The month of May is here, bringing a heightened focus on Gina Raimondo's proposed budget and the PawSox proposal. So thanks for stopping by, and feel free to share your tips & thoughts at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and to follow me on the twitters. Here we go.
1. In baseball, a magic number is the number of games a team has to win to clinch a post-season berth. Yet for now at least, there's little agreement about the appropriate magic number for keeping the PawSox in Rhode Island. The team's initial ask for $120 million in lease payments over 30 years (and a similarly long exemption on Providence property taxes) sparked a mostly negative public reaction, making it politically easy for Governor Raimondo to send the team back to the drawing board. Some critics (citing studies like this) don't want any tax money to go to a ballpark -- a view at odds with how, for better or worse, most minor league stadiums get some level of public funding. Public officials like Raimondo and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza have studiously avoided citing specifics on what kind of taxpayer investment might make sense. "We'll figure that out for sure," Elorza said on this week's RI Public Radio Political Roundtable. Rest assured, consultants hired by the state will put a rough dollar value on the impact of the PawSox staying or going. Don't necessarily expect the state to make that estimate public, but it could be the decisive magic number in determining the fate of a deal for Providence baseball.
2. What's the opportunity cost of Rhode Island losing the PawSox? For starters, "[I]f there is no ballpark in Rhode Island, those tax benefits are going with the wind," Larry Lucchino noted during his interview with me earlier this week. Yet there's also something far more intangible, too. The case can be made that a Triple A ballpark is not really about economic development (despite construction work and seasonal jobs that Elorza hardly takes lightly). Rather, a ballpark set against the Providence River is about what urbanists call "the power of place." Just as Bill Clinton said politics is more about how people feel, rather than what politicians say, baseball isn't just about the financing. The lure of a gem of a ballpark would figure in marketing for everything from Brown University and the Convention Center to heightened statewide tourism promotion. The opportunity to watch future Red Sox, not to mention a new generation of Dominican and Puerto Rican kids playing in a Mayor's Cup, has the promise to create lasting memories of a special place. Is it far-fetched? How would people have reacted 30 years ago to the idea of drawing visitors by staging fires in the Providence River?
3. Then again, if Lucchino wanted to emphasize a message to the 195 District Commission about the putative economic benefits of a Providence ballpark, the generally skeptical commission pressed for more details (like how the economic impact of the envisioned Providence ballpark compares with the current effect in Pawtucket). The meeting at the office of Commerce RI made for an unusual tableaux, with PawSox lobbyist Robert Goldberg and former ProJo columnist M. Charles Bakst watching the action side-by-side from front-row seats, with Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio and citizen-activist Mark Binder at opposite ends, and protesters in the back holding up signs calling for "No Welfare for Lord Skeffington." 195 Commssion chairman Joseph Azrack summed up the state's response to the PawSox while speaking with reporters after the meeting: “I think our goal is to come up, if there is a deal worth doing here, it is to come up with the lowest cost of capital for the state and as I’ve said before, an equitable sharing between the sponsors and the state and the city.” PawSox ownership met with Governor Raimondo on Thursday for "a very constructive meeting" and conversation is slated to continue, according to team spokeswoman Patti Doyle. Meanwhile, Lucchino, Goldberg and Jim Skeffington met Friday with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.
4. Speaking of subsidies, why hasn't Providence made more progress since a City Council committee called last October for a more standardized approach to handing out tax breaks? "We're at later stages of the process and coming up with a standardized TSA [tax stabilization agreement] that works for everyone," Mayor Elorza said on this week's RI Public Radio Bonus Q&A. "There's broad-based agreement on the framework that we want to have. We're putting the finishing touches on it right now."
5. In the aftermath of 38 Studios, it's understandable that many Rhode Islanders take a dim view of what they see as attempts by government to pick winners and losers. But don't forget that tax dollars subsidize "the meat and processed food we’re supposed to eat less of," yachts, the biggest banks, Mickey Mouse, and large US corporations, among other things.
