Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: March 26


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Happy Easter! 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. It’s been said that if you want to see how ephemeral most news stories are, just look at the top headlines from the same day a year ago: how many were of lasting significance? Using that yardstick, the debate over the future of the 6-10 Connector is a strong contender for Rhode Island’s biggest story of the week. No matter which way you look at it – location, cost, complexity – this project is hugely important; RIDOT’s Peter Alviti told my colleague Kelly Sullivan it’s even bigger than the Iway. All the more impressive, then, that Transport Providence’s James Kennedy and his fellow advocates have forced RIDOT to seriously examine turning 6-10 into a surface-level boulevard to open up Olneyville. But Kennedy wasn’t happy with the option RIDOT proposed Wednesday: “It’s still just a highway with bus lanes, instead of a boulevard.” Support for a boulevard is hardly universal, though, as evidenced by some of the hundreds of comments on our Facebook page: “Nice, but really, just get me to 95 as quick as possible,” wrote one viewer, Karen LaFlamme, of the boulevard idea. Whatever happens, the hundreds of millions of dollars about to be spent will shape the West Side for at least a generation. And RIDOT seems to be in a hurry to firm up its plans: the agency wants to seek funding for 6-10 from the $800-million federal FASTLANE program, and the application is due April 14.

2. Another story this week that’s likely to matter a year from now: the ongoing turmoil at Care New England. The nurses’ union released documents Thursday showing the hospital group has floated the idea of merging Memorial and Kent hospitals; a spokeswoman now says that’s no longer in play. It’s the latest evidence of just how concerned Care New England executives are about Memorial’s financial condition, which CEO Dennis Keefe has warned state officials is “very serious and destabilizing for CNE as a whole during already challenging times.” You have to wonder what executives are thinking at New Bedford’s Southcoast Health Group, which is trying to consummate a merger with Care New England. (Also, as one observer noted, Keefe’s proposed changes to the Hospital Conversions Act could ease the way for other tie-ups, including the Southcoast deal.) In a must-read analysis of the Memorial situation this week, ConvergenceRI’s Richard Asinof put the controversy in the larger context of a Rhode Island medical sector that is seeing its entire business model change while “being consolidated and colonized by out-of-state health systems, by both not-for-profit and for-profit entities.”

3. How much information is still buried in the 38 Studios court documents released last September? The House Oversight Committee was apparently surprised to learn from the unfinished Deloitte audit that Michael Corso made $2.4 million off 38 Studios. But Max Wistow, the state’s attorney in the 38 Studios civil suit, disclosed that number in a court filing back on April 21, 2015. “Mr. Corso and Defendants Schilling, Zaccagnino, Wester, and MacLean subsequently disagreed whether Mr. Corso’s commission should be based upon the full $75 million amount of the EDC’s loan, in which event the fee would be $3,750,000, or merely on the net proceeds of approximately $49 million that 38 Studios received, in which event it would be approximately $2,450,000,” Wistow wrote. “38 Studios ultimately paid Mr. Corso $2,414,892.00 and postponed paying an additional invoice of $77,600 due to lack of cash in the months prior to 38 Studios’ bankruptcy. These payments plus this unpaid invoice total $2,492,492, which is 5.09% of $49 million.”

4. Rest in peace, Bob Healey. The man was truly one of a kind.

5. Governor Raimondo’s inclusion on the Fortune magazine World’s Greatest Leaders list is another feather in her cap; it’s not every day the nation’s smallest state sees its chief executive ranked alongside Bono, Angela Merkel and Pope Francis. (“My mother called this morning and said, ‘Way to go, Gina, you’re on the list with the pope,'” the governor told WPRO.) The Fortune list also offers further evidence, not that more was needed, of how appealing Raimondo is to centrist Acela Corridor elites. Politically, such praise almost certainly helps with fundraising and bucks up the governor’s supporters. But her advisers are well aware out-of-state hosannas are unlikely to impress Rhode Island voters much unless they think they’re matched by major tangible results.

6. Speaking of Governor Raimondo, a tipster spotted her leaving the 75 State St. office tower in Boston on Wednesday; as is often the case, no out-of-state travel had been listed on her official schedule. Raimondo’s office confirms she was there to take part in a discussion with Harvard Business School students and hold a few afternoon meetings. It was her second trip to Greater Boston in three days, following her keynote address to the progressive Alliance for Business Leadership’s Leader Lab event in Cambridge on Monday.

7. No one should be under any illusions about why Goldman Sachs is spending $10 million in Rhode Island (and $500 million nationally) on its 10,000 Small Businesses initiative – the financial giant is trying to restore its public image after the financial crisis and the bank bailout. But the thinking among state leaders seems to be, if Goldman is going to spend the money somewhere, it might as well be Rhode Island. (Also notable: Governor Raimondo’s office confirms she held a meeting with Goldman executives in New York City last June 1.)

