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TGIF: 18 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

State revenue is up, the Sox are down, and Friday is here. So thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. Your tips and thoughts are welcome at...

State revenue is up, the Sox are down, and Friday is here. So thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. Your tips and thoughts are welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you can follow me all week-long on the twitters. Here we go.

1. A growing economy solves a lot of problems -- as the saying goes -- and the big uptick in state revenue gives lawmakers a lot more flexibility as they move closer to completing the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The availability of $140 million+ more than expected from the current and next years could be a lever against Governor Gina Raimondo's desired Medicaid cuts. Yet the revenue uptick also points to Raimondo's good timing in taking office in a time of economic growth -- and she may well get most of her Medicaid cuts. (Repeat similar efforts in future years, and that could add up to a bigger cumulative change over time.) In other fortuitous developments for the governor, the unemployment rate is dropping; most of the pension conflict appears over; the PawSox' didn't help themselves with their initial PR rollout; and Twin River unveiled a pragmatic response to Rhode Island's challenge on gambling revenue. So while luck may be the residue of design, to cite another old axiom, the governor has benefited from circumstances beyond her control. Then again, Raimondo has been aggressively stumping to promote her budget initiatives. What's more, the governor's ability to attract highly accomplished people -- like Ronald O'Hanley, president/CEO of State Street Global Advisors, for the board of the RI Commerce Corporation -- speaks to her desire to chart her own course.

2. One of the underreported facts of the long national drop in violent crime is how violence against American women remains undiminished. There were stark reminders of that in Rhode Island this week: the Mother's Day stabbing death in Riverside of 42-year-old Christine Santurri, a mother of three, not to mention charges brought against a Cranston municipal judge and a former Providence council candidate. Yet domestic violence is even more pervasive than these three instances suggest: 5,567 people were arrested statewide for domestic violence in 2012 (the most current figures from the RI Judiciary) -- an average of more than 107 arrests a week. The number of annual statewide domestic violence arrests climbed above 5,000 in the late 1990s, and the figure has remained above that threshold in recent years. Perhaps equally striking is this comment from Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in a 2000 story in the Providence Phoenix: "I've always had the view -- and I still have the view -- that it's going to take several generations to make that kind of statistical change [to reduce domestic violence].... I definitely think it will take a couple of generations for the attitudes in our culture to change." To bring things into the present, DeBare and Kristin Lyons, executive director of the Women's Center of Rhode Island, responded by calling the violence this week part of an ongoing epidemic. In a statement, they said in part: "The bottom line is that we must build systemic intolerance and community connectedness to stop domestic violence from being a threat to every Rhode Islander’s future. We cannot hesitate any longer. We cannot afford to lose another life to domestic violence, to watch it traumatize another child or devastate another family. People we know and love are suffering, and an alarming number of Rhode Island children are witnessing violence in the home. To break the cycle of violence, to create safe, connected communities for our families, neighbors, and the generations to come, we must at once take victim concerns seriously and also work to stop domestic violence from ever occurring in the first place."

3. The PawSox continue to pursue a two-track strategy on the team's envisioned Providence ballpark, speaking to community groups while pursuing closed-door discussions with the Raimondo administration. The debate on the public value of the stadium, meanwhile, continues unabated. While others can point to the power of place (#2) or spin-off effects, Holy Cross professor Victor Matheson shared his dim view of public subsidies while speaking Wednesday at the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center. Asked about the dividing line where a deal becomes worth doing, he said, "There's not one tipping point where you say, obviously, $15 million in subsidy is awesome, but $16 million is terrible, right? This is a very clear slope here." Matheson predicted the PawSox will get a property tax exemption because, he said, they are common for stadium proposals. "That's not one I'm going to win," he said. "But if I could win let's at least not hand them a bunch of money as well as a giant property tax exemption, I guess I would take that."

4. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is giving the benefit of the doubt to Representative Joseph Almeida (D-Providence), who pleaded nolo this week to a reduced misdemeanor charge of misusing campaign funds. All along, some considered Almeida's treatment heavy-handed, in comparison to more serious cases. "To me it sounds more more like bad record keeping," Mattiello told the ProJo. Then again, there had been a past indication of concerns. And considering how the initial allegation centered on the misuse of a bit more than $6,1000, is a $1,000 fine (and a year of probation) an effective deterrent?

5. Meanwhile: 1) The Board of Elections poured sunlight, albeit belatedly, on John Celona's attempt to cut down his outstanding BOE fines; 2) Less than a quarter of state lawmakers are willing to make public bank information that's supposed to be the backup to their campaign finance filings; 3) RI still doesn't do any routine audits of campaign finance filings; and 4) Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea unveiled a lobbying reform proposal, although whether it will become law -- and when and how -- is another question. Furthermore, the dropping of unregulated lobbying cases against two figures linked to 38 Studios shows how state officials haven't exactly hastened in the past to fix deficiencies in the state's current lobbying laws.