6. With Governor Raimondo pursuing a campaign pledge to elevate tourism-promotion efforts, it's worth noting how Rhode Islanders' tax dollars helped subsidize an out-of-towner's common mispronunciation of "PAW-tucket" in this tourism promotion video. Commerce RI spokeswoman Melissa Czerwein said the state paid $5,000, and regional tourism districts $12,970 for a package that includes two 2.5 minute videos, 44 photos, two articles in a national tourism brochure, among other stuff. She said Brand USA, the company that developed the package, contributed $17,970 toward the total cost of $38,000 for the package. Czerwein said the package was offered to the state in the spring of 2014.
7. With the US Supreme Court considering a far-reaching decision on same-sex marriage, May 2 marks the second anniversary of when Lincoln Chafee signed same-sex marriage legislation into law. NPR's Nina Totenberg breaks down the SCOTUS case in four minutes. An added thought: In Rhode Island, interestingly, the pol who has arguably most benefited from the legalization of same-sex marriage is Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, since it removed a looming political headache. The state Senate was initially seen as the biggest potential obstacle on the issue, although Paiva Weed responded astutely (even if she said it was more a matter of changing public views). And now, two years later, Paiva Weed is the only one among the Chafee-Fox-TPW troika of 2013 who still holds office.
8. Some articles worth reading on Baltimore: "The long painful and repetitive history of how Baltimore became Baltimore." The view from David Simon, who created The Wire. An AP reporter's story on why the riots happened.
9. Credit to RIPR's Scott MacKay for scoring his second presidential scoop, with the first word on Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders' announcement Thursday. Meanwhile, Scott reports: "Lincoln Chafee is readying for a trip next week to the kickoff primary state of New Hampshire in his exploratory presidential effort. Chafee is scheduled to meet and greet Hillsborough Democrats an event in Milford, N.H., next Wednesday, May 6. Hillsborough is one of the important in the presidential primary; the county’s 29 communities contain about 16 percent of the state’s population. The county includes such vote-rich Democratic communities as Manchester, the state’s largest city, and Nashua, along the Massachusetts border."
10. Two views on the proposed $100 million Providence street car plan. Art Norwalk sees it as part of what he calls Shiny Object Syndrome: "Does experience in other cities support the idea that streetcars, by themselves, cause [a heightened] level of economic development? At more than $62 million per mile, how many of the suggested streetcar extensions (East Side, South Side, West Side) could the city afford? Are there better ways to spend $100 million to achieve better transportation and economic development? Should these high cost, multi-decade projects be committed without voter approval?" Yet Mayor Elorza, speaking on RIPR's Bonus Q+A, said he's convinced of the merits of streetcars. "I think it's smart for the city because it's not just about transportation, it's about economic development. Take New York City, for example. Look at property values right by a subway line as opposed to property values in a building that's maybe 10 or 12 blocks away. Everyone wants to be right by the subway, and in just the same way, in cities that have done a streetcar, people want to be right by and develop by the streetcar, so it's good for economic development."
11. The Pew Research Center is out with its latest findings on the state of the media. One key finding: "At the start of 2015, 39 of the top 50 digital news websites have more traffic to their sites and associated applications coming from mobile devices than from desktop computers." Check out the breakdowns on newspapers, local TV news, and public broadcasting.
12. Is this year for legalizing pot in Rhode Island? Scott MacKay says the idea requires serious study. Yet House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is more bearish. During an interview on RIPR last week, Mattiello said he wasn't inclined to think this is the year for pot legalization, although he also said he was keeping an open mind.
13. RIPR healthcare reporter Kristin Gourlay has the latest on Medicaid moves by the Raimondo administration.
14. Other reports from our newsroom: Providence School Superintendent Susan Lusi's resignation comes as a suprise .... the poignant story of Black Bird's last album .... Mayor Elorza's encounters with racial profiling.
15. It's campaign season around Narragansett this weekend, due to the special election Tuesday in the race to succeed Democratic Representative Donald Lally. At least three Democrats are running in the primary. As House Minority Leader Brian Newberry helpfully points out, Republican Bob Trager is also a candidate in the general election race with the winner of the primary.
16. Another finding from Pew: "Conservatives are among the most politically active Americans."
17. What happened to the drawings for an Independent Woman atop the Statehouse?
18. Michael Yelnosky, the dean of Roger Williams University Law School, thinks the US Supreme Court could be on its way to legalizing a right-to-work law for the public sector.