Nesi’s Notes: April 6

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. Mayor Elorza bowed to the inevitable this week, pulling the plug on his proposal to bail out the pension system by monetizing the city water supply. Elorza said, however, that he “will continue to meet with residents to discuss the city’s financial challenges and to put forward new and different ideas to address them.” After years of debate over Providence’s finances, though, how many new and different ideas are going to be found that would make a dent in $2 billion worth of unfunded liabilities for pensions and retiree health care? Some argue the city should file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, likening it to ripping off a Band-Aid. But former Mayor Angel Taveras is among those who have disagreed, since the city might not qualify (it’s running surpluses, after all) and even if it did residents might not like the outcome (sizable tax increases). Those who share Taveras’s view argue that the only realistic option is prudent budgeting, continued surpluses, economic growth, and time. Fitch Ratings appear to share that view, issuing a report last fall that said despite the city’s “limited” financial resilience, “Fitch expects a slow and gradual improvement supported by tax base growth and improved budget practices.” Still, the current stability is underpinned by a national economic boom. What will happen to Providence’s balance sheet in the next recession?

2. The Rhode Island Republican Party has a new leader: former East Greenwich Town Council President Sue Cienki. And she is leaving zero doubt about where her priorities lay. “My singular focus is on the General Assembly,” Cienki said on this week’s Newsmakers. “Even if Mayor Fung had been elected governor, he wouldn’t have had the Republican support there. We only have nine reps and five senators; we need to strive for more.” It’s clear Cienki does not want to see the GOP spend significant time or resources in 2020 on, for example, a challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed. And she doesn’t want to talk about the 2022 contests (though she is a big fan of Blake Filippi). But as much as Cienki may want to keep Rhode Islanders’ focus on state-level issues, President Trump will continue to dominate headlines for at least next two years, posing a problem in a state where his approval rating is under 40%. Asked what she would say if the White House sought her advice about how to help blue-state Republican leaders, she said, “Maybe stay off Twitter. I just want it to be all about what is happening in the state.” Cienki comes to the job with battle scars from her time in EG, where she and the other Republican councilors were ousted last fall after a contentious fight over town finances. The new chair took heat from both sides this week over her treatment of firefighters there: Republican activist Barbara Ann Fenton (who is married to Fung) resigned from the state GOP committee in public protest, and Democratic Party adviser Bill Lynch issued a news release on the same topic. Cienki said she was “disappointed” about Fenton’s decision, saying Republicans need to be unified to succeed in a state where they are so outnumbered. “The Republican Party has become a circular firing squad,” she said. “We take each other out. We have to start working together.”

3. Steph Machado breaks down the State House fight over firefighter OT.

4. Governor Raimondo was in New Haven on Friday and remains there today to fulfill her duties as a member of the Yale Board of Trustees.

5. Two stories on the DMV: Sen. Lou DiPalma wants to hike plate fees and have everyone get new ones, while Rep. Charlene Lima wants to create a plate with the Yankees logo on it.

6. RhodeWorks needs more money to finish the I-95 Providence Viaduct.

7. The Rhode Island Democratic Party has released a plan to allocate its 32 convention delegates after next year’s April 28 presidential primary.

8. Senator Whitehouse was spotted raising a flute of champagne in honor of retiring French Ambassador Gérard Araud.

9. America’s copy editors met in Providence last weekend for what was surely a rip-roaring annual convention — New Yorker “Comma Queen” Mary Norris has a dispatch from the festivities here.

10. Despite $36 billion spent, electronic health records in the U.S. are “an unholy mess.”

11. Scientific American says the decline of newspapers is “breaking our politics.”

12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – R.I. Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Sweenor Builders President and CEO Jeff Sweenor. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (also Sunday at 6:30 a.m. on Fox or 7:30 a.m. on The CW). Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both shows on iTunes — get the Newsmakers podcast here and the Executive Suite podcast here — and radio listeners can catch them back-to-back Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. 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

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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