Nesi’s Notes: Aug. 10

Ted Nesi

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. As long as America continues to see mass shootings like last weekend’s twin tragedies, the Rhode Island State House will continue to see intense debates over gun policy. The issue splits state Democrats between gun-control proponents, aligned with Governor Raimondo, and gun-control skeptics, aligned with Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio. Raimondo turned up the heat on the two Assembly leaders Monday for refusing to enact her proposed bans on assault rifles and concealed carry in schools. “I bet, God forbid, if there were a shooting of that kind in Rhode Island, finally the General Assembly would do the right thing,” Raimondo told me. Mattiello and Ruggerio countered in a joint statement, saying, “Rhode Island’s gun-control laws are among the strongest in the country.” They cited the state’s B+ rating from the Giffords Law Center and its ranking as the 7th-worst state for gun owners on Guns & Ammo magazine’s annual list. They also pointed to last year’s enactment of a “red flag” law to take guns away from potentially dangerous individuals. As Tim White reported this week, police have used the new power 21 times since the law went on the books, with Cumberland leading the pack. But even that measure has an asterisk: Rhode Island’s red flag law is more limited than those of other states because it allows only police – not family members or teachers – to petition for a protection order. That means Rhode Island would not qualify for the federal grants Jack Reed and Marco Rubio are proposing in their Senate red flag bill, which could get a vote following the El Paso and Dayton tragedies. The General Assembly “would have to change the law in order to get the benefits,” Senator Reed acknowledged in an interview with Tim. “Many times family members have more accurate information about what’s going on, and if they can directly go and apply to the courts – through due process – for an order, that would be much more effective in many cases.”

2. If you heard a deep sigh of relief on Friday afternoon, it was probably Governor Raimondo’s ever-busy staffers — she’s going on vacation with her family to South County for the next two weeks.

3. The plot thickens on the IGT deal, as the company’s chief rival, Scientific Games, hires a State House lobbyist to keep tabs on the machinations over the gaming technology contract. Governor Raimondo is standing by the proposed 20-year contract, telling me on this weekend’s Newsmakers, “I’m not going to apologize for preferring the local company.” The Senate at least will definitely be holding hearings on the deal, and the House still may, as well. But Twin River certainly seems to have sown doubt in the minds of the public and the General Assembly about the wisdom of such a very long, very lucrative, no-bid contract. One noteworthy wrinkle in the debate is how both companies are playing up their local ties, though the truth is more complicated for both. IGT’s current 20-year state contract was inked with the original GTECH, a homegrown company, but multiple mergers have left IGT in the hands of an Italian conglomerate, with Providence as just one of four quasi-headquarters (and not the one where CEO Marco Sala has his office). Meanwhile, Twin River Worldwide Holdings is now based in Providence, at Joe Paolino’s 100 Westminster St. building, but the company is effectively controlled by Soohyung Kim’s New York-based hedge fund Standard General.

4. The ink is barely dry on the new 2019-20 state budget, but instructions have already gone out to agencies so they can begin preparing their budget requests for fiscal 2020-21. Surprise, surprise: they’re being asked to find cuts because the State Budget Office is projecting the governor will need to close a roughly $200 million deficit (again) when she puts forward her tax-and-spending plan in January. And so it goes.

5. The cost of UHIP is now expected to be $656 million over 10 years, Susan Campbell reports, with $154 million of that covered by Rhode Island taxpayers. Not all of the money is for building the system — some is for ongoing maintenance and operations. And in what would seem to be a good sign, the new projection is a relatively small increase from last year’s estimate of $647 million. One outstanding question: what exactly is going to happen with the $50 million rebate Deloitte promised in exchange for its contract extension? Five months after the governor announced it, there’s still no agreement between the state and the feds on who gets the money.

6. A dispatch from WPRI 12’s Eli Sherman: “The state has moved another step closer to taking over Providence public schools with an official order last week from Education Commission Angélica Infante-Green. As my colleague Steph Machado reports, Infante-Green in broad strokes detailed how the process will lead to an initial three-year turnaround plan, but the order stopped short of getting into specifics. Nonetheless, people involved in the turnaround planning are again telling us the state is looking closely at Lawrence, Massachusetts, where a state-appointed receiver headed a three-year turnaround of the school district after it was put into receivership in 2011. As we reported last month, the Lawrence plan included firing 160 underperforming teachers, slimming down central administrative offices and giving more power to individual schools. The effort resulted in improved test scores, higher graduation rates and fewer student dropouts. However, it’s worth noting Lawrence remains in receivership and is still listed among the lowest performing schools in Massachusetts.”

7. The new Providence River Pedestrian Bridge is officially open, and sure to be busy all weekend. Debate will continue over whether the span was worth its eyebrow-raising $22 million price tag. But walking across it Friday it was evident that the sections of Providence it connects are being transformed, between the Brown medical school, South Street Landing, River House, the Wexford building, the bridge and Plant City.

8. It turns out Providence loses the majority of liquor license rulings at DBR.

9. Did you know the Projo building has its own zip code? (02902!)

10. Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, a Brown alum, will hold a fundraiser Sept. 17 at The Stable on Washington Street for his Democratic primary campaign against Congressman Richard Neal (h/t Matt Szafranski). The hosts are Nick Autiello and Joe Lazzerini.

11. Common Cause has been vindicated for warning about modems in Rhode Island voting machines (though now the Board of Elections is pushing back).

12. Don’t look now, but Sean Trende says Texas could be in play for next year’s presidential election.

13. A bracing warning from Arthur Brooks: “Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think.”

14. A fun look at the technology reporters used to use to file their stories.

15. There are corrections, and then there are CORRECTIONS.

16. Anyone who cares about the future of journalism in Southeastern New England, where nearly all our daily newspapers will soon be controlled by the combined GateHouse-Gannett behemoth, should read this insightful Ken Doctor analysis of the deal. Among the points that give pause: the companies are financing the deal with money borrowed at an 11.5% interest rate.

17. Congratulations to Mayor Elorza and his fiancée, former Central Falls City Councilor Stephanie Gonzalez, who are getting married today.

18. “In South County, you feel like you are on vacation even if you only have a few hours to spare.” The New York Times has discovered the glories of Matunuck, Watch Hill and everything in between.

19. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersGovernor Raimondo; a political roundtable. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Boston Fed President and CEO Eric Rosengren. 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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