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

1. Here comes one of the most important weeks in state government. The May Revenue and Caseload Estimating Conference (bear with me) on Wednesday will unveil how much money the state will have to pay for things like human services, schools and infrastructure throughout the budget year beginning in July. And early signs suggest people should expect some belt-tightening both this year and in years to come. Rhode Island leaders have benefited throughout the pandemic from a massive influx of federal COVID-relief money, allowing state leaders to spend general revenue at an annual clip of 7% — up from an average of 3.5% during the prior five years, according to an analysis provided by RIPEC chief Mike DiBiase. But that federal support is rapidly drying up, and economists project underlying state revenue sources are softening (think income, sales and business taxes). Luckily, there’s general optimism on Smith Hill this year’s haircut will be manageable, as conservative projections from budget crunchers in November, along with guarded proposals from Gov. Dan McKee in January, will likely soften the blow when the General Assembly balances the tax-and-spending plan over the next month. But for future years? “You still have inflation running relatively high and you have revenues growing at relatively lower levels,” DiBiase told me this week. “You may be able to find your way through fiscal year 2024, but this gets to be a much more constrained environment looking ahead.”

2. A big challenge for Rhode Island now and in the future stems from the state’s job mix. In March, personal income tax revenue was running $76.3 million behind projections, as the state’s job market continues to struggle to return to pre-pandemic levels. A Department of Labor and Training report this week showed Rhode Island and Maine are the only two states that haven’t regained all jobs lost during the pandemic, which is attributed in part to the state’s outsized reliance on low-wage jobs. The DLT’s top-notch number cruncher, Donna Murray, has a chart telling the story below. Saul Kaplan, the state’s former economic-development chief, who now leads the Business Innovation Factory, put it to me this way: “Too many Rhode Islanders struggle in a low-wage economy with a high cost of living. Education and innovation is the path out.”

(Courtesy R.I. Department of Labor and Training)

3. You’ve probably seen the massive billboard ads for Massachusetts cannabis companies alongside I-95 in Rhode Island. Currently, Rhode Island cannabis businesses aren’t allowed to do the same, as it’s prohibited under medical marijuana regulations and the law hasn’t changed since recreational marijuana sales began in December. A bill seeking to allow cannabis advertising of Rhode Island businesses is poised for debate on the House floor next week, amid growing frustration among lawmakers over Governor McKee’s delay in nominating three people to serve on the Cannabis Control Commission. The panel is supposed to be creating rules — such as allowing advertising — and overseeing the fledgling market. House Speaker Joe Shekarchi sent his commissioner recommendations to the governor nearly a year ago, but McKee hasn’t acted and has missed multiple self-imposed deadlines. The governor said this week he’s now ready to announce his picks after they complete a series of background checks, which he expects will happen this month.

4. The slow rollout of the Cannabis Control Commission carries a cost for the state and municipalities. The commission’s responsibilities include issuing new licenses to recreational marijuana businesses — so without the panel up and running, only the seven retailers currently licensed can generate any sales. Tax Administrator Neena Savage reported this week Rhode Island received $3.3 million in tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales through the first four months of the year. At that clip, the industry would generate about $4.9 million in state and local tax revenue by the end of the fiscal year in June, which is only about 60% of the $8.2 million state officials were expecting.

5. Here’s a dispatch out of Providence from my colleague Steph Machado: “Remember ‘defund the police?’ It feels like a long time ago that a groundswell of activists wanted to decrease funding to the Providence police, something that ultimately didn’t garner wide support and never actually happened. Instead, the Providence Police Department’s budget has risen at a steady clip, from $85 million in 2020 to $100 million this year. And Mayor Brett Smiley is proposing to increase it by a hefty 8% to $108 million in the upcoming budget year, as he hopes to almost immediately hold another police academy after the current cohort graduates in August. Smiley says the plan is to increase community policing, have more officers walking the beat in neighborhoods, get guns off the street and crack down on ATVs. But with a tax hike on the horizon that’s already been met with skepticism from city councilors, you can count on a lot of questions about the proposed increases in police and fire spending at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Council Finance Committee. The public safety budget discussion is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.”

