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Nesi’s Notes: Dec. 14

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. Ask Brett Johnson about Pawtucket, and the Fortuitous Partners founder quickly starts gushing. “It’s a developer’s dream,” Johnson declared on this week’s Newsmakers, laying out the rationale for his $400 million proposed soccer complex along the Seekonk River. The project, dubbed Tidewater Landing, so far seems to be receiving a much warmer reception than any of the various PawSox stadium plans ever did. “This is going to be a destination and a source of pride for everyone in and out of the state — anyone within New England,” Johnson said. He told us Fortuitous already has “verbal commitments” for over $100 million of the roughly $300 million in private money needed to fund the project; he plans to use debt financing to cover some of the cost, as well. Policymakers from both parties have also helped make his vision possible. In Rhode Island, the General Assembly’s Democratic leaders authorized a tax increment financing tool for Pawtucket earlier this year that will backstop the public borrowing for the project, while Governor Raimondo’s Commerce RI team has led negotiations on it. And in Washington, President Trump and Republican congressional leaders enacted the 2017 tax law which created the Opportunity Zones program, a tax break for investors which is a crucial part of Tidewater Landing. “I have both sides of the aisle to thank for it,” Johnson said.

2. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an influential local leader wants Lifespan and Care New England to start discussions over a potential merger. The twist this time is that the influential local leader is Care New England CEO Jim Fanale — whose own organization just five months ago pulled the plug on Lifespan-CNE talks brokered by Governor Raimondo. So considering Lifespan’s leaders have been pressing for a merger for a number of years, why isn’t CEO Tim Babineau returning Fanale’s calls? Because Fanale wants a third party, Partners HealthCare (soon to be renamed Mass General Brigham), to be part of the negotiation. And that’s the stalemate right now: Lifespan wants to hold two-party talks with Care New England, but won’t engage if Partners is included; Care New England wants to hold three-party talks, but won’t engage if Partners isn’t included. (Lifespan has said it would be willing to entertain merger talks with Partners eventually, but only after a Lifespan-CNE deal is consummated.) Read my latest breakdown of the latest hospital drama here.

3. Over at The Public’s Radio, Scott MacKay suggests one place to look for savings in the Rhode Island hospital sector is executive compensation, long a flashpoint in Rhode Island. The latest available IRS filings show Lifespan paid Tim Babineau $2.6 million in fiscal 2017, while Jim Fanale’s predecessor as CEO (Dennis Keefe) got $1.3 million from Care New England.

4. Vice President Gina Raimondo? She tied for 13th on The Washington Post Power Rankings’ new list of potential Democratic VP picks. Here’s the argument made by Post columnist David Von Drehle: “The 48-year-old two-term governor of Rhode Island arguably balances the tickets of a number of front-runners. Her age and gender work well with Biden and Sanders. Her centrist, no-cake-before-supper approach might be reassuring to the business community as part of a ticket with Warren. And her Oxford credentials could make a power ticket with Buttigieg: a couple of young brainiacs who understand working-class constituencies.” (But how would public-sector labor unions react?)

5. For the fourth time in American history, on Friday a U.S. House of Representatives committee voted to advance the impeachment of the president, and it appears almost certain that next week Donald Trump will become only the third president to be impeached since the Constitution took effect in 1789. (“The Framers established the impeachment process because they feared a man like Donald Trump would one day hold the presidency. Next week, we will proceed as they intended,” Congressman Cicilline said Friday.) While there’s nearly zero chance the Republican-controlled Senate will remove Trump from office, proponents are still seeking to turn up the heat. Pro-impeachment organizers are planning to hold a rally in Providence’s Burnside Park at 5:30 p.m. the night before the House’s impeachment vote (most likely meaning Tuesday night, since the vote is expected Wednesday) to show support for the move. It’s part of a nationwide series of “Nobody is Above the Law” rallies. Asked in an email whether the R.I. Republican Party is planning any counter-effort to show support for Trump, GOP Chair Sue Cienki replied, “Do you think they will invite Gerry Zarrella and Doreen Costa to speak?” (Zarrella and Costa are Rhode Island co-chairs of the president’s re-election campaign.)

6. Here’s a dispatch from Target 12’s Eli Sherman: “It’s a big week for DCYF. The embattled child welfare agency is asking for an extra $22 million to cover a deficit this fiscal year, paired with an ambitious plan to revamp foster care. Watch for lawmakers to scrutinize those two topics during a House Finance Subcommittee on Human Services meeting scheduled for Tuesday, as DCYF has been called into testify. DCYF and its finances have become hot-button issues around the State House this year, in no small part due to the death of a 9-year-old girl who was under state supervision. Child Advocate Jennifer Griffith, who led an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death, laid much of the blame at the feet of DCYF. Shortly thereafter former DCYF Director Trista Piccola resigned, and her post has remained vacant for months — meaning the agency is in rocky waters without a permanent leader at the helm. As for the money, the agency’s deficit has put to the test a new law championed by General Assembly leaders known as Article 2, which is designed to crack down on departmental overspending. How lawmakers handle the $22 million supplemental budget request could reveal how strictly the new law will be applied now and in the future.”

