The Red Sox stumble out of the gate, and there are warning signs on RI’s budget, but at least the weather is improving. Happy weekend and 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) Is the high-profile abortion bill passed last month by the Rhode Island House going to go off the rails in the state Senate? Senate President Dominick Ruggerio tells The Public’s Radio he expects a Judiciary Committee vote, although the timing is unclear and Ruggerio said some senators want to propose amendments. If the Judiciary Committee passes an amended version of the abortion bill, it would have to go through the House again – and it’s unclear what level of appetite reps would have for another extended debate on the polarizing subject. At the same time, Ruggerio insisted that he’s keeping his hands off the issue, allowing it to play out based on a majority vote in the Judiciary Committee. “I felt that a vote is necessary on an issue such as this,” the Senate president said on Political Roundtable this week. “I have not spoken with any of my members regarding how they’re voting on this piece of legislation or what they’re thinking regarding that at this point in time, and I have no intention of interfering in the process.” For now this much is clear: the issue appears likely to linger in the Senate until after lawmakers’ mid-April break. That means it could bump into the race to the end of session, meaning that supporters and opponents of abortion rights would ratchet up their campaigns as the budget and other key measures are vying for legislators’ attention.
2) A new audit from Auditor General Dennis Hoyle, who works for the General Assembly, makes a series of critical findings (executive summary) related to the fiscal year that ended last June. Among other things, Hoyle found that key state financial systems may not work together in an integrated way, and he said the state’s IT approach creates a risk that inappropriate or unauthorized changes may go undetected on state applications. Ken Block has more details on his Twitter. Gov. Gina Raimondo's office did not respond to a request for comment.
3) Although there are signs of a worsening state budget outlook, President Ruggerio said he remains opposed to Raimondo’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. “I have a lot of concerns,” Ruggerio said on Bonus Q&A. “I have a lot of concerns with people operating heavy equipment in the workplace environment. I have a lot of concerns about edibles. And to be truthful, I don’t think we really had a good rollout and we have a good situation with the medical marijuana right now.” Asked which cuts he would support if revenue falls below expectations, Ruggerio said, “Well, obviously, we would be reluctant to initiate any new programs because we’re going to have difficulty funding the programs that we have.”
4) Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has pulled the plug on his attempt to get the General Assembly to support his effort to shore up the city’s underfunded pension system by monetizing its water supply. “Even if, hypothetically, this was the best technical solution, it wasn’t politically viable, and at the same time logistically and financially presented so many difficulties and challenges,” Elorza told reporters. The mayor vowed to take whatever steps are necessary to ward off the threat of bankruptcy. But Providence’s pension fund still has less than 30 percent of the money needed to meet its long-term obligations, and Eloza’s ill-fated water-monetization quest shows just how difficult it is to solve that riddle.
5) Short takes: New GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki got her feet wet with a news release blasting the firefighter OT bill: “Why would we want to go beyond a federal law or undermine a Rhode Island Supreme Court decision if it would harm taxpayers? Why would the General Assembly do this to the taxpayers?” … RI Democrats once again turned to former chairman Bill Lynch to bring the rhetorical fight back to Cienki …. Barbara Ann Fenton, the wife of Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, cited Cienki’s past comments about firefighters in leaving the GOP State Central Committee …. Fung’s latest budget includes a proposed $2.4 percent tax increase, but, Fung said, “My budget isn’t like the governor’s – new bells, whistles, new fees, stuff like that. It’s pretty straightforward.”
6) The Public’s Radio wants to hear your pothole stories! Has your car been damaged by a crater? Have you fallen into one? Let us know.
7) While Rhode Island’s bridges are still ranked the nation’s worst, in a finding out this week, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said this is mostly a function of how it takes time to deal with the problem. Meanwhile, as Ted Nesi reports, the cost is way up for fixing a key section of I-95 through Providence.
8) The RI House could vote as soon as Tuesday on a bill that could lead to more overtime for firefighters. Supporters call this issue a matter of fairness. But Justin Katz reported on how Rep. John Edwards (D-Tiverton), part of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello's leadership, described putting the bill in at Mattiello's request and without regard to the cost to the town that he represents. And opponents, like the RI League of Cities and Towns, warn of increased costs. “The league is very disappointed that the House Labor Committee moved forward with two bills (H5662 & H5663) that will only interfere with local decision-making and raise personnel costs and property taxes,” the group’s president, Brian Daniels, said in a statement. “Rhode Islanders cannot afford it. The committee did not justify why Rhode Island should go against federal labor standards and further ingrain Rhode Island as the state with the highest fire protection costs in the nation. The committee’s vote undermines mayors, town managers and councils, who are trying to negotiate contracts that are fair to both employees and taxpayers. The General Assembly has to stop tying the hands of municipal officials and pre-empting their decisions. The League urges the House to oppose these bills.”
9) U.S. Rep. David Cicilline this week unveiled a measure that he bills as a potential lifeline for news organizations. The measure introduced with Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia would allow smaller publishers to work together to negotiate with Google and Facebook. According to a statement from Cicilline, “Specifically, the bill introduced today only allows coordination by news publishers if it (1) directly relates to the quality, accuracy, attribution or branding, or interoperability of news; (2) benefits the entire industry, rather than just a few publishers, and is non-discriminatory to other news publishers; and (3) is directly related to and reasonably necessary for these negotiations, instead of being used for other purposes. In recent years, the control of information online has been centralized among just a few online gatekeepers. As a result, the news industry is on life support. In 2017, according to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans accessed news through only two platforms – Facebook and Google. Last year, these same companies amassed more than $60 billion from online advertising – the majority of all online ad revenue. In contrast, annual revenue for news publishers has plummeted by $31 billion since 2006.”
11) How’s the outlook for President Trump to win re-election in 2020? The view from Emory University political science professor Alan I. Abramowitz: “[There are] a wide range of potential outcomes, from near certain defeat for the incumbent if the economy stalls out and his approval rating falls far below the neutral point, as it has from time to time, to near certain victory if the economy grows faster than expected and his approval rating rises to the neutral point, where it has essentially never been in his first two-plus years in office. The most plausible prediction at this point, however, is for a very close contest. Given a net approval rating of -10, approximately where Trump’s approval rating has been stuck for most of the past year, and real GDP growth of between 1% to 2%, in line with most recent economic forecasts, the model predicts that he would receive between 263 and 283 electoral votes. Of course, it takes 270 electoral votes to win.”
12) What You Need To Know About The 2020 Census.
13) Will the City of Pawtucket and Commerce RI be able, via an RFP, to spark a future tenant(s) for McCoy Stadium when the PawSox leave after the 2020 season?
15) Kudos & congrats to former ProJo sports editor Art Martone on his retirement. Via his FB: “When Bill James stopped writing his annual Baseball Abstracts, he said he was ‘breaking the wand, exit stage right.’ Well, after nearly 45 years in sports media -- 35 at The Providence Journal, 9 1/2 at NBC Sports Boston -- I'm breaking the wand. It's been a wonderful ride with truly outstanding people, at BOTH places, but now it's time to step back and relax a bit. (My last day in Burlington was Friday and, I have to say, I'm already enjoying this life of semi-leisure!) I'm not necessarily exiting stage right; if something intriguing pops up (especially if it's part-time), I may think about it. But for now, just enjoying life in the slow lane. And to my friends in Burlington and Providence: All the best! I'll miss you all. And I'll be reading (and watching!).”
16) Scott MacKay has some thoughts on the start of the season for the Red Sox and PawSox.
17) While the annual debate on gun issues plays out at the Statehouse, two groups of Rhode Island students were among the winners in an annual video competition sponsored by C-SPAN. Narragansett High School students were recognized for a pro-Second Amendment video, while Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts scored with a video about the consequences of gun violence.
18) The search for civility in a divided nation: “A growing number of organizations with earnest-sounding names, such as Better Angels, Democracy Cafe, Living Room Conversations and the National Conversation Project, as well as many more, are leading Americans in discussions about sensitive political issues. By at least one count, there are more than 200 of these groups nationwide, hosting discussions with people of diverse backgrounds about everything from immigration to abortion to race relations.”