Nesi’s Notes: May 11

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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. The decision by Governor Raimondo’s administration to switch to the Massachusetts-modeled RICAS exam could turn out to be one of the most consequential education moves of her tenure — somewhat inadvertently. By creating a direct comparison between students in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which illustrated the wide achievement gap between the two states, the RICAS results jolted the state’s political class to prioritize K-12. That culminated in this week’s legislative education package, a broad set of proposals that touch on principals’ power, teacher certification, curriculum standardization and state intervention. The seven bills received generally positive reviews, and with Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio both in support, they are almost certain to become law unless some sort of unexpected backlash develops. And they’re not wasting any time: the House and Senate education committees have already scheduled hearings on most of the bills for Wednesday. The biggest criticisms were about what wasn’t in the package — most notably, new revenue. Tim Duffy, chief lobbyist for the state’s school committees, has noted that Massachusetts’ landmark 1993 reforms were paired with a major funding increase (though these days the Bay State funding formula has plenty of its own critics). Rep. Gregg Amore, a lead House architect of the education package, countered that this year’s budget will include another $30 million bump for K-12 under the education funding formula established in 2010. And zooming out, state school aid from the General Fund will hit nearly $1 billion next year, up from $649 million back before the formula was put in place.

2. Late breaking news: Senate Judiciary will vote on the abortion bill Tuesday.

3. The annual revenue conference is over, and the fiscal soothsayers say tax receipts will come in about $27 million higher this year and next than expected last November. That’s not a big swing — especially since about half the extra cash was already spoken for in Governor Raimondo‘s January proposal — but state leaders will be happy to have any extra wiggle room as they hammer out a final budget deal in the coming weeks. The numbers could be good news for the governor on her key education initiatives, pre-K and Rhode Island Promise, but not so good on marijuana legalization, since there’s less immediate pressure to find additional revenue.

4. Lifespan CEO Dr. Tim Babineau brought his campaign against the Partners-CNE deal to Newsmakers on Friday, insisting his company is trying not to avoid competition from the Boston behemoth but rather to push the possibilities if Lifespan, Care New England and Brown’s medical school joined together once and for all. “What we’re talking about is just making sure folks are aware of what’s provided in the state, and really, the opportunity that will be lost,” he said. “If Care New England goes to the Partners HealthCare system, I think the opportunity to create the vision that has been talked about for 20-plus years, that leaders have said is the right thing to do, may be lost forever. And again, bringing these two organizations together, having the faculty on the same team — that would really be spectacular, and that would be something that for years to come would be a jewel in the state of Rhode Island.” Babineau also insisted Lifespan’s balance sheet is strong enough to fund whatever capital investment is needed at the Care New England hospitals if they joined together. But if he’s so enthusiastic now about a Lifespan-CNE tie-up, why didn’t Babineau bite when Brown President Christina Paxson approached him about making an alternative offer back in 2017? “We talked and we were trying to work through the details and, again, because of market dynamics couldn’t quite get this thing nailed down and get to yes,” he said. “That’s water under bridge. This is too important to not try again. … I think if you ask Chris Paxson now she would strongly prefer what we’re advocating for, which is an in-state unified academic medical system.” (So far, at least, Paxson hasn’t said that publicly.)

5. Governor Raimondo faces a moment of truth on the municipal union bills: sign, veto, or let them become law without her signature? While she has signaled particular openness to the indefinite contracts measure, the League of Cities and Towns and its allies (including the Wall Street Journal editorial page) have done an effective job turning up the heat on the issue. If she did block one or both, though, there’s no guarantee her decision would hold: both bills passed the Assembly with veto-proof majorities.

6. The Capitol Police union isn’t happy that AG Neronha wants to hire private armed guards for his Providence office.

7. Twin River’s rivals underestimate the Lincoln casino operator at their peril. That was clear once again this week when Twin River’s D.C. lobbyist, Trump ally Matt Schlapp, apparently engineered an 11th-hour presidential tweet against the House bill to authorize the Mashpee tribe’s proposed Taunton casino. The unexpected White House intervention helped torpedo New Bedford Congressman Bill Keating’s plan to fast-track the legislation, setting back his cause (if only temporarily). Strange bedfellows: Trump was on the same side as Congressman Cicilline, who worked behind the scenes in House Democratic caucus meetings to counter Keating.

