Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: May 9


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. Don’t forget – tomorrow is Mother’s Day!

2. If there was any doubt that Speaker Mattiello is the strongest supporter of a stadium deal among state leaders, it was probably put to rest this week when he hired avowedly pro-ballpark economist Andrew Zimbalist as a House-only consultant on the project. Zimbalist had already made positive noises about Jim Skeffington’s original $120-million ask, and on Friday he described it as “not outlandish,” suggesting he is more in sync with the team owners than Governor Raimondo’s lead negotiators, Stefan Pryor and Joe Azrack, who’ve hired their own consultants. The speaker also said this week he’s open to bringing lawmakers back during the summer to finalize a deal, and urged his colleagues to hold their fire publicly. Mattiello’s enthusiasm was clear in the statement he issued the morning the new owners announced their proposal: “I am excited that a new stadium will be built in Providence for the Pawtucket Red Sox to relocate in the spring of 2017,” he said. No hedging there. The Zimbalist move in particular would seem to complicate the negotiations for the Raimondo administration. While the General Assembly is a separate branch of government entitled to independent information, the more supportive the speaker and his expert act about the stadium, the harder it will be for Azrack and Pryor to project a united front from the state’s side of the talks.

3. Let the mad cash dash begin: the Revenue Estimating Conference ended Friday with news that lawmakers have about $173 million more to spend in the 2015 and 2016 state budgets than originally expected. Senate President Paiva Weed was fast out of the gate with a statement proposing to use the money for five of her chamber’s priorities: the $500 minimum corporate tax, local PILOT aid, Medicaid, transportation and education. Speaker Mattiello will presumably push his Social Security tax break; Governor Raimondo has suggested expanding the earned-income tax credit. The budget picture isn’t totally clear yet – if departments are still overspending, the windfall may not total $173 million – but clearly there’s going to be a big debate on Smith Hill about the best use of the money. One risk, in the view of RIPEC’s John Simmons, is that the extra revenue will let lawmakers kick the can down the road on structural budget changes, particularly around Medicaid. Considering a lot of the new revenue looks like one-time money (the increase for 2015-16 was much smaller than for 2014-15) legislators may want to exercise caution.

4. Gurtin Fixed Income’s new reports warning investors against buying Rhode Island bonds and expressing horror over the 38 Studios debt debate can be read as at least partial vindication for those who’ve argued markets would punish the state for refusing to pay. “It is without precedent for a state government in the modern municipal bond era to force bondholders to wait until the final hour to find out if they will be paid,” Gurtin declared, warning of a “ripple effect” that “could have been more far-reaching than many may appreciate.” House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, however, had a tart reply: “The Justice Department should investigate the entire bond industry for RICO violations.”

5. Walt Buteau reports Providence’s 10-year-old system of red-light cameras actually lost money in 2014.

6. Despite Lincoln Chafee’s expressed hopes, don’t look for top local hospital groups Lifespan and Care New England to make another merger attempt anytime soon. “I worked with him directly on that,” Care New England CEO Dennis Keefe told me on this week’s Executive Suite. “I would just say that it wasn’t even as remotely close as he describes. There was conversation back and forth, but I think at the time – and I think [Lifespan’s] Tim Babineau would verify this – we agreed that after three failed merger attempts in a row” (twice with Lifespan and once with Beth Israel Deaconess parent CareGroup) “no one had the appetite to go down that road again.” But Keefe left open the possibility Care New England won’t always be independent. “Never say never,” he said. “Directionally, I really feel that regional health care is going to be part of our future. And everyone’s talking to everyone,” Keefe explained. “I know you know we’re talking to people, because you heard some things in the marketplace. Everyone’s talking to people, and I’m not doing my job if I’m not out there talking to people.”

7. No surprise: Jim Langevin said on this week’s Newsmakers he’s running for re-election in 2016, and has no plans to retire anytime soon if voters will continue to back him. More interesting were Langevin’s comments about Nancy Pelosi, which suggested he’s got the same reservations about her leadership as some other House Democrats: “We need to have a candid discussion within the family right now, if you will, and decide what our best strategy and message is going forward and who is best to lead.” Within hours, though, Langevin hurried to send a follow-up statement that emphasized, “I supported Leader Pelosi in the last election and I support her now.” Still, the fact is his comments on the show were not a ringing endorsement of her leadership – and coming on the heels of last month’s statements by Stephen Lynch and Mike Capuano, it suggests some real disgruntlement after a dozen years under Pelosi.