6. Is there enough time for the General Assembly to adequately consider a PawSox proposal before the expected mid-June end of the legislative session? Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (R-Westerly) tells me he think's the answer is a definite "No." Yet House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello continues to believe there's sufficient time to vet the issue before lawmakers head for the hills, according to spokesman Larry Berman. There is the caveat, though: if more time is needed, a special session could happen.

7. Will Hillary Clinton's global fundraising operation haunt her or help her to become America's first woman president? The answer will remain up in the air when she swings into East Greenwich for a fundraiser next month. Meanwhile, here's a rundown on 13 questions Hillary has answered from the media.

8. The Providence streetcar battle is on in earnest, with Mayor Jorge Elorza and City Council president Luis Aponte as the key supporters of the concept, and former mayor Joseph R. Paolino among the outspoken opponents. Elorza has described himself as a former skeptic who now believes a trolley line will spark economic growth. Yet as City Hall ace Dan McGowan has previously suggested, the mayor's enthusiasm could also extend from a desire to create some Big Tangible Impacts on the capital city in his time in office. As a first-time officeholder, Elorza is still figuring things out. Yet as someone who ran for City Hall at 37 last year, the freshman mayor could have bright political prospects for years to come.

9. Not much more than a year after he wound up on the losing side of the battle to succeed Gordon Fox, Representative Chris Blazejewski (D-Providence) is back on the inside, regaining his former post this week as House deputy majority whip. The move represents smart politics for Speaker Mattiello, since Blazejewski is a key liaison to the progressive caucus in the House.

10. It's a new day (or a belated one, as some say) when the New York Times shifts the focus of its daily 10 a.m. news meeting from the next day's A-1 to creating a digital report for the day .... Closer to home, it should make for a lively conversation when Brown alum Jason Spingarn-Koff, the video commissioning editor at the NYT returns to College Hill next Friday, May 22, for a talk on the future of journalism.

11. Congratulations to former ProJo photo intern Andrea Bruce, now a conflict photographer, who's among the latest class of Nieman Fellows at Harvard.

12. While Caught in Providence has been a local cult favorite for years, Judge Frank Caprio is seeking a state Ethics Commission opinion (according to this agenda) on whether the Code of Ethics "prohibits him from allowing his brother to videotape Municipal Court proceedings for commercial purposes and for which his brother will receive compensation." Sibling Joseph Caprio is the show's longtime producer.

13. Has the hatchet been buried in the tiff between LaSalle Academy and Governor Raimodo? LaSalle RTed the governor's tweet last week about the girls hockey team at LaSalle.

14. House Republicans continue to bird-dog concerns on the Rhode Island Convention Center. As Representative Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick) wrote in a news release this week, "A leasing/subleasing agreement signed in 1991 between the State and the Convention Center Authority compels taxpayers to pay all of the debt of the Center, plus any additional operating or maintenance funds that the RICCA may require in the event income cannot cover operational expenses." Morgan went on to say her Republican Policy Group, "[F]ound a recent report performed and written by the Convention Center's own auditor. Included in that report is a chilling finding regarding the management company employed by the Convention Center Authority, SMG: 'The Authority’s legal counsel has determined that it is reasonably possible that the Authority [thus, taxpayers] could be responsible for funding the unfunded pension obligations attributable to SMG’s labor force, past and present.' " While Morgan and other GOP lawmakers are seeking more details, the Convention Center Authority did not respond to an RIPR request for comment Friday.

15. As the PawSox drama plays out, allow me to recommend Bottom of the 33rd, former ProJo staffer Dan Barry's lyrical account of the longest game in baseball history. It's a beauty of a book, complete with the unlikely tale of how McCoy's Folly became a family-favorite destination, not to mention the Beckettesque quality of that long night in April 1981 and the drama of men striving and hanging on in the top-tier of minor league baseball.

15. Media Notes: Why Verizon is buying AOL ..... What Ira Glass really meant when he said public radio can capitalize on its popularity ..... More buyouts ahead at the ProJo, although they may be fairly limited in scope.

17. The latest evidence that politicians behave badly far beyond Rhode Island: The Wall Street Journal catches up with former Bridgeport mayor Joseph Ganim, who said "his seven-year incarceration made him a better person." Farther afield, the GOP speaker in Missouri has resigned after a sexting controversy.

18. Happy Graduation to all the grads! NPR developed an app with The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.

TGIF: 18 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media
TGIF: 18 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media