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8. Rhode Island is closing in on a grim economic milestone: a lost decade for job growth. Employment on the state’s payrolls totaled 488,200 as of February, slightly lower than a decade ago in February 2006 (490,200) despite a small increase in the size of the adult population overall. December will be a major moment – it was 10 years ago that month when Rhode Island hit its all-time employment peak of 495,700 jobs. While Massachusetts and the nation as a whole both hit new jobs highs back in 2014, Rhode Island will go a full decade without undoing the damage of the Great Recession unless 7,500 jobs are added between now and then (which is possible). And employment among Rhode Islanders of prime working age, which strips out demographic changes from aging, was only 78.7% in 2015, down from 82.5% back in 2007. For more on all this, don’t miss the new Boston Fed article on what’s going on in Rhode Island’s labor market mentioned here last week.

9. Should the state spend $100 million to redevelop the Cranston Street Armory?

10. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “While it appears Providence is moving forward with a fire academy later this year, it’s still unclear when the next police academy will begin. During a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers this week, Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements said the city is currently reviewing its application process so that it doesn’t have an ‘adverse impact on a uncertain sector of people, whether it’s gender or ethnicity.’ Clements said the police academy was expected to begin next month, but it’s now likely to be pushed late in the summer because ‘we don’t want to be in a position where we’re fighting a legal battle.’ The good news: since neither the planned 52-member fire class or 32-member police class will begin before the fiscal year ends June 30, Providence will likely save about $2.3 million. The bad news: as of March 20, violent crime in the city was up 38% compared to the same time in 2015, and 26% over a five-year period. Clements isn’t shy about his desire to put more cops on the beat – he actually wants a class of 50 recruits – especially as the weather gets warmer. With the department down to just 413 members, he also said he’s considering moving officers from special departments onto the streets during the summer.”

11. Gio Cicione and Roseanna Gorham join Ted Cruz’s Rhode Island leadership team.

12. Michael Sepe, the Democratic hopeful for Cranston mayor, wasn’t pleased with Mayor Fung’s comments on a potential 2018 gubernatorial bid reported in last week’s Saturday Morning Post. “During a lengthy interview, Mayor Fung was given the chance to clearly rule out a second run for the governor’s office, but he absolutely refused to do so,” Sepe said in a statement, adding: “Until Mayor Fung promises Cranston’s voters he will serve out his full term if re-elected, we have to believe he’s going to put the city’s needs on the back-burner yet again, if it suits his political agenda.” Fung, of course, maintains he isn’t thinking at all about a 2018 run for governor right now.

13. Rhode Island’s temporary caregiver insurance program is mentioned by progressive economist Heather Boushey in the new edition of Democracy Journal. She highlights paid family leave as one of the programs policymakers should embrace to make the economy work better for families. Intriguingly, it’s possible there could be some bipartisan interest in the idea; the American Enterprise Institute’s Aparna Mathur and Adele Hunter wrote this week, “It’s time to have a national conversation about paid family leave.”

14. With parking issues ever in the headlines in Providence, Brown University student Albie Brown has created a tech startup he thinks city residents will find useful. It’s called Spotter, and it’s a mobile app that lets Providence residents rent out their private driveways and lots by the hour – sort of like Airbnb for parking. “With Spotter, drivers simply press a button to park while spot owners cash a monthly check (a spot that stays full 24/7 could make you up to $500 per month),” Brown wrote residents this week. “By creating these new parking spaces, we will also reduce the need for the construction of parking garages and surface lots which detract from Providence’s charm.”

15. With the State House again discussing whether to legalize assisted suicide, here’s one doctor making the case for why Democrats should oppose it.

16. A Louisiana TV reporter was arrested at City Hall for seeking public records.

17. What lies ahead for the job market? “Expect 25 years of rapid change.”

18. Good news: you’ll probably have enough money in retirement after all.

19. Congratulations to Tom Ward’s Valley Breeze on its 20th anniversary!

20. How The New York Times would have written Jesus of Nazareth’s obituary.

21. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Providence Police Col. Hugh Clements; Jared Moffat, Rhode Island political director of the Marijuana Policy Project. This week on Executive Suite – a media roundtable with Joanna Detz, co-founder of EcoRI News; Richard Asinof, founder of ConvergenceRI; and Elizabeth McNamara, founder of East Greenwich News. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sunday nights at 6 on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. And you can subscribe to both shows as iTunes podcasts – click here for Executive Suite and click here for Newsmakers. See you back here next Saturday morning.Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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