1. Governor Gina Raimondo is one of the top winners in the budget passed by the House late Wednesday night. The governor got the vast majority of what she wanted in her initial spending plan, emphasizing related themes of jobs, schools, and skills. Despite their outward differences, Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello have struck a conducive working relationship. The past two weeks have also helped the governor to turn the page from the Cooler & Warmer fiasco, the Don Lally controversy, and other bugaboos. Yet the RI jobs report out this week, with the loss of about 2000 jobs from April to May, echoes an earlier slowdown in US hiring, and points to the challenge of extending economic gains more broadly. That's probably why a big cohort of Rhode Islanders (like Americans in general) are less than optimistic about the future. It will take a series of wins, over a longer period of time, to generate more public confidence. The Senate passed the budget after 1 a.m. Saturday, without making changes; it heads to Raimondo's desk.
2. With the General Assembly wrapping up, the focus will soon turn to legislative races. Republicans have made clear their hope of using the truck tolls in RhodeWorks as an issue against majority Democrats. They can point, too, to growing state spending, the state's structural deficit, and corruption cases involving Democratic politicians. Then again, Republicans failed to make meaningful gains on Smith Hill during the seemingly fertile years of the Great Recession. And Speaker Mattiello has given his members plenty to talk about while on the stump, ranging from eliminating the master lever and moving to strengthen the Ethics Commission, to cutting taxes and returning more pension income to some retirees. As illustrated by the 59-13 budget vote in the House, Mattiello maintains strong control over his membership (even if some of the Republicans who unanimously supported the budget last year increasingly grouse about how leadership never loses a vote). And while the Gallison case again cast lawmakers in a negative public light, Marvin Abney has won praise while taking on the role of Finance chairman, coming across as amiable and responsive in answering questions from reps.
3. Almost seven years after a state Supreme Court decision sharply weakened the state Ethics Commission, the House and Senate moved with lightning speed this week to give voters the choice of whether the strengthen the commission. For years, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed cited concerns about the constitutional issue known as speech in debate, and Speaker Mattiello initially poo-poohed the importance of the Ethics Commission after he rose to power in 2014. Yet scandal has a way of leading to reform, and the unresolved cloud involving Ray Gallison ginned up legislative leaders' resolve on the ethics issue. Just goes to show: as location, location, location is to real estate, timing, timing, timing is a dominant mantra in driving politics.
4. ProvPort: a dubious surprise on budget night or a way to fuel economic growth? As the issue was debated, some lawmakers expressed concern about state taxpayers taking on a potential $20 million in debt for a facility in Providence. Others vowed the investment would yield hundreds of new jobs. If some reps were uncertain on the merits, they were comfortable enough to vote yes since voters are the ones who will decide the issue through a November ballot question. (Then again, supporters of Quonset are probably less than happy about improvements there being tied to ProvPort.) Watch for both sides to sharpen their arguments in the months ahead.
5. Two prime examples this week of the importance of watchdog reporting in Rhode Island: 1) the ProJo's Kathy Gregg and Alex Kuffner were largely responsible for the deletion of Article 18 from the budget, due to the concerns aired about how a politically connected wind energy would benefit at the expense of rate payers; 2) Meanwhile. Tim White and Ted Nesi revealed how state Rep. John Carnevale was misleading either voters or the state Ethics Commission. (Carnevale proceeded to amend his ethics filings.)
