Happy Saturday! This is Eli Sherman, filling in for Ted on his weekend column while he’s out of town on assignment — you can send your takes, tips and trial balloons to esherman@wpri.com and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

1. Governor McKee’s new proposal to cut the state’s 7% sales tax to 6.85% was splashed across the headlines, as there hasn’t been much in the way of broad-based tax cuts for years in Rhode Island. The governor also prominently announced the idea during his first full-term State of the State address, and two days later his team highlighted it as a signature relief measure in his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. But the cut so far has failed to stir much excitement on Smith Hill, where many lawmakers were left wondering if McKee had gone far enough to make Rhode Island’s sales tax competitive regionally. Others are questioning whether the estimated annual savings — $77 per household — is worth the $24.8 million in general revenue the state would lose each year, money that could be useful down the road when state coffers aren’t so flush with cash. It’s likely those are the criticisms that will come up repeatedly over the next several months, as lawmakers hold hearings to vet McKee’s $13.7 billion tax-and-spending plan for the 2023-24 fiscal year. Expect the McKee administration to defend the cut by arguing 15 basis points is what the state can responsibly afford right now, and emphasizing he will try to cut the rate further if economic conditions continue to allow annual surpluses. “It’s really hard to give up the money when you have it,” Office of Management and Budget director Brian Daniels told reporters this week, explaining why past promises to cut the sales tax were repeatedly broken. “The governor wants to make sure that we’re making these decisions in light of that fiscal outlook, that we are doing what we can afford each year with the constant goal of trying to get down and equal to Massachusetts as quickly as possible.” Achieving that goal would mean getting Rhode Island’s sales tax down to 6.25%.

2. Putting the sales tax into perspective: Rhode Island’s 7% makes it tied with three other states for the second highest in the country, topped only by California, where the rate was 7.25% in 2022. With that said, several municipal and county-level governments collect local sales taxes in addition to the state sales tax in other parts of the country, which makes Rhode Island slightly more competitive when those are taken into account. (There isn’t a local sales tax in Rhode Island.) Regionally, however, Rhode Island has the highest tax rate in New England, followed by Connecticut (6.35%), Massachusetts (6.25%), Vermont (6%) and Maine (5.5%); New Hampshire has no sales tax. Below is a map of all the 2022 rates based on data compiled by Janelle Fritts of the Tax Foundation.

3. Find a complete breakdown of Governor McKee’s proposed budget here, including everything from local education aid to about $70 million that would backfill revenue lost after a federal judge ruled the state’s truck tolls are unconstitutional.

4. After a tumultuous start to the 118th Congress, Rhode Island’s newly elected congressman, Seth Magaziner, is settling into his new role, learning the ropes of Washington and finally getting Wi-Fi set up in his field office (seriously). And while the drawn-out selection of Republican Kevin McCarthy as House speaker has delayed House members’ ability to introduce new legislation, Magaziner has wasted no time signing onto an already-proposed bill that would ban sitting members of Congress from trading stocks. “Members of Congress have access just to too much inside information and should not be in a position to use that information to benefit themselves financially,” Magaziner told Tim White and me during this week’s taping of Newsmakers. The legislation hits especially close to home, as Magaziner’s predecessor – Jim Langevin – liked playing the markets aggressively. As my colleague Ted Nesi reported last October, Langevin executed trades involving major companies 89 times during the first eight months of 2022 – amounting to as much as $3.2 million in trades. (Lawmakers are not required to disclose exact amounts.) Magaziner subsequently campaigned throughout the fall to ban members of Congress from trading stocks, and he’s trying to make good on that promise by signing onto the bipartisan legislation led by Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas.

5. Speaking of Congressman Langevin, the retired lawmaker has landed new gigs at Brown University and the University of Rhode Island. Langevin will join Brown as a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, and at URI he'll be a visiting scholar in the Department of Political Science, where he'll hold a conference on national security or U.S. democracy each semester.

6. Don’t call it a comeback. Governor McKee has tapped some familiar faces – including former Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor – to lead the state’s effort to solve the ongoing housing crisis. Pryor has been named housing secretary, replacing Josh Saal, who resigned amid mounting criticism that he hadn’t done enough during his first year in the new job. The governor also named Hannah Moore – who previously served under Pryor – to become the executive director of the state’s Housing Resources Commission. The idea of Pryor’s return to state government – which ended last year when he left Commerce to run an unsuccessful bid for general treasurer – has raised some eyebrows, as housing was technically under Pryor’s supervision at Commerce. But the move was lauded by Speaker Shekarchi, whose top legislative priority this year is housing. “I am confident his strong skill set and deep knowledge of our state will enable him to hit the ground running,” Shekarchi said. Shekarchi pointed to Pryor's role in reaching a deal to rehabilitate the Superman building as one example of his ability to get things done.

7. Wondering what’s up with the Superman building? Asked for an update this week, High Rock Development spokesperson Bill Fischer said the redevelopment project – which he tagged as costing about $280 million – is moving along with High Rock currently seeking a general contractor and a historic tax credit consultant. He also said there’s been some small demolition to allow for engineering and environmental analysis. And while High Rock has nailed down some local financing – including a massive, 30-year property tax break with Providence – Fischer confirmed that the company still hasn't signed a final contract with R.I. Commerce Corp. “I’m not sure anything is holding it up,” Fischer said, although he acknowledged that the Superman building – like all development projects – is trying to navigate inflationary challenges that have persisted since the project was first announced by Governor McKee and then-Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor last April. “That is always challenging on a building of this scale but the work continues,” he said. McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff confirmed a final incentive agreement still hadn’t been signed with High Rock, noting that they were still operating on a signed term sheet. “Commerce is in regular communication with the development team on this project,” he said.   

