Nesi’s Notes: Nov. 16

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. Another year, another budget deficit. As Governor Raimondo and her advisers put together her next tax-and-spending plan, due Jan. 16, they’re grappling with a shortfall for 2020-21 she estimates at upwards of $200 million. “There’ll be a lot of tough choices,” Raimondo said on this week’s Newsmakers. “There’s no easy way to close a $200 million hole. I don’t want to cut eligibility for health care or Medicaid. I don’t want to turn the clock back in terms of job training or education or pre-K. And so there may have to be a component of some kind of increased fees.” Expect to see another push by Raimondo to legalize recreational marijuana, partly due to a recent conversation she had with Governor Baker: “He basically said, ‘Look, you’re going to have to do it, so you probably should do it and do it right.’ And I think he’s probably right.” Also watch for Raimondo to finally bow to the inevitable and boost the starting budget allocation for DCYF, after years of undershooting the number (to the rising frustration of lawmakers). “We should have last year, and we will this year,” she said. One thing you probably won’t see: another effort to expand the Rhode Island Promise free tuition program. “I would love to, but when you’re facing a $200 million hole — I don’t know,” Raimondo said. The administration did get one bit of relatively positive news Friday evening: a new report showed the current budget is only $4 million in the red as of now.

2. Quick hits from Governor Raimondo’s Newsmakers interviewOn suing legislative leaders over marijuana regulations: “I would say, sign a consent decree. If you’re sincere, drop your opposition to the suit, and let’s do the right thing here. Let’s have a transparent process. Let’s have it be a lottery [for new licenses]. And let’s tell the people of Rhode Island, we’re moving beyond the old way of doing things.” … On the IGT deal debate getting kicked into 2020: “Exactly what we saw with the PawSox — hand-wringing, poor process. I mean, how did that end? Drive to Worcester. There’s lots of development happening in Worcester; could have been in Pawtucket. And I worry so much the same thing is going to happen here.” … On whether attacks against Elizabeth Warren as “angry” are sexist or just normal politics: “It’s all fair game in politics, and I think anyone who’s a fighter could get labeled as angry. But I absolutely think there’s a double standard in the way people see her.” … On her trip to Israel next week: “I’ve always been reluctant to do these out-of-country trade missions, because I’ve always wondered whether they would yield real tangible results. On this one, we have about a dozen business meetings set up with companies that are fast-growing that are looking for U.S. presences, and I also have a meeting with the president of Ben-Gurion University, which is one of their top tech universities.”

3. Coincidentally, one of my guests on this week’s Executive Suite is Avi Nevel, president and CEO of the Rhode Island-Israel Collaborative, a sort of Chamber of Commerce for the trading relationship. He says there are more links between Rhode Island and Israel than you might expect, in both business and academia — you can watch the interview here.

4. And speaking of the gambling industry, IGT and Twin River both delivered third-quarter earnings reports to Wall Street on Thursday, and they got quite different receptions from the stock market. IGT shares ended the week up 16%, while Twin River shares finished down 7.7%. Eli Sherman has a recap of their earnings here — including a glimpse of how much it’s costing them to fight over the Rhode Island Lottery contract.

5. Joe Kennedy III tapped a familiar face for his U.S. Senate campaign against Ed Markey on Thursday, adding operative Joe Caiazzo to a five-person political team that now includes Caiazzo, Marty Walsh, Tracey Lewis, Ramon Soto and Jacquetta Van Zandt. Caiazzo is well-known in Rhode Island for managing the 2016 Bernie Sanders (primary) and Hillary Clinton (general) operations, then piloting Senator Whitehouse’s 23-point re-election win last year. The Kennedy-Markey race has been relatively low-key since the initial burst of coverage around Kennedy’s announcement, with both Democrats staffing up and maintaining robust public schedules as they crisscross the state. No polls have been conducted since the early September Globe/Suffolk survey that put Kennedy up by at least 9 points. The campaigns — including that of a third candidate, lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan — have also been bickering over debate schedules and potential limits on election spending. Meanwhile, Kennedy will be back in our region Sunday afternoon for a meet-and-greet in Dartmouth and a pizza night hosted by the New Bedford firefighters.

6. So far Rhode Island’s 2020 U.S. Senate race looks considerably less interesting than the one in Massachusetts. Incumbent Democrat Jack Reed, who celebrated his 70th birthday this week, currently has no Republican or Democratic challengers and is regularly ranked as holding one of the safest Senate seats in the country. Roll Call’s Nathan L. Gonzales found another way to calculate Reed’s political strength. He created a metric called Vote Above Replacement — modeled on the baseball metric Wins Above Replacement — that “measures the strength of a political candidate relative to typical ballot performance, or Baseline, from their party within their state.” Reed ranks No. 1 among all Senate Democrats, winning by 12.67 percentage points more than a generic Rhode Island Democrat would be expected to. Sheldon Whitehouse scores quite a bit lower, only adding 1.23 percentage points to a generic Democrat’s expected performance; across the border, Ed Markey adds 3.73 points, while Elizabeth Warren is basically a generic Democrat. Yet even Reed can’t come close to topping Susan Collins, who does 25.24 percentage points better than a Republican Senate nominee would be expected to do in Maine.

7. With two days of impeachment hearings in the books, on Friday I asked Congressman Cicilline – a member of House Democratic leadership – what voters should expect next: “This week, we heard three compelling witnesses outline President Trump’s efforts to use military aid – that had already been approved by Congress – as a bribe to get Ukraine to help his re-election campaign. Next week, we’ll hear from additional witnesses, including folks who were on his call with the president of Ukraine. The full details of the president’s misdeeds are coming into focus, and it’s clear that Congress will have to hold him accountable.”