6. Remember the old days, when lawmakers announced on the House or Senate floor their intention not to seek re-election? It's 2016, so Rep. Helio Melo (D-East Providence) used Facebook for his news: "When I combine my time in this office with the period that I sat on the East Providence School committee, it totals 18 years. I cannot believe how quickly that time has passed and I cannot express with words how grateful I am for the support that I have received. It is time for me to step aside and let someone else take on these duties ...." East Providence Ward 2 Councilman Helder Cunha, a Democrat, is running for the seat being yielded by Melo. .... Rep. Daniel Reilly (R-Portsmouth) is also not pursuing re-election. Reilly attributed the decision to a desire to focus on a new job as an associate with a Providence law firm. and he's also getting married in August. While Reilly and former Democratic Rep. Linda Finn have traded possession of the District 72 seat in recent election cycles (and she's staging a comeback attempt this year), Reilly said the nuances of a presidential election year didn't really factor in his decision. Reilly said Republican Ken Mendonca, who placed second in the GOP side for the special Senate election won by John Pagliarini, is running for the D-72 seat. As far as the future, Reilly said, "I could definitely see myself getting back in [politics], absolutely." .... Elsewhere, state Rep. Karen MacBeth (R-Cumberland) and Sen. Edward O'Neill (R-Lincoln) previously said they would not seek re-election. Plus, of course, former House Finance chairman Ray Gallison (D-Bristol).
7. With the filing deadline for fall legislative races looming later this month, here's an early look at what could be some of the top General Assembly races: 1) Democrat Evan Shanley vs Rep Joe Trillo (R-Warwick) UPDATE: Trillo has decided against seeking re-election; 2) Democrat Anthony Paolino vs Rep. Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick); 3) Republican David Place vs Rep. Cale Keable (D-Burrillville); 4) The race involving Rep. John Carnevale (D-Providence) ranks high due to the residency question; Do candidates other than Democrat Ramon Perez emerge?; 5) Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D), among others, in a busy field for the seat held by Rep. Eileen Naughton (D-Warwick); 6) Former Rep. Lisa Tomasso (D) vs Rep Sherry Roberts (R-West Greewich); 7) David Norton (D) vs David Coughlin (D-Pawtucket); 8) Former Sen. Cathy Cool Rumsey (D) vs Sen. Elaine Morgan (R-Hopkinton) 9) Former Rep. Linda Finn (D) vs. Ken Mendonca (R); 10) Jason Knight (D) vs. Rep. Jan Malik (D-Warren); 11) Sen. John Pagliarini (R-Tiverton) tries to defend against another run by Jim Seveney (D-Portsmouth); 12) Doris de los Santos (D) tries again vs Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence).
8. State Rep. Patricia Morgan has been a steady voice of opposition through much of the 2016 session, sharply objecting to RhodeWorks and voting against the state budget. But the GOP lacks the General Assembly representation to win support for its initiatives. That's why I asked Morgan, during a taping of RI Public Radio's Bonus Q&A this week, why Republicans have struggled to increase their ranks on Smith Hill. Here's how the former GOP chairwoman responded, "I don't know how to answer that. I know that we come forward with good candidates. They work hard. I don't know if it's just an institutional reluctance to vote for Republicans in this state that has developed over the last 70 years, but we have to break it, because Rhode Island is not in a good place." Morgan also joined us for our weekly Political Roundtable.
9. General Electric's CFO, Jeffrey Bornstein, acknowledged Monday there's no ironclad guarantee that GE Digital will bring more than 100 initial jobs to Providence. But he sounded optimistic about the opportunity for far more than that, too. So while GE's decision to come to Rhode Island is far from a silver bullet, it does give Governor Raimondo a powerful card to pull during recruitment meetings with other corporate execs. Meanwhile, the success in attracting GE is raising expectations that Raimondo will score some similar successes in the months to come.
10. Since when does a Senate committee lose a vote? But that's what happened this week with the power plant bills backed by Rep. Keable and Sen. Paul Fogarty (D-Glocester). To some observers, the death of the bill is about the influence of labor in the Senate. Others perceive the vote as a sham designed to make Keable and Fogarty look good to their constituents. In a statement, Keable offered this take: “My legislation would have given Burrillville residents the opportunity to openly review and democratically decide whether or not to accept a power plant tax treaty. Instead the tax treaty will be negotiated and approved by a Republican Town Council who has already demonstrated that they don’t care about what the people think."