8. In other economic development news, Governor McKee has proposed steering another $25 million into the offshore wind hub project at the South Quay (pronounced "key") Marine Terminal in East Providence. The money would follow $35 million approved by state lawmakers last year, bringing the total state investment up to $60 million. None of the approved money has been spent so far, according to budget officials, but Commerce Secretary Liz Tanner tells me the additional funds became necessary after the state failed to secure a federal grant it applied for last year. The Globe's Brian Amaral reports the overall project is expected to cost $200 million, and the price tag is very much on the radar of Speaker Shekarchi. “We made allocations for projects last year that I can assure you are running above costs,” he said earlier this month on Newsmakers. “The South Quay in East Providence -- we allocated money, there’s labor issues -- shortage of labor – there are materials that have gone up. A lot of those projects are going to require extra money.”

9. Over in Pawtucket, the McKee administration is officially budgeting for a roughly $3 million loss in general revenue beginning next fiscal year due to debt service on the minor-league soccer stadium project being built alongside the Seekonk River. As Target 12 detailed last year, state officials long promised the project would fund itself with tax revenue generated on-site, but it’s unclear whether that will ever be the case, after inflation and supply chain issues hit that project hard last summer. Stadium advocates still argue it could happen sometime down the road when future parts of the land known as Tidewater Landing are developed, but Commerce Secretary Liz Tanner said she doesn’t know yet what the developer might be seeking in the way of public subsidies for those later, unannounced phases of the project.

10. Steph Machado reports another deadline is looming for the controversial Fane Tower project in Providence at the same time a consultant recommended the I-195 Redevelopment Commission's reject a new design the developer put forward for the project.

11. Remember when Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene called Congressman David Cicilline “Rep. Mussolini”? It happened back in 2021 after Cicilline, an Italian and a Jew, told reporters the House should change its rules to stop the Georgia Republican from making repeated motions to adjourn in an attempt to delay votes. Cicilline fired back at the time, highlighting that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was in league with Adolf Hitler and saying Greene should “get lost.” Cicilline revealed more about that incident this week, saying then-Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio called him after the back-and-forth to thank him for pushing back on the “invocation of Mussolini’s name.” Apparently the quarrel was all over the news in Italy, and the ambassador said it was important for someone to push back whenever that “very dark period of Italian history” comes up. “What she does and what she says has consequences,” Cicilline told reporters in Rhode Island this week. “It was an important lesson to me. We can’t take for granted that everyone sort of dismisses some of these folks, because they do hold a position and when they speak people pay attention to what they say and do.”

12. Outgoing Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements has landed a big-time job in Washington, where U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland just named him director of the Office of Community Policing Services, also known as COPS. The Department of Justice gig makes Clements responsible for "advancing community policing nationwide," which is something he focused on heavily in Providence. Mayor Smiley appeared relieved that the news of Clements' appointment was officially out, smiling Friday as he told Ted Nesi, "Hopefully Providence residents realize now why it was kind of an offer that I couldn't compete with despite my best efforts." Separately, the mayor recently disclosed that three finalists for police chief will be announced ahead of a public forum scheduled for Feb. 8.

13. Mayor Smiley and several other municipal leaders, including Newport Mayor Xay Khamsyvoravong and New Bedford Mayor John Mitchell, have been in Washington, D.C., this week attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors' 91st Winter Meeting.

14. The McKee administration has put together its leadership team for the new standalone Rhode Island State Psychiatric Hospital that was carved out of Eleanor Slater Hospital after years of regulatory problems at the state-run hospital. Dr. Irina Beyder, who once worked as COO of the behavioral health department in Washington, D.C., will make $174,000 as the hospital’s CEO. Dr. Pedro Tactacan has been named chief medical officer and will make up to $339,000 on a contract basis until he's transitioned into a state job. Jason Alexandre will work as the chief quality officer and make $141,000; Matthew Wiley will serve as the hospital’s chief nursing officer and make $108,000.   

15. My colleague Sarah Guernelli reports the cost of eggs has skyrocketed 60% since last winter, scrambling the math behind breakfast for families and baked goods for businesses.

16. Some sad news: former state Sen. Jim Hagan died earlier this month. Hagan served five terms at the State House after a stint as president of North Smithfield Town Council. A list of accomplishments printed with his obituary included working with former Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci on the so-called “Providence Renaissance.” After retiring, Hagan spent five years interviewing movers-and-shakers as moderator of “A Lively Experiment” on Rhode Island PBS. “It was a great joy to spend the last 40 yrs with him,” Hagan’s son, James Hagan, wrote on Twitter. “He was greatly loved and will be greatly missed.” Hagan was 85.

17. Seth Klaiman, who worked for both Jim Langevin and Seth Magaziner, has joined New Harbor Group. The well-known communications firm was founded in the early 2000s by David Preston, who was a top aide to Governor Sundlun.

18. This week's column by The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy detailing his 40-year mission to run one mile per day is well worth your time.

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Congressman Magaziner. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12, or listen on the radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.