1. This week’s edition is shorter than originally planned due to Friday’s terrible news out of Paris, which was all-hands-on-deck in our newsroom. But below you’ll find what I had written (or partly written) before the news broke. Vive la France.
2. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from 38 Studios – and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, they can be learned in an actual classroom. This past Thursday, as part of a session on economic development, the 44 students in UNC instructor John Lovett’s Politics 101 course were treated to a case study on Rhode Island’s failed video-game deal. “Essentially I use 38 Studios as an example of when economic development can go wrong,” Lovett told me in an email. “I like to start the lecture with one good story and one bad story before we get into the larger discussion of development/state advantages and disadvantages.” (His good example: when North Carolina raised its cap on total alcohol in beer from 6% to 15% in 2005, which spurred major growth in the number of microbreweries in the state.) “The main thing is emphasizing Rhode Island wanting to get in on/build a burgeoning tech industry (and poach business from Massachusetts) but not knowing what they were getting into when it comes to building a video game company.” Another reason Lovett zeroed in on 38 Studios: he’s a Massachusetts native. “I love the Sox, I’m a fan of video games in general, and the story really does illustrate what happens when economic development goes wrong,” he said. Perhaps a few local lawmakers should enroll next semester.
3. Speaking of Rhode Island scandals involving $75 million, the notorious landfill debacle of the late 2000s was back in the headlines this week as the agency’s reforming chief, Mike O’Connell, closed in on recouping $27 million of the money lost to mismanagement and corruption. To this day, readers and viewers continue to complain on a fairly regular basis about the failure of law enforcement to take any action over that affair. “I know it wasn’t pursued by the state because – who knows why?” O’Connell told me this week. “They said they didn’t have subpoena power. I think it was something other than that – I think it was more involved than that, and that’s why they didn’t pursue it.” Meanwhile, Kathy Gregg noted on Twitter that Rhode Island State Police encountered various “obstacles,” including non-cooperation and the statute of limitations, that prevented them from filing charges; that’s sure to worry those who question why the troopers’ 38 Studios probe is taking so long to conclude.
4. The new state revenue numbers hammered out this week should put an extra spring in the step of Governor Raimondo and her aides. The state finished the 2014-15 fiscal year with $48 million more than expected; it’s now forecast to take in $52 million more than budgeted during 2015-16; and the initial revenue estimates for 2016-17 have been bumped up by $66 million. One reason for all the good revenue news: the new slot parlor in Plainville doesn’t seem to be hurting Twin River as much as once thought. Those revenue numbers can still change – and spending could miss the mark in the other direction – but the extra dollars will make it much, much easier for Raimondo to close the projected 2016-17 deficit of $132 million when she puts forward her budget proposal early next year. She’ll get an even bigger boost if she banks on higher revenue from Twin River’s proposed Tiverton casino, too.
5. Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien has no plans to retire anytime soon: the third-term Democrat will almost certainly seek re-election in 2016, he said on this week’s Newsmakers. Who, if anyone, will run against him? One potential candidate would seem to be fellow Democrat Henry Kinch Jr., who ran against Grebien back in 2010 and is a frequent critic of the incumbent. But Kinch told me Friday a 2016 rematch is “very unlikely,” citing family responsibilities. Yet he wouldn’t rule out a run entirely, criticizing what he described as the “nonsense” of a Grebien proposal to use Slater Park for a disc golf course. “The more nonsense I see – I’m giving it a second thought,” Kinch said. “I’m thinking about it, I haven’t ruled it out. But it’s not something on the radar.”
6. The infamous DMV computer upgrade may finally get finished – and many people are giving the credit to Thom Guertin, the state of Rhode Island’s first-ever chief digital officer, who’s been overseeing it for the past 18 months.
7. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “While the initial reaction to City Council President Luis Aponte’s decision to hire Cyd McKenna as his chief of staff centered around her connections for Buddy Cianci (she managed his campaign for mayor last year) and the Pawtucket Red Sox (she recently worked for the ownership group trying to build a stadium in Providence), it’s worth keeping an eye on the bigger picture here. Aponte is staffing up for a reason. In recent years, the council has taken a backseat to the mayor on virtually every issue. But the Elorza administration has taken a hands-off approach to dealing with council while learning the ropes of Providence politics in his first year office. (He’s also moved forward with signature initiative – the fire department overhaul – without council support.) That has allowed Aponte to take the lead on other key issues, like tax-stabilization agreements and a promised tax reduction for rental property owners. As we approach year two, you can expect the council to become more vocal about the firefighter saga, including hiring a lawyer to give them advice on the ongoing legal dispute and conducting its own review of fire department staffing. Then you have the city’s finances. Most councilors believe there will be a need for a tax increase next year – many thought there should have been one this year – but none of them want to be blamed if the mayor proposes holding the line on taxes. Getting that message out will likely be a top priority for McKenna and whomever Aponte hires as his new secretary. Finally, don’t underestimate Aponte the policy wonk. As skilled a politician as he is, you can ask any city department head and they’ll tell you he’s a guy who actually enjoys sitting around and trying to figure out problems. (There aren’t a lot City Council members that are giddy over the upcoming cluster analysis; he’s one of them.) You can expect Yvonne Graf, who moved from acting chief of staff to oversee legislative affairs, to spend more time at this State House this year as the city tries to score a few more victories than it did this year.”
8. Who says independent bookstores are doomed? Barrington Books has just opened a second store at Cranston’s Garden City Center. It’s part of what The New York Times describes as “strong signs of resurgence” in the industry.
9. The New Yorker on the past, present and uncertain future of political polling.
10. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien; R.I. Coalition for the Homeless executive director Jim Ryczek and state Sen. Juan Pichardo. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Community Investment Corp. vice president Buck Harris; Dryvit Systems president and CEO Mike Murphy. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 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 (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi