Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: May 21

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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. Only one of Rhode Island’s statewide elected officials is barred by term limits from seeking re-election in 2018: Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. The 54-year-old former Pawtucket state rep has had a relatively low profile as AG, especially compared with his headline-making predecessor Patrick Lynch, leading some to suspect this would be Kilmartin’s last rodeo in politics. But maybe not. Political watchers took notice when Kilmartin raised $35,000 for his campaign war chest during the first quarter of this year – a sizable sum for a term-limited incumbent. Kilmartin downplayed the fundraising on this week’s Newsmakers, suggesting he needed the cash to make donations to deserving groups like little leagues. Such donations amounted to less than $400 in the first quarter, though – and when pressed, Kilmartin declined to rule out seeking another office: “I’ve learned my lesson, never to say never.” Notably, the AG wouldn’t even rule out challenging fellow Democrat Gina Raimondo in the 2018 primary for governor. “What I’m saying is, I haven’t even thought about anything like that – I’m focused on doing my job,” he said, insisting that he was “not trying to be evasive.” Pressed further, he said: “The rumors out there are that if Hillary wins she’s going to be in D.C., so there’s a lot of ‘shoulda woulda coulda’ that go into all of these factors – for all I know it’ll be an open governor’s seat at the time.”

2. The state’s criminal investigation into 38 Studios has become a bit of a punchline – always “active,” never done. At this point, Attorney General Kilmartin is even getting ribbed about it at home. “Tim, in all candor, my wife’s asked me, ‘What the heck’s taking so long?'” he said on Newsmakers. Kilmartin said he understands the public’s frustration four years after the criminal probe was announced, but insisted his office and the state police are now “very close to closure on it, in one form or another.” So, this year? “Oh God, yeah,” he said. Little is known about the substance of the 38 Studios investigation – one of the few clues came back in 2014, when Gordon Fox’s lawyer suggested in open court that a grand jury investigation into 38 Studios had triggered more than 100 subpoenas.

3. Attorney General Kilmartin was totally tight-lipped when pressed about the investigation into former House Finance Committee Chairman Ray Gallison, repeatedly saying he could not discuss the matter. Little has emerged about Gallison’s situation since the initial flurry of coverage when he resigned earlier this month, and no one is talking on the record. One example: Lou Fiore, the accountant who signed off on recent tax returns for Gallison’s troubled taxpayer-funded nonprofit, hung up on me when I called this week to ask about the case. Another: the treasurer of Friends of the Bristol Animal Shelter confirmed that Gallison remains on its board but indicated a new board would be constituted next month; she also said the group has not been contacted by law enforcement. (Gallison failed to disclose his position on the board for that group – which receives legislative grants – in his Ethics Commission financial disclosure.)

4. The closer scrutiny of lawmakers’ financial disclosures in the wake of the Ray Gallison controversy has now forced 29 of them to amend the filings with additional information, according to a count Friday by my colleague Perry Russom. As the Projo’s Kathy Gregg noted earlier this month, much of the new information appears minor – disclosing income from service as a rep or senator, for instance – but some have been more substantial. Another case emerged Friday when Pawtucket Sen. Jamie Doyle, whose business troubles have already landed him in court, acknowledged in response to our questions that he’d failed to document all his debts as required by the disclosure rules. He amended his filing Friday to account for more than $100,000 in tax liens along with other business-related debts that he has personally guaranteed. In an interview with my colleague Steve Nielsen, Doyle conceded the issues but insisted it has no impact on his work as a senator, including on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. The ever-quotable Doyle put it as only he could: “This may sound cocky, but I’m going to quote Kid Rock right now – you can be cocky, but it’s OK if you can back it up.”

5. One (legal) hole in those Ethics Commission financial disclosures: there’s no legal requirement that lawmakers list income from a public pension. That’s somewhat surprising, since those same lawmakers control the value of pension payments, and are allowed to vote on them even if they stand to benefit thanks to a class exemption.

6. Rhode Island is on track to have a $121 million budget surplus when the fiscal year ends June 30 – welcome news for the Raimondo administration, which can take credit for relatively prudent management, and state lawmakers, who have some flexibility as they finish writing the 2016-17 budget. While it’s true that most of that money is already spoken for in Governor Raimondo’s proposed tax-and-spending plan, it still leaves the Assembly with a bit more than $30 million extra to work with. (And they always have the option of using the $121 million for something entirely different from what Raimondo suggested.) For once Rhode Island appears more financially stable than its neighbors, with Massachusetts facing midyear red ink and Connecticut looking like a fiscal disaster area. Boosters say it shows state leaders’ recent efforts to rein in mandatory spending and improve the business climate are paying dividends. (It’s also a credit to the wonks who forecast the revenue numbers.) Still, Moody’s offered a word of caution in an analysis released this week, lumping Rhode Island and Connecticut in with other “underperformers,” meaning “slower growing states with less favorable demographics.” The rating agency said their “slower growth trend is an unwelcome but not insurmountable challenge that will make budgetary decisions more difficult.”

7. State House types have an eye on the calendar as they wonder when House Democrats will unveil the compromise state budget – and whether it will conflict with Memorial Day weekend plans. The good news: budget-writers don’t want to spoil their long weekend any more than you do, so they’re unlikely to release the budget on Tuesday, May 31. But considering Speaker Mattiello’s desire to wrap up the legislative session in early June, it’s possible the document could appear later in that week. Recent history shows the House Finance Committee has only unveiled the budget in May three times since 2000 (including in 2002, when it arrived on the amazingly early date of May 16). Last year it came out on June 9.

8. Former Democratic Rep. Lisa Tomasso has opened up a big financial advantage in her closely watched House District 29 rematch against incumbent Republican Sherry Roberts, who unseated her two years ago. Tomasso had $28,000 on hand as of March 31, while Roberts had about $4,000. The Tomasso-Roberts race has already become one of the marquee Assembly contests of 2016, along with the bout in Warwick between veteran GOP Rep. Joe Trillo and Democratic rival Evan Shanley. Trillo had $61,000 against Shanley’s $36,000 in their latest filings.

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9. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “If Mayor Elorza and his aides thought their proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was going to sail smoothly though the City Council, they should have known better. While there seems to be a general agreement between the mayor’s office and the council around taxes – rates are going down slightly, but there will still be an overall increase because of the property revaluation – there appears to be a growing rift between on other issues. Start with the fire department. This week, everyone in City Hall had their eyes on Wednesday’s Finance Committee meeting because the powerful panel was scheduled to discuss the fire budget, but the meeting was cancelled with barely any notice. If I’ve learned anything about covering the city of Providence over the last six years, it’s that Chairman John Igliozzi only cancels meetings when he wants to send a message. (It’s worth noting that the announcement came only minutes after he learned that he would not be allowed to suspend the pay of a consultant in the fire department.) Then there’s the annual fight over the recreation department, which the council wants to function completely separate from the parks department as laid out in the city charter. Councilors were livid a few weeks ago when they learned the director of recreation reports to the head of parks. What’s unclear is how well the two sides are communicating, particularly since Councilman Kevin Jackson’s arrest. The clock is ticking. The administration’s goal is typically to get the budget signed into law in early June because the city is required to give taxpayers 30 days’ notice about their tax due date and it typically takes just over two weeks to prepare and send bills. The longer the budget battle goes, the longer the city waits for new revenue.”

10. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is out with an Open Government Interactive tool.

11. There’s suddenly a lot of talk about how economists misjudged the impact of globalization and China’s rise on America’s one-time industrial centers, Rhode Island very much included. Brookings’ Mark Muro, who co-authored the think tank’s high-profile study of the Rhode Island economy, is now arguing that “it’s time to get real about the grittiness of adjustment. Adjustment happens, but it’s a far more painful process than the models and textbooks have imagined. Policy, and the economists, should take it seriously.”

12. Jon Chesto on the incredible shrinking corporate HQ. Brings to mind Textron, which has more than 30,000 employees globally but only a bit more than 300 of them at its official headquarters in Providence.

13. Rhode Island Republicans have suffered a lot of cracks over the years about how the party’s small size would allow its members to meet in a phone booth. (A joke, I suppose, that needs updating as landlines go the way of dinosaurs.) But the party has fielded plenty of prominent political figures over the years, as demonstrated by the inaugural crop of Rhode Island Republican Hall of Fame members being inducted June 9 at the Alpine Country Club. The list: Linc Almond, John Chafee, Susan Farmer, Brad Gorham, Nancy Mayer, J. Williams Middendorf, Eileen Slocum and Arlene Violet. Missing from the list are two of the state’s last four GOP governors, Don Carcieri and Ed DiPrete. And after reading the new book “America’s Bank,” I might add turn-of-the-century U.S. Senate powerbroker Nelson Aldrich.

14. Operation Clean Government’s 2016 Candidate School, a daylong nonpartisan seminar for individuals considering a political bid, is set to take place Saturday, June 4 at RIC. “Learn from many of the experts who can tell you about how to go about registering to run for office, organizing a committee to help, what kind of funds are needed and how to raise them and a host of others things that you will need to know to be a successful candidate,” says OCG President Margaret Kane. She also shared this striking statistic: Rhode Island has the highest percentage of officeholders who run unopposed in New England. Registration is $110; you can sign up at OCGRI.org.

15. The Globe asks, “Is Providence really the coolest city in the U.S.?” (Obviously.)

16. Rest in peace, Morley Safer. If you want to see one of the 60 Minutes great’s all-time best profiles, check out his 1979 interview with Katharine Hepburn. Tremendous.

17. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. This week on Executive Suite – John Picerne, founder/CEO, Corvias Group; Chris Fragomeni and Joe Manzi of Oxford Motorcars. 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, Facebook and Instagram

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