Nesi’s Notes: April 21

Ted Nesi
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Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. Rhode Island lawmakers return to Smith Hill next week following their spring recess, and attention will quickly turn to their biggest task of the year: writing a state budget. Governor Raimondo made her opening bid back in January – click here for a refresher on what she proposed – but the General Assembly always puts its own stamp on the tax-and-spending plan. The first step will be figuring out how much money there is to work with, and those numbers will be nailed down May 10. State leaders got some good news on that front this week when they learned revenue is running $46.5 million above forecast through March. That will give lawmakers more wiggle room than Raimondo had, not only for closing the current year’s shortfall but next year’s, too. The challenge, however, is the perennial one: there are always far more demands than resources. To take one example, Raimondo herself has urged lawmakers to remove the “scoops” from quasi-public agencies’ accounts she used to close the gap in her proposal; doing so would eat up $26.6 million of the extra cash coming in. And that’s just the beginning. State workers are due to get raises. Hospitals and nursing homes are fighting rate cuts. State Sen. Lou DiPalma is urging more spending on individuals with disabilities. Sports betting legalization is no sure thing. And rank-and-file legislators want to avoid angering voters a few months before an election. House and Senate leaders will spend the coming weeks figuring out how to balance all these competing pressures.

2. Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung is our guest on this week’s Newsmakers, making his first appearance on the show since he kicked off his campaign last October. We covered a range of issues including UHIP, the sales tax, Commerce RI, guns, disability pensions and the Frank Montanaro tuition affair. A few highlights: Fung is open to legalizing recreational marijuana; he opposes the House-approved bills on licenses for DACA recipients and the “red flag” policy; he hopes to pay for his sales-tax cut by reducing state personnel and shrinking Commerce RI; and he would support the $250-million schools bond “with some tweaks.” Watch the full interview here.

3. Is Matt Brown thinking of jumping into the Democratic primary? A poll has been in the field testing how Brown would fare against Gina Raimondo and the two men who have already filed to challenge her in the primary, Burrillville Land Trust President Paul Roselli and former Rep. Spencer Dickinson. All three of their campaigns said the poll isn’t theirs – while Brown’s refused to say. “Matt is continuing to travel the state and talk with Rhode Islanders as he considers a run for governor,” Brown spokesman Ron Knox said in email. He declined to say when Brown will officially announce his plans. (Dickinson offered his own theory, saying in an email, “A younger woman running against two men in plaid shirts would only need to motivate a third man to run if she began to feel the two men were beginning to have some traction.”)

4. Could an 11th candidate file to run for governor? Businessman Ken Block, who ran as a Moderate in 2010 and a Republican in 2014, acknowledged this week he’s thinking about a third try. “I’m continuously looking at everything and I’ve made no decisions at this point,” Block told me. He declined to say whether he’d run as a Republican.

5. Kim Kalunian and Diana Pinzon illuminate how the State House gets lit up.

6. Ian Donnis has details on the health scare that led Rep. Jay O’Grady to retire.

7. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “It’s an election year, so you can all but guarantee the budget that Mayor Elorza unveils Tuesday night will hold the line on taxes and include no new parking meters, red light cameras, speed cameras or anything else that an opponent might use to criticize him or members of the City Council on the campaign trail later this summer. It’s also likely the mayor will spend much of his time highlighting existing programs rather than pitching new ones in his proposal. Aside from that, we already have a good idea of what about half of the approximately $760-million tax-and-spending plan will look like because the Providence School Board has approved a tentative proposal (though the council still gets the final say on educating spending). While city leaders have warned that the schools are facing a growing shortfall in the coming years, the proposed $384-million budget includes no significant cuts other than the elimination of nine currently-unfilled central office jobs and a reduction a technology spending because the city already has enough Chromebooks or other devices. What’s unclear is whether the city is considering offering raises to teachers to settle a contract dispute that has been simmering for months. The last time the mayor delivered a speech in the council chambers, he was shouted down by nearly 1,000 teachers and their supporters. The teachers’ response to Tuesday’s budget might give a good indication of where negotiations stand.”

8. A new report warns Providence’s current pension policies are a “recipe for disaster.” Councilman Sam Zurier, who co-authored the study, adds: “On our present course, the increasing obligation to fund the pension will move from difficult to near-impossible over the next 10 years. I have friends who have placed their homes on the market this spring because they are not confident the city will solve this problem in time.”

9. The median home price in Rhode Island hit $265,000 in March, up 13% from a year ago, as the market stays red hot. “It’s pretty clear we need more inventory to get this market back into balance,” said R.I. Association of Realtors President Joe Luca. For more, check out our special report on Rhode Island’s housing crunch and follow-up Newsmakers roundtable.

10. A study shows Rhode Island’s film/TV tax credit has been a net loser for taxpayers – and the candidates for governor vary widely on whether to keep or scrap it. Also this week, the candidates sparred over prevailing wage and the power of trades unions.

11. Brown University just got $100 million to research Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s and other brain diseases, one of the biggest donations in the school’s history. The Brown Daily Herald’s Jacob Lockwood has a closer look at what it could mean.

12. Good news and bad news at CCRI as Rhode Island’s Promise rolls out.

13. Politico investigates Patrick Kennedy’s ties to opioid-addiction companies.

14. Ron Brownstein examines Democrats’ chances of retaking the U.S. Senate.

15. In 1960, only 4% of Americans were cremated. Today, a majority of us are.

16. NFL players’ tax returns can get very, very complicated.

17. How Disney’s coming Netflix competitor could upend the movie business.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung. This week on Executive Suite – Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. And you can subscribe to both shows as iTunes podcasts – click here for Executive Suite and click here for Newsmakers. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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