8. The Rhode Island Democratic Party has submitted its delegate selection plan for the 2020 presidential race, which will determine how Rhode Island’s 32 Democratic National Convention delegates are allocated following next year’s April primary. An earlier version had an interesting idea: allow 17-year-olds to run for delegate as long as they would be 18 by the time Election Day rolled around in November. The only problem? That’s not currently legal. (Rep. Gregg Amore is currently working to change state law to allow it.) Nick Domings, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, said in an email: “Rhode Island law requires a potential candidate to be a qualified elector on the day that they declare. After your inquiry, the secretary of state’s office reached out to the Rhode Island Democratic Party to make them aware of the law as it relates to their delegate selection plan. They have been responsive, and have stated that they plan to proactively take steps to address the issue.” The party’s executive director, Kevin Olasanoye, said the initial draft was “just that — a draft,” but that “the spirit of what we are trying to accomplish is to cast a wide net to make sure everyone who wants to participate as a delegate has the opportunity to do so.”

9. RIDOT is making progress in its plan to borrow $200 million for the Viaduct.

10. The Warwick Beacon published a blistering editorial on Thursday that argued its hometown had been the victim of national “outrage culture” over its controversial lunch debt policy. Not everyone agrees — local lawyer Ken Sylvia tweeted in response, “Nothing about the correct version they supply makes punishing kids for something their parents did any more palatable to me.” Regardless, the lunch debt problem is hardly limited to Warwick, as Kim Kalunian reports in this story taking a broader look at the issue.

11. Congressman Cicilline isn’t on board with a cashless society: he just filed the Cash Always Should be Honored (CASH) Act, which would require retailers to always accept dollars and cents for payment. Noting that about one in four Americans don’t have credit cards, Cicilline argues the legislation “will protect the economic freedom and opportunity of millions of working people.” It’s certainly a conversation-starter.

12. Rhode Island now has three 2nd Amendment sanctuary communities.

13. Mayor Grebien gave the PawSox all their police details for free in 2018.

14. Brown University is launching a new Policy Lab under the leadership of David Yokum, an Obama White House alum, funded in part by longtime Raimondo supporters Laura and John Arnold. It’s a new version of what was the Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab, which operated during the governor’s first term before a year ago beginning a transition into its new form. Unlike the previous version of the organization, the new Policy Lab isn’t tied to a single faculty member or academic department, so Brown hopes to get involvement from across the university. Yokum has big ambitions for the Lab to drive policy using data. “We’re in a great position to do this in Rhode Island and become a model for the nation in implementing evidence-based policy statewide, at all levels of governance,” he said in a news release.

15. I had the pleasure of attending two great community events in the past week. On Monday night, Kim Kalunian and I were glad to once again emcee the annual gala to benefit Sophia Academy, an innovative Providence middle school for low-income girls. The event honored Suzanne Magaziner and raised over $450,000 to help the school. And on Thursday, Kim and I attended this year’s inductions for the Rhode Island Radio & TV Hall of Fame — congratulations to legendary WPRI anchorman Walter Cryan (still sharp as ever at age 87!) along with his fellow honorees, Bill Haberman of WPRO, Patrice Wood and the late Art Lake of WJAR, and Kim Zandy of 92 PRO-FM. Also honored as up-and-comers were WLNE’s Alana Cerrone and Cool 102’s Tracy Lynn.

16. Connecticut may switch from an income tax to a payroll tax.

17. What a book priced at $15 online really costs an independent bookstore.

18. Should Facebook pay us for providing the content that lets it sell so many ads?

19. How a Julia Child cookbook helped one man reconnect with his late mother.

20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Lifspan President and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau and Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute chief Dr. James Fingleton. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – MindImmune CEO Stevin Zorn and Slater Technology Fund managing partner Richard Horan. 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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