8. Monday at 5 p.m. on WPRI 12: Tim White reveals what lawmakers won’t say about their campaign cash.

9. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from Dan McGowan: “It took about seven weeks, but members of the Providence delegation in the General Assembly have finally submitted several bills from Mayor Elorza’s legislative agenda. It’s unclear why the mayor’s requests were held so long, but they came in a flurry on April 30 when lawmakers introduced 11 bills that stand to benefit the capital city (and in some cases, other communities). Among the more notable bills is a plan to give the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission the ability to reimburse the city for lost tax revenue if the City Council approves a tax-stabilization deal for developers on the vacant former highway land. House spokesman Larry Berman said Speaker Mattiello hasn’t taken a position on the bill yet. While lawmakers have poured cold water on car tax changes this year, another bill would allow municipal tax assessors to set car values, rather than the vehicle value commission. Elorza is also seeking to expand the powers of municipal courts by increasing the maximum fines that can be assessed to $2,000 and to allow judges to put buildings into receivership. And while we’re on the Providence delegation, it’s worth noting that nine of the 21 lawmakers from Providence (Reps. Ray Hull, Dan McKiernan, John Lombardi, Anastasia Williams, Scott Slater, Grace Diaz and John Carnevale and Sens. Maryellen Goodwin and Paul Jabour) draw a paycheck or pension from the city.”

10. “The world may have a polling problem,” FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver argued following the monumental cock-up by British pollsters in Thursday’s U.K. election. As a political reporter, this is the kind of problem that keeps me up at night. Have we just had a few particularly difficult-to-poll elections of late? Or are fundamental changes in how people communicate (and their willingness to take surveys) putting accurate results out of reach? To his credit, New Harbor Group’s David Preston has been questioning the reliability of modern polling for a number of years now. As Preston wrote last fall, “The pollster who can figure out how to get accurate data in a world increasingly populated by cell-phone owners with limited attention spans will be much in demand.” And as Megan McArdle notes, this matters beyond politics – we rely on good survey data to understand so much about the modern world.

11. Speaking of the U.K., here’s a really engrossing read: what happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies.

12. Also from our European desk, a timely read as the world marks the 70th anniversary of V-E Day: some historians say Neville Chamberlain made the right call at Munich.

13. Congrats to my colleague Mike Montecalvo on joining the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame!

14. Jay Goodman, who taught politics at my alma mater Wheaton College for 50 years and was a political adviser to multiple generations of Rhode Island Democrats, died last week at age 75. Former Providence Journal columnist M. Charles Bakst – who knew Goodman as an instructor, a subject, and later a professor at his daughter’s college – passed along this remembrance for The Saturday Morning Post:

Before Jay became a legend at Wheaton, I was fortunate in having him as a young instructor at Brown. He was a teaching assistant who would regularly meet with a small group of political science students enrolled in a large lecture course.

It was only one of many roles in which, over the decades, I would see this man with a restless, curious, brilliant mind. As a Providence journalist, I would encounter him as a professor, a lawyer, a political strategist, a public servant, and a lobbyist. And at Wheaton, he would draft me to be on Parent Weekend panel discussions.

Jay was a go-to guy for insights into the political process, especially TV and strategies, with strong ties to such Democratic figures as Gov. Joe Garrahy, Lt. Gov. (now Judge) Richard Licht, and Mayor Joe Paolino. Generations of Garrahys, Lichts, and Paolinos were at Wednesday’s Temple Beth-El funeral, where Rabbi Les Gutterman’s eulogy quoted glowing tributes and expressions of gratitude to Jay from his former students.

Much has been said of the pride he took in his students and their success, his talent for bringing out the best in them, and for installing confidence in them. I saw that at Brown. The attitude of some old-school professors seemed to be: “I’m the expert here, and if you are lucky I’ll condescend to share my knowledge with you.” The vibe from Jay was more like: “I’m here to help you to see that political science is interesting and valuable and that you can master it.”

Over the years, I’d tap him to illuminate the political game, such as explaining why high-stakes TV debates give viewers such a sense of déjà vu. He said consultants emphasize to candidates the importance of coordinating “free” and paid media. So, “When they get up and talk in a TV debate, what they say is what you’ve already seen in the paid commercials.”

Jay was an institution within the party. Indeed, when I asked Rep. Jim Langevin the other day how he happened to know Jay, he said, “How could you be involved in Democratic politics and not know him? He was a fixture in the party.”

I ran into Jay once at a John Kerry fundraiser at Paolino’s house, just one in an endless string of such events the professor attended for one candidate or another. It was something he did, he said, the same way “some people own boats or they buy cars or go to Foxwoods.”

I liked that. It was part of who he was. He took politics very seriously, but with a distinct sense of fun too.

15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Congressman Jim Langevin. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Care New England CEO Dennis Keefe. 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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