8. A very different view on impeachment landed in local inboxes on Thursday, in the form of a fundraising appeal from R.I. Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki: “President Trump needs our help to continue Making America Great Again. Liberals know they cannot beat Trump in 2020, so the Deep State is working overtime to undo his legacy. That’s why they launched the Impeachment Scam. Democrats want to take away your voice by removing President Trump. Don’t let them win!”

9. Senate Budget Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse has taken an interest in the congressional budget process for a number of years, most recently authoring an op-ed with Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi about their proposed Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act. The measure “won’t fix all of our fiscal challenges,” they argued, “but it represents a needed and important step in restoring our broken budget process.” Not everyone agrees: David Dayen of the liberal American Prospect published a piece Thursday questioning why “the typically progressive” Whitehouse would support “an automatic trigger to cut Medicare and food stamps based on a highly uncertain number conjured up by unelected budget scorers.” Whitehouse’s rejoinder: “The reform bill does not include new tools to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits, and I would strongly oppose such cuts in any context. Our reform bill simply requires the Senate to periodically consider legislation to cut the deficit. I would like to see future deficit reduction focus on repealing unfair tax cuts for the wealthy and closing loopholes that encourage American companies to operate offshore.”

10. Last week’s announcement that the congressional delegation had secured Rhode Island a $25 million federal BUILD grant for the Washington Bridge project was welcomed by RIDOT leaders (though not East Siders who despair over losing the Gano Street exit). A White House news release Tuesday revealed just how well Rhode Island had done: of the 35 states that received BUILD grants this round, only six got the maximum $25 million on offer: Rhode Island, Maine, Iowa, Colorado, Alaska and Texas. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the administration favored applications “to repair, rebuild, and revitalize significant infrastructure projects.” Wonder if it’s a coincidence that Rhode Island’s Jack Reed and Maine’s Susan Collins, whose states both got maximum grants, are the leaders of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for transportation?

11. An interesting idea from David Cicilline and Joe Kennedy: they want to create a Southern New England Regional Commission that could bring in additional federal economic development funding for Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. For a deeper dive, a plugged-in Nesi’s Notes reader passes along this recent Congressional Research Service report on how similar commissions work.

12. The new Veterans Home in Bristol is proving unexpectedly expensive to run.

13. Candidate Watch: Melinda López will run in the Democratic primary for House District 43 in Johnston, currently represented by seven-term Democrat Deb FellelaLeonardo Cioe Jr. has filed to run in the Democratic primary against Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (h/t Dan McGowan) … former Cranston City Councilor Maria Bucci, a Democrat, has filed paperwork to run for mayor (h/t Ian Donnis).

14. Everything old is new again: on Thursday night former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg relaunched Drinking Liberally, a meet-and-greet at the Wild Colonial that was a mainstay of Providence’s progressive political scene in the mid-2000s. Regunberg reports the event drew about 150 people. “I saw a ton of useful connections getting made – a candidate meeting a potential campaign manager, someone new to town finding an organization to volunteer with, all the things this event is supposed to be about,” he said.

15. Good spot in The Washington Post by a loyal Nesi’s Notes reader: “In a search for jobs which once paid well, but have fallen below average in most states, we considered hundreds of industries. Public schools stood out. In the early 1990s, when today’s veteran educators were starting out, public-school teachers and support staff pulled in above-average paychecks in 26 of the 42 states for which the Labor Department had comparable data. By 2017, their earnings topped the average in just one state, Rhode Island. Over that time, public-school teacher and staff earnings fell relative to the average worker in all 42 of those states.”

16. Rhode Island entrepreneur Patrick Brown got the inspiration for his startup, Rent Sons, from his days as a URI student who needed to do odd jobs to pay for college. Now he’s turned that into a successful business which allows “neighbors” to rent “sons” (or “daughters”) to help with everything from gardening to appliance moving. (The idea is you’re paying to have someone do the household chore you wish your own kid would do.) Rent Sons did 35,000 hours of work this year and expects to more than double that to 80,000 in 2020, expanding out of Rhode Island and Massachusetts to be in 20 cities by the end of next year. “My hope is to be a national or global company,” Brown said on this week’s Executive Suite.

17. Gatehouse and Gannett shareholders gave their blessings this week for a merger that will create America’s largest newspaper conglomerate, whose holdings will include local dailies The Providence Journal, the New Bedford Standard-Times, the Fall River Herald News, the Newport Daily News and the Taunton Gazette. Industry analyst Ken Doctor’s latest analysis is very grim: “In any room of eight people at a current GateHouse or Gannett operation, one is likely to see her job gone in 2020.”

18. Will Massachusetts try to put tolls on I-95 at the Rhode Island border?

19. National trade pub TVNewsCheck gave some well deserved kudos to Tim White and John Villella for their hit digital documentary “The Mafia Tapes,” as well as our entire 12 on 12 digital series.

20. Pew finds 59% of Americans have lived with a partner outside marriage.

21. Super cool: the Internet Archive has embarked on a project to preserve the Boston Public Library’s entire collection of over 100,000 vinyl LPs, and you can listen to some full albums for free here.

22. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersGovernor Raimondo. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Rent Sons founder/CEO Patrick Brown; Rhode Island-Israel Collaborative President/CEO Avi Nevel. 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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