Nesi’s Notes: Nov. 9

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. Despite fears a few months ago about a looming recession, there are now signs Rhode Island’s economy is perking up a bit. Employers have added over 8,000 jobs since January, putting 2019 on pace to be the strongest year for job growth since the Great Recession (unless it all gets revised away by new data next winter, as URI’s Len Lardaro suspects). Health care is leading the way, with over 3,000 new positions, while manufacturing has been a laggard as makers of durable goods grapple with the trade war. “Our commercial members are feeling good,” Navigant Credit Union CEO Gary Furtado said on this week’s Executive Suite. “We don’t see really a recession on the horizon yet. It’s all good.” The data has led Michael Lynch of IHS Markit, who compiles the state’s official economic forecast, to boost his outlook for expected employment and income growth in Rhode Island over the next few years. He now predicts the jobless rate to remain below 4% through at least 2021. Lynch’s analysis also points to an ongoing issue: housing, the subject of a forum next Thursday. After bottoming out around $225,000 in 2012, Rhode Island’s median existing single-family home is now selling for nearly $300,000, and Lynch expects that number to be nearly $370,000 by 2024. That’s good news for most homeowners, of course, and homes are still more affordable than they were in the mid-2000s. But the quickly escalating prices will make it ever harder for Rhode Island’s younger workforce to put down roots, which could hold back growth over the long term. And there’s little sign new construction will fill the gap: the number of new houses being built is still way below the level seen prior to the recession, and Lynch does not expect activity to pick up. Realtors President Dean deTonnancourt, though, argues it’s a good time to buy or sell. “Inventory remains scarce, so sellers are seeing higher gains and buyers who find a home are seeing some of the lowest mortgage rates ever,” he said last month. “It’s a win-win all around.”

2. The healthy economy is also helping to keep state tax revenue on track.

3. Rhode Island’s demographic changes over recent decades remain an under-discussed phenomenon. Case in point: this week Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman flagged Census data showing over the past four years Rhode Island has seen the second-biggest decline in white people as a share of all voting-age residents. White residents fell from 82.3% of the voting-age population to 78.2%; only Nevada saw a bigger decrease. Nor is Wasserman the first national analyst to take note of how rapidly Rhode Island has diversified. FiveThirtyEight’s Daniel Lathrop has noted that when you look at the states with the whitest populations in 1970, Rhode Island has seen the biggest subsequent surge in racial and ethnic minority residents, with their share climbing from less than 5% of Rhode Islanders to more than 25%.

4. At long last, Fall River has a new mayor-elect: Paul Coogan, a School Committee member who’ll take the reins in January after scoring a landslide victory in Tuesday’s election. A former Durfee High administrator, Coogan grew up around Spindle City politics — decades ago he worked on Beacon Hill for his late uncle, longtime state Rep. John J. Long, and he even made an unsuccessful bid for City Council back in the 1970s. “In Fall River you’ve got to remember, politics is a very, very rough sport — it’s like the wild hunting dogs of Uganda when you’re out in front,” Coogan quipped on this week’s Newsmakers. The mayor-elect has fielded a flurry of phone calls offering support and assistance in recent days from officials including Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Senator Markey, Congressman Kennedy and Congressman Keating — many of whom had been keeping their distance from Government Center over the last year due to the criminal charges against outgoing Mayor Jasiel Correia. Coogan has tapped as his chief of staff Ann O’Neil Souza, who held the same job under former Mayor Will Flanagan and who managed Coogan’s campaign. And he sees his top mission as restoring Fall River voters’ faith in government. “I do get mad when people characterize every politician as corrupt, ‘they’re doing this for that reason’ — some people are genuinely trying to help people,” he said.

5. Steph Machado wraps the rest of Tuesday’s local election results here.

6. Democratic presidential aspirant Pete Buttigieg will be in Providence on Sunday for two fundraisers, the first a high-dollar reception at the new Nick’s on Westminster, the second a “grassroots” gathering at the Vets for the broader public. And a notable Rhode Island Democrat will be speaking at both Buttigieg events: Congressman Cicilline. So does that mean a Cicilline endorsement of “Mayor Pete” is in the offing? No, says a person familiar, at least not for now — the congressman also plans to speak when Joe Biden comes to Providence later in the month.

7. A notable week for Governor Raimondo on the national stage: her team at the Democratic Governors Association helped pull out a headline-grabbing win in Kentucky, and Mike Bloomberg got her to vouch for him as he tests the waters for a White House run.