7. Nail Communications has landed a $425,000 state contract to mount an ad campaign for the 2020 Census. Brenna McCabe, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Administration, says the effort will include ad production for print, web and social media. “This campaign will support the Complete Count Committee‘s efforts to reach Hard to Count Rhode Islanders who are traditionally vulnerable to a census undercount,” McCabe reports. “This includes but is not limited to minorities, seniors and older adults, individuals and families experiencing homelessness, individuals with limited English proficiency, the LGBTQ+ community, individuals with disabilities, renters, and children ages 0-5.” The committee’s plan for the Census was outlined in this June report to the governor and legislative leaders. (McCabe said the governor’s former communications director, Mike Raia, has no involvement in the Census contract because he runs Nail’s new PR practice, not its advertising shop.)

8. Think Rhode Island’s budget process can be challenging? Massachusetts legislative leaders couldn’t agree on a final budget deal for the 2018-19 fiscal year — which ended back on June 30 — until this week.

9. David Cicilline has been the subject of a lot of national media coverage since Democrats regained the majority in the House, but one piece worth your time is Steve Lohr’s Monday New York Times piece on the work Cicilline is doing leading the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel. “Tech companies are under various antitrust investigations, including by the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. Those inquiries could lead to lawsuits against the companies to enforce existing laws,” Lohr writes. “But Mr. Cicilline has a more ambitious goal — one that may be the greater threat, in the long run, to Big Tech’s practices and profits.” It’s a good example of an issue where a Rhode Island lawmaker is having a big impact even though the discussion isn’t high profile back home.

10. Jack Reed reacts to The Washington Post’s “Afghanistan Papers” exposé.

11. Florida is joining the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a nonprofit group that facilitates the sharing of voter data across jurisdictions, helping states keep their election rolls clean. Rhode Island joined ERIC in 2015 soon after Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea took office; Florida is the 29th state to sign up. “Florida’s membership in ERIC is a huge step forward in our ongoing efforts to maintain the accuracy and integrity of our voter rolls,” Gorbea says. “Many Rhode Islanders retire or spend significant time in Florida, but people have busy lives and sometimes forget to let us know that they’ve moved. Now, it will be much easier to update these voter registrations.” Rhode Island currently has about 783,000 registered voters.

12. Is Charlie Baker’s super PAC turning into a rival Massachusetts GOP?

13. Whether the topic is medical or recreational, marijuana policy is one of the hottest policy issues in Rhode Island, and has been for years now. Next Tuesday, my colleague Steph Machado will take an in-depth look at the topic in “The Business of Cannabis,” in our latest 12 on 12 digital documentary.

14. The departure of John Taylor as Twin River’s executive chairman is a notable change. After nearly a decade as the company’s front man, Taylor had been less visible in recent months, with the company’s Rhode Island president, Marc Crisafulli, emerging as its most visible local executive during this year’s battle over the IGT deal. Noteworthy, too, is the person replacing Taylor as chairman of the Twin River board: Soo Kim, founder of Standard General L.P., the hedge fund that owned 32% of the company at last check. (Unlike Taylor, Kim will not be an executive chairman, just a board chair.) The change at the top comes as Twin River shares are slowly recovering from some of their big summer losses.

15. Congratulations to John Howell, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary running the Warwick Beacon. John is one of the greats of Rhode Island journalism, and a true gentleman. Don’t miss Kim Kalunian’s wonderful piece paying tribute to Howell.

16. Say it ain’t so: the Apostrophe Protection Society is giving up the fight.

17. Bloomberg’s Noah Smith has this advice for “second-tier” cities looking to spur economic development in the 2020s: “Whereas before, a city might have to style itself as the ‘live music capital of the world’ to attract knowledge workers, now all it needs is the basics — some apartment buildings, shopping villages, coffee shops, ethnic restaurants, bookstores and co-working spaces. And, of course, it needs cheap rent. Lots of cities will end up looking the same, but the internet will provide the variety.”

18. Anyone else remember ICQ?

19. Amanda Mull argues free shipping isn’t actually free.

20. Some great picks in Marc Myers’ Vintage Holiday Album Hall of Fame.

21. Need to do some Christmas shopping today? Come to the Warwick Mall between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when your favorite WPRI 12’ers will be there wrapping gifts and collecting donations for Crossroads. Kim Kalunian and I will be there at noontime — swing by and say hi. (Full disclosure: you’re better off having Kim wrap your gift. But I’m game to try!)

22. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersBrett Johnson, founder and principal of Fortuitous Partners; Care New England President and CEO Dr. James Fanale. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both our weekend 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 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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