11. The AP's Matt O'Brien finds that Latinos make up 14 percent of RI's population, but hold only 4 percent of legislative seats. Still, that's an improvement from the time when Sen. Juan Pichardo's 2002 election as the first Dominican senator in the US came at the cost of the only black member of the Senate, Charles Walton. In recent years, the Blackstone Valley has fueled an increase in minority representation, with the election of reps like Carlos Tobon (D-Pawtucket), Jean Philippe Barros (D-Pawtucket) and Shelby Maldonado (D-Central Falls). Meanwhile, wins by Central Falls Mayor James Diossa (2012) and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (2014) -- and a big uptick in representation on the Providence City Council -- show how Latino candidates are making further strides.
12. Meanwhile, in Pawtucket, City Councilor Sandra Cano this week announced her re-election. She was that city's top vote-getter for an at-large seat in 2014.
14. Rep. Morgan used House budget night this week to unveil a GOP proposal to resume the phaseout of the car tax. It might make a talking point for fall elections, but the timing came far too late in the legislative session to generate attention or build public support. (Morgan said she was focused on truck tolls earlier on). Meanwhile, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza got some relief for car owners in the city's budget. According to the city, 6,500 cars that were taxed last year will no longer owe any car tax, the next 12,500 with the lowest value will see their car tax bill cut in half, and another 22,500 will see a reduction of 33 percent or more.
15. An excerpt from Bob Kerr's tribute to anti-poverty activist Henry Shelton, 85, on the occasion of Shelton's retirement this week: "I remember once standing with Henry at the door of what was then the Providence Gas Company. It was about rate hikes and shut-offs, as it often was. The doors were locked, as they often were. And No one appeared to answer Henry’s questions. Confronting Henry and the hard simple truth he carried with him was something many people avoided. Seeing Henry at your door could well mean you were standing on the wrong side of the great divide."
16. For a bracing viewing experience, check out John Oliver's explanation of what he considers wrong with retirement plans. A commentary in Fortune by a professor of finance at Georgetown calls Oliver's take a great starting point," although one that requires more details.
17. Listen to the voices of young gay Rhode Islanders, post-Orlando, in this poignant audio postcard aired on RIPR.
18. As first reported earlier this week, real estate mogul and former Providence mayor Joseph Paolino's new Sunday public-affairs show debuts this weekend on ABC6.
19. Five key takeaways from Pew's State of the News Media in 2016: 1) 2015 was perhaps the worst year for newspapers since the Great Recession and its immediate aftermath; 2) Digital ad spending went up 20% last year, and mobile advertising now tops desktop, but journalism organizations have not been the primary beneficiaries; 3) local television news revenue is relatively steady at $18.6 billion – at least for now; 4) cable news saw its viewership jump 8%, to an average of 3.1 million viewers in prime time; and 5) Podcasting continues to experience audience growth.
20. Congrats to two Statehouse stalwarts on their impending retirements: Daniel Beardsley, the longtime director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, and state librarian Tom Evans. Both men are great informational resources. As Scott MacKay notes, Beardsley took his work, but never himself, too seriously, while serving as one of the most colorful and candidate lobbyists on Smith Hill. Meanwhile, as Ed Fitzpatrick recounted in 2014, "Evans said the best part of his job is answering historical inquiries from schoolchildren. 'They ask the best questions,' he said. For instance, one pupil asked why Rhode Island has an Independent Man — but no Independent Woman — atop the State House, and students from other countries sometimes send emails asking for details about our 'beautiful island,' he said."
21. Speaking of Rhode Island all-stars, AS220's Bert Crenca was recognized as a White House Champion for Change: "In the 31 years since Umberto set out to co-create an incubator of maker culture and a lab for integrating STEM and the arts, AS220 has grown from a single rented room above the Providence Performing Arts Center to now include three buildings totaling 95,000 square feet. Umberto has focused his work on building a collaborative community committed to supporting exchange of knowledge between innovative makers and creative thinkers. He was recently awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Brown University and Roger Williams University for his commitment to community development, his work to help revitalize downtown Providence, and his success at creating opportunity for artists and makers."
22. We could all use a cold beer after the General Assembly ends its 2016 session, right?. Lou Papineau has been keeping a close eye on the progress of better beer laws in the Ocean State. As Lou writes, [I]t’s a tad convoluted, but that’s how the sausage is made."
This post has been updated.