6. A personal note about Steph Machado. If you haven’t heard yet, she’s leaving 12 News at the end of the month after eight impressive years delivering top-notch journalism both on TV and for WPRI.com. I’ve personally had the privilege of working with her for the past four years in our investigative unit and she’s everything you might imagine: smart, tough and dogged. (Just see here, here and here from this week alone.) She’s also kind, empathetic and just fun to be around. We’re all going to miss her, but luckily, she’s not going far: Steph is joining the crack team over at The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island bureau, where I hope she quickly tires of all the times I scoop her. Thanks for everything, Steph!

7. Checking in on the 1st Congressional District race to replace Congressman David Cicilline, who’s serving out his final month in Washington: “The clock is ticking,” political strategist Cara Cromwell said this week on Newsmakers, pointing out the primary election is about 120 days away. Currently, there are 15 Democrats who say they’re running and no Republicans yet. The number of candidates will likely winnow in the coming weeks, but it’s safe to say it will remain a crowded field up until the end. Cromwell says that dynamic means candidates will have to focus heavily on a strong ground game and turning out their bases if they want to garner the support necessary to win. “Every vote is truly going to count,” Cromwell said.

8. In Washington, Senator Whitehouse remained in the spotlight this week for his continued effort to reform the U.S. Supreme Court, which is garnering new support amid a growing ethics scandal surrounding Justice Clarence Thomas (mostly revealed by ProPublica). Whitehouse wants more oversight of the high court, telling Tim White that strengthening ethic disclosures would bolster transparency and help reveal when powerful people are trying to influence the justices. Meanwhile, Whitehouse’s advocacy landed him yet again in the crosshairs of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, which suggested he was “long overdue for his fitting of a tinfoil hat. … Sorry, but the members of another branch of government don’t need to run their personal social calendars past Mr. Whitehouse for approval before they meet up with old friends.”

9. The National Assessment of Educational Progress report this week showed 40% of students scored below grade level on history testing, with 69% below grade level in civics. Secretary of State Gregg Amore, a former East Providence history teacher, called the results “disappointing but not unexpected this year,” noting that “standardized test scores after the pandemic have all suffered.” Rhode Island passed a law in 2021 requiring districts to implement a civics curriculum, and Amore said he hopes it can help fend off a growing threat to democracy. “It’s dangerous,” he told Tim White. “It does create a problem — if you don’t know how your government works and you can’t access it, it’s very difficult to have an impact, and that leads to different types of reactions and some of those reactions can be violent.”

11. Governor McKee proposed a supplementary housing budget plan this week, calling for the creation of a new low-income tax credit and the allocation of $29 million in federal COVID-relief funds toward a package of housing initiatives. Housing and homelessness continue to dominate public debate, as a group of protesters demanded more action by city and state leaders, nine days before the makeshift shelter at the Cranston Street Armory is poised to close. The fortress-like building houses upward of 130 people each night and Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor didn’t have specific answers Friday about where all of those people will go. “We’re making good progress and in the coming days, and in the weeks beyond this two-week period, we’ll be making more announcements,” Pryor told reporters.

12. Attorney General Peter Neronha is undergoing scheduled surgery and Deputy AG Adi Goldstein will be heading the state prosecutor’s agency in his absence. “There is no one I have more confidence in,” Neronha tweeted in an announcement about her taking over. “Fun fact: she speaks four languages. Does she tweet?” (She does, but not since 2020.)

13. A big change at the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools: Keith Oliveira is stepping down after six years as executive director. But he’s not going far afield, announcing he’s going to become the new executive director of Times2 STEM Academy, a charter school in Providence. “For the past six years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to be the voice and principal advocate for charter schools in our state and the thousands of students who attend them every day,” he said. “It has been my honor to represent our interests and to advance our role within Rhode Island’s public education system.” Spokesperson Lauren Greene tells me the charter group is launching a search for a new director and “details on that will be announced soon.”

