FY16 cost of maintaining existing services at $170 million, agencies estimate they need at above $230 million. "So on the agency side, they think they need way more than the budget office estimates," Reynolds Ferland told lawmakers. "So already there's a disagreement about how much it really takes to do the same thing the next year, which is why you'll hear from agencies that even what you've given them is not adequate." This underscores the severity of the challenge facing Governor Raimondo as she develops her first budget, which is expected to emerge in mid-March; not only does Rhode Island face an almost $200 million dollar for the next fiscal year, the cost of doing the same thing keeps going up over time.
3. Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian on the problems afflicting the Rhode Island Republican Party, which got shut out of state and federal offices last year for the first time in many decades, even while picking up five seats in the RI House: “We need to build a farm team. There is no team. You can’t only recruit candidates at the deadline. You need to be doing that now, and the more you build, and the more you show the successes of people who’ve gotten elected, I think would pay dividends to the party to not always be seen as coming in at the 11th hour, trying to field candidates and trying to get things organized." Avedisian commented during this week's RI Public Radio Political Roundtable.
4. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza won praise during the blizzard for being visible and pitching in with a shovel, although the city lagged some other communities in clearing snow down to the pavement. As Rhode Island's capital, Providence was also the epicenter for gripes about un-shoveled sidewalks and the related hazard to pedestrians. Jef Nickerson encouraged the pedestrian-minded to share their snapshots of snow-covered sidewalks via Twitter at #PVDsidewalks. TGIF took note of a Steeple Street sidewalk that was snowy on Wednesday and cleared with a path on Thursday -- probably coincidence, right?. Meanwhile, check out Greg Gerritt's riff on the pleasures and dangers of walking in the winter snow.
5. Are auto loans the next subprime scandal waiting to happen? Here's an excerpt from a recent story co-written by New York Times reporter Michael Corkery, ex of the ProJo: "Across the country, there is a booming business in lending to the working poor — those Americans with impaired credit who need cars to get to work. But this market is as much about Wall Street’s perpetual demand for high returns as it is about used cars. An influx of investor money is making more loans possible, but all that money may also be enabling excessive risk-taking that could have repercussions throughout the financial system, analysts and regulators caution." Corkery took part in a related discussion on the subject this week on On Point, broadcast locally by RI Public Radio.
6. A photo of Chris Christie campaigning last fall for Allan Fung (smile for the camera, Barbara Ann Fenton!) highlights the Center for Public Integrity's look at the top national spenders in state elections. Not surprisingly, the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association were the top-two national spenders in state races. Here's the list of the top 50.
7. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed's Thursday night fundraiser wasn't as crowded as the one held a week earlier by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (see #2), but it was about two-thirds of the way there -- pretty successful as these things go. The speaker made the scene (suggested $200 contribution), as did Governor Raimondo and US Representative Jim Langevin, among other pols and lobbyists. The menu included carved turkey and a pasta station and of course, open bar. No estimate yet on the proceeds.
8. Governor Raimondo's selection of Erik Godwin to lead the state Office of Regulatory Reform is a bit reminiscent of how President Obama drafted Cass Sunstein from academia "to make regulations more supple, not less robust." Godwin was the head, most recently, of the Applied Social, Economic, and Regulatory Analysis Group at Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy and he's a consultant for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. In announcing his selection, Raimondo pointed to Godwin's experience in taking on regulation in government, the private sector and academia. Via news release, the governor said, "To create opportunity for families in Rhode Island, we have to attract companies to invest here, and encourage our existing businesses to expand and grow. To do that, we must streamline our regulatory process and make Rhode Island more business-friendly. Erik has the experience needed to cut through Rhode Island's red tape, and to create a more competitive and entrepreneurial environment."
9. The conversion of mass surveillance and civilian forfeiture? Via Gigaom: "License plate data lets cops spy on US drivers at record rates."
10. My ongoing series of mini-profiles of new lawmakers continues with state Representative Robert Nardolillo (R-Coventry), who scored a decisive victory (almost 65 percent of the vote) while ousting Democrat Scott Guthrie last November.
11. The Kennedy Forum, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy's initiative to bolster mental health care, is joining with the Morehouse School of Medicine next Tuesday to launch the Kennedy Center for Mental Health Policy and Research at Morehouse's Satcher Health Leadership Institute.
12. Recent highlights from my colleagues at RI Public Radio: Scott MacKay broke the story that TACV is coming to T.F. Green .... Ambar Espinoza continued her series on how climate change is affecting Rhode Island .... and Elisabeth Harrison notes how Deborah Gist remains the lone finalist for the school superintendent's job in Tulsa.
13. TGIF reported last week (#4) on how former North Providence councilman/deputy secretary of state Paul Caranci is now working for Congressman Todd Rokita of Indiana. Now comes WPRI-TV's Tim White talking with Caranci about his role in exposing corruption among municipal officials in North Prov. As White writes in his Web story, "Caranci’s life was not an easy one after it became public he was the confidential source in the case. His property continues to be vandalized and – labeled a rat by some – he said he and his family have been repeatedly harassed." Yet Caranci also told White he is without regret: “In the greater realm I think it certainly was worth it. If I had to tomorrow I would do it again. I wouldn’t change anything.” (Caranci also spoke with the Valley Breeze's Ethan Shorey last June.)
14. The 15th anniversary of the shooting death of Cornel Young Jr. passed quietly this past Wednesday, although the ProJo's Amanda Milkovits had a terrific story earlier this month on fallout from Young's death, and I also reported on the question of how much have things changed with police-community relations in RI.
15. Are concerns about litigation hindering sledding opportunities for big and little kids. Giovanni Cicione, chairman of the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights, says the answer is "yes." In a partly tongue-in-cheek news release sent at the blizzard was bearing down on Rhode Island, Cicione offered draft legislation for a "Freedom to Sled Act." Wrote Cicione, "In today’s overly litigious society, opportunities for children to sled on the best hills in Rhode Island are sometimes restricted because of the understandable fear of property owners that they might be sued and held liable for a sledder’s injuries. The Hopkins Center believes that a little risk-taking is healthy for children, and making it easier for our kids to get outdoors and experience the best a New England winter has to offer should be a priority." But Dan McGowan doesn't seem concerned about a paucity of sledding venues.
16. MoveOn is staging more than 200 house parties across the US this weekend as part of its movement to draft Elizabeth Warren as a presidential candidate. Local events in Warren, Chepachet and Saunderstown are said to be fully booked.
17. Thanks to Chris Cillizza and the Fix for some kind words for yours truly, along with my colleague Scott MacKay, and the justly deserving Katherine Gregg and Ted Nesi.