8. The Rhode Island Manufacturers Association held a fundraiser Tuesday for Speaker Mattiello, which RIMA chief Dave Chenevert says drew the leaders of two dozen or so manufacturing companies to bend the speaker’s ear about issues such as regulations, disability insurance, a Medicaid employer fee and marijuana in the workplace. “He gave a nice civics lesson in how things work up at the State House,” Chenevert said. “I think everybody’s eyes were pretty wide open. I don’t think a lot of them have an idea of how things work up there.” Chenevert said the event is “a new initiative” for the manufacturing group, modeled on the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s legislative leader fundraisers, and says he expects to hold one early next year for Senate President Ruggerio, too.

9. Here’s a dispatch out of the State House from Target 12’s Eli Sherman: “There’s a financial storm brewing behind the scenes of state government, as departments are under real pressure not to spend more than they received in general revenue for the first time in recent memory. The new way of doing business – known as Article 2, for its section of the current budget – breaks with recent history, when department heads, especially those in agencies with fluctuating costs, have asked for one amount in the beginning of the year and then more later if they overspend. It’s easy to get lost in what seems like wonky bean-counting, but the new rule could have real effects. For an agency like the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families, which is already projecting a $22 million deficit this fiscal year, the limits on spending above authorization could mean cuts in programs and services for one of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable populations. The Raimondo administration has quickly forgiven the overspending at DCYF, saying in a memo it’s allowable under a regulatory exemption for ‘immediate health and safety reasons.’ But the department’s poor accounting isn’t sitting well with legislative leaders, who championed Article 2 and say agencies should be honest about how much money they need during the annual budget process. It’s too early to know exactly how much that frustration will translate into action, but the issue could come to a head in the coming weeks when the House Finance Committee is expected to hold a meeting to scrutinize departmental spending.”

10. One of the notable changes happening in Rhode Island’s business world in recent years is the sharp decline in independent credit unions, long a mainstay of financial services in the state. Navigant Credit Union CEO Gary Furtado estimates the number of credit unions in Rhode Island has fallen from roughly 75 at their peak to just 19 today, with Pawtucket Credit Union and Navigant now the two largest. Navigant, which used to be known as Credit Union Central Falls, is continuing to grow through acqusition, currently in the process of taking over Kent Hospital Federal Credit Union. Appearing on this week’s Executive Suite, Furtado said the backlash against the big banks after the Great Recession was a boon for his industry. “With the crisis of 2007-2008, basically with the big banks and the big mortgage companies that were here, you couldn’t find out who you owed money to,” he said. “Local became the new buzzword, and we all — the credit unions that are local, the local community banks, they do a great job — we all benefited from the mess that happened.”

11. Revenue is plunging at the R.I. Airport Corporation, and CEO Iftikhar Ahmad says that’s on purpose. As my colleagues Susan Campbell and Eli Sherman reported this week, RIAC is trying to lower the cost of doing business at T.F. Green in an effort to draw more passengers. Unfortunately, revenue isn’t the only number declining at the airport: passenger traffic is down nearly 10% so far this year.

12. Tim White on Susan Rice’s book tour stop in Providence this week.

13. Patrick Anderson on an internal R.I. Democratic Party fight over its bylaws.

14. Federal grand jury subpoenas are flying over marijuana — in Massachusetts.

15. A correction to last week’s column: Massachusetts congressional candidate Jake Auchincloss’s grandfather was the cousin of Jackie Kennedy’s stepfather Hugh Auchincloss. (His grandfather was named Hugh Auchincloss, too.)

16. One of the most iconic names in Rhode Island industrial history is Brown & Sharpe, as chronicled in the 2017 book by Gerald Carbone. Secretary of state spokesperson Nick Domings reports the State Archives’ new “Count Me In!” exhibit about the Census includes a whole case on the company. “We have their articles of incorporation, a Rhode Island state census volume with Lucian Sharpe and his whole family in it, an ad for the company from Providence Magazine, and a factory inspector’s book that details working conditions,” Domings said in an email.

17. Congratulations to Meaghan Wims, promoted this week to be director of public affairs at PR shop Duffy & Shanley. “Meaghan has worked on some of the most challenging public affairs issues in the region; it is only natural that she assumes a leadership role within our growing practice area,” Duffy & Shanley President Jon Duffy said in a news release. I’ve known Meg since we were both reporters — she was at The Providence Journal when I was a cub at PBN — and she remains a pro on the other side of the fence.

18. The Atlantic asks if America is suffering from too much democracy.

19. The BBC picks the 100 novels that shaped our world.

20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Fall River Mayor-elect Paul Coogan; R.I. Airport Corporation President and CEO Iftikhar Ahmad. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Navigant Credit Union President and CEO Gary Furtado; GoPeer co-founder and CEO Ethan Binder. 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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