14. Former Irish President Mary McAleese is coming to Rhode Island to participate in a “justice, equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation” during a visit to Salve Regina University on May 17. Salve was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1947 in the tradition of Catherine McAuley, who opened the first House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin. McAleese will meet with Salve President Kelli Armstrong, who said “Salve Regina’s connections to Ireland are an important part of our history.”

15. Don’t miss a great Street Stories feature this week. My colleagues Mike Montecalvo and John Villella highlighted the Attleboro Arts Museum celebrating 100 years. “The founders of the museum 100 years ago were all women,” Executive Director Mim Brooks Fawcett said, adding that the current exhibition is a tribute to their accomplishments. “They were trailblazers.” Viewers with long memories will remember when the museum’s current home was London’s Department Store, a staple in downtown Attleboro for decades.

16. Congrats to my former colleague Michelle Muscatello, who was named this week vice president of communications and external affairs at Delta Dental of Rhode Island.

17. This is fun: Brown University’s Olivia Pichardo, the first woman to play NCAA Division 1 baseball, threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park this week. And she throws gas.

18. Retired Providence Journal political columnist Charlie Bakst writes in with this remembrance of former Rhode Island First Lady Dorothy Licht, who died Monday at the impressive age of 101: “She was smart, funny, a fount of information, not a glory-seeker who sought to upstage her husband, Frank Licht, but hardly a recluse. In fact, she threw herself into the campaigns of Frank, Rhode Island’s first Jewish governor, and over the years I’d run into her more often than I would see all former First Ladies combined. It could be at a lecture, or a political fundraiser, a ceremony, or a deli … It is incredible to realize that almost 55 years have passed since the Licht family burst upon the statewide political scene. In June 1968, just before the filing deadline, Frank, a former Democratic state senator, resigned a Superior Court judgeship with life tenure to launch an uphill race against popular three-term Republican incumbent John Chafee. Mrs. Licht took to the campaign trail with him, relishing the chance to see new parts of the state and sample the foods of the various ethnic groups. When I went one day to their East Side home to interview her, she welcomed me with her cheese blintzes, a sweet Jewish delicacy similar to crepes. They would become her culinary trademark. You can find her recipe in Joan Nathan’s book, Jewish Cooking in America. Speaking of things Jewish: In 1998, I was talking to folks for a column looking back on a 1948 Rhode Island rally celebrating creation of the State of Israel. Frank Licht was master of ceremonies and delivered impassioned remarks. Indeed, over the years, Mrs. Licht told me, he’d given so many speeches about Israel that when he accepted the nomination for governor at the 1968 Rhode Island Democratic convention, he hesitated for a second and had to catch himself so that ‘State of Rhode Island’ didn’t come out as ‘State of Israel.’ During our August ‘68 conversation, Mrs. Licht said people told her she’d get busy as the campaign went on. She chuckled, ‘Well, I’ve BEEN busy from 7 in the morning till 1 in the morning. I tell them, ‘I’m not busy. I’m not doing anything from 1 to 7!’ Frank won that race, and another two-year term in 1970. Dorothy was a Wellesley College alum who majored in art history. Her interests tended to art, music and theater. It was no wonder that later she would serve on the State Council on the Arts. The Lichts were wealthy, and they knew the heights of political celebrity. Visiting the house after Frank’s 1987 death, you couldn’t help but notice the impressive display of photos from the heady times. But that’s not the main image of Dorothy Licht that stays with me. What I remember best is seeing her in her 90s, sitting at a simple picnic table outside the Eastside Marketplace, enjoying herself at a modest fundraiser for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, an organization to which she was devoted as a board member and donor. Indeed, the last time I saw her out and circulating was at a huge Food Bank event at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet. Her funeral will be Sunday at Temple Emanu-El. I don’t know what readings might be included. But I will be thinking of this passage from Isaiah:

“If you spend yourselves
in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness
and your night will become like the noonday.”

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a political roundtable; Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sunday 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.