Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: May 2


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. Two years ago today, Governor Chafee signed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. At the time the debate was contentious and close to all-consuming; nowadays there seems to be little to no controversy surrounding gay couples’ right to wed in the state. (It played almost no role in last year’s campaign, for instance.) That’s quite different from the debate around abortion, which flares up reliably at the State House almost every year. The landscape has changed strikingly in just two years: Rhode Island was only the 10th state to allow same-sex marriage then; today it is one of 37, though it’s still one of the few that did so by legislation. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last week put support for same-sex marriage at 61% nationally, and the U.S. Supreme Court looks poised to legalize it coast to coast next month. One of the most interesting explanations for the shift comes from Robert Christian, editor of the new Catholic journal Millennial, who takes issue with suggestions that it’s all about the sexual revolution. “Strong support for same-sex marriage among millennials is not simply the product of sexual libertarianism taking over the culture,” Christian argues. “In fact, some of the most prominent arguments in favor of same-sex marriage (including some that have likely been the most persuasive in transforming public opinion) are communitarian or even conservative in nature.”

2. The American Conservative’s Jim Antle thinks Linc Chafee makes a compelling critique of Hillary Clinton. “The main reason Hillary Clinton did not win the Democratic nomination, and probably the presidency, in 2008 was that she voted for the Iraq War,” he writes. “It would be fitting if her main Democratic challenger were one of the seven Republicans who voted no.” Perhaps, but as Kim Kalunian noted, Chafee has some work to do to get there: a new poll puts his support among Iowa caucus-goers at just 2%.

3. Remember Gina Raimondo’s Rhode Island Innovation Institute proposal? It’s still alive and well. “I’m working hard on it,” the governor said on Dan Yorke State of Mind this week. “I’m in conversation right now with Brown and other universities, some in Rhode Island, some not in Rhode Island. I’ve reached out to a number of companies to say, would you like to be a part of this?” She described the institute as “a 20-acre vision” for the old I-195 property: “I think most of that land should be used for this kind of innovation.” And a key part of her plan to get that done is the $25 million I-195 Development Fund she’s seeking in the budget. “It’s to catalyze a few big deals to get that kind of activity going,” she said, pointing once again to Mayor Bloomberg’s splashy Roosevelt Island initiative as a model. “They had a plot of land not that dissimilar from ours, and they were able to bring Cornell University together with Israeli Technion, together with Google and a few other industries. The city, they put in $100 million, and then Cornell put in a lot of money. Sometimes there’s a gap. It’s to incentivize development. It’s an incentive for big development.”

4. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor was similarly enthusiastic about the Innovation Institute’s potential on this week’s Newsmakers, saying the Raimondo administration is in discussions with Brown and other universities – some outside the United States. (Oxford Providence?) He insisted the governor hasn’t already settled on who will get the $25 million from the proposed I-195 fund, but said he wants the 195 Commission to use the money to work with a developer on building a space with multiple uses – lab space, office space, conference space, perhaps even hotel rooms. “The $25 million is aimed at being a match for private investment in effect,” Pryor said. “Can we attract an anchor that might be a complement to the activities of Brown and the medical centers and other universities? If that anchor were to arrive or to be built out, they would infuse their own private capital. Or could it fill a project gap and build out real estate that would be far greater in value? That’s the exact idea of it. It’s aimed at being a catalyst, not the totality of the investment.” (He also confirmed Rhode Island organizations would be eligible for the $25 million.)

5. Don’t miss these two great stories my WPRI 12 colleagues aired this week: Tim White on how priceless Rhode Island historic documents are being kept in a flood-prone basement, and Mike Montecalvo on how the state’s new Temporary Caregivers Insurance program is working so far.

6. The first PawSox proposal is dead, but the new owners’ hopes of convincing Governor Raimondo to back a stadium are very much aliveIan Donnis reports the team owners met with Raimondo on Thursday and Speaker Mattiello on Friday as they try to reach a deal. On NewsmakersSecretary Pryor suggested two options for crafting a deal that’s more palatable to taxpayers: “Lessening the burden on the taxpayer in terms of the public investment, the balance between public and private investment. There’s also the possibility of sharing in the upside of seeing very concrete ways that this project can contribute to the broader buildout of the 195 corridor.” He declined to get specific, though, and also indicated the administration isn’t sure whether it’s feasible to expect an agreement before the end of the General Assembly session next month, as PawSox President Jim Skeffington wants.

7. A thought exercise: if this conversation had started with someone asking the best way for Rhode Island to allocate $120 million, free former 195 land and a tax exemption, would a ballpark have been the answer?

8. Tim White made a good point on Newsmakers that’s been somewhat lost in the discussion about the proposed ballpark: the debate is over whether Rhode Island should continue to subsidize a minor-league stadium, not whether it should start. McCoy Stadium is a city-owned product of FDR’s New Deal, and state taxpayers have spent more than $15 million on it just since 1998. And while the questions about the new owners’ potential profits are valid – I’ve asked them myself – it’s worth recalling that the late Ben Mondor didn’t run the team as a charity, either. In 2013, Forbes put the team’s annual operating income at $800,000 on $8 million in revenue, a 10% margin, and the recent sale of the team was likely lucrative, too.

9. Becoming governor hasn’t exactly hurt Gina Raimondo’s ability to fundraise. Her campaign reported this week she raised $306,000 during her first three months in office – nothing like the extraordinary $1.1 million haul she posted during the same period a year earlier, but pretty sizable nearly four years before she faces voters again. Just how good is Raimondo at getting money out of donors? By my calculations she’s raised a cumulative total of $7.2 million since first filing as a political candidate in the fall of 2009, an average of $114,000 every month. Raimondo’s challengers in 2018 will have their work cut out for them (assuming she seeks a second term). Among her donors this past quarter were former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges and former Bill Clinton chief of staff Mack McLarty.

10. Don’t look now, but the Providence pension fund is still nearly $900 million under water.

11. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “Long before Mayor Elorza unveiled his first budget Wednesday, it was abundantly clear he planned to follow through on his promise to hold the lines on all city taxes during his first year in office. What wasn’t clear was that he would pay for it in part by raising fees, adding parking meters and seeking to repeal a tax break for landlords. So is the mayor’s plan realistic? The predictable reaction from the City Council was to express cautious optimism; it’s rare for a Providence budget to be dead on arrival. But behind the scenes, there is some concern they’ll be forced to send a budget back to the mayor that does include a small tax hike, leading to a public showdown they know they’d struggle to win. That said, there’s good reason to raise questions about the budget. First, the plan includes no raises for any of the four unions (Local 1033, teachers, police officers and school clerical workers) with contracts that have already expired or are about to. Council Finance Committee Chairman John Igliozzi has made it clear he doesn’t want to approve a budget only to have to revisit the plan midway through the year in order to make adjustments if raises are part of any of those contracts. Then there’s the rental property tax cut. The apartment owners spent years lobbying the council to make changes to the non-owner-occupied tax rate and the council held strong even when former Mayor Taveras vetoed the new ordinance. Council President Luis Aponte has already said he wants to consider phasing in the tax break in order to honor the council’s commitment to the landlords. Add in Elorza’s lofty request for $5 million in additional state PILOT money and you’ve got what Aponte called one of the ‘tightest budgets’ he can remember. Now it’s all on the council. Igliozzi has scheduled meetings for all major departments to meet with his committee over the next six weeks, with a target date of June 24 for final council passage.”

12. New Rivers, North and Birch made a joint cameo in The New York Times this week.

13. Rhode Island native Ethan Epstein has a great piece in National Journal about how North Dakota is dealing with the bust that’s followed its oil boom – check it out here. (And imagine if Rhode Island lawmakers had socked away the proceeds from gambling over the years the way North Dakota legislators have saved revenue from oil?)

14. Ken Block’s Watchdog RI has some striking findings about how one Johnston firefighter apparently “spiked” his pension with extra overtime in his final years on the job.

15. David Roberts argues a future full of solar power isn’t just likely – it’s inevitable.

16. Reihan Salam offers a thoughtful case against a $15 minimum wage.

17. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Polaris MEP director Christian Cowan talks Rhode Island manufacturing, plus Spirare Surfboards’ Kevin Cunningham. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). You can catch both shows back-to-back on your radio, too, Sunday nights at 6 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 and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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