The Saturday Morning Post: Feb. 28

News

Welcome to another edition of the Saturday Morning Post. Ted was tied down with pensions this week, so I moved the post to a vacant lot in Providence. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to dmcgowan@wpri.com and tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @danmcgowan and @tednesi on Twitter.

1. If the first question about the potential move of the PawSox to Providence was “what are we going to call them?” – I prefer the ProvSox, Ted likes the Potholes and team president Jim Skeffington likes the Rhode Island Red Sox – the second was “who’s going to pay for a stadium in downtown?” Skeffington has made it very clear the team’s ownership group is willing to secure private financing for the actual ballpark, but he’s quick to say that doesn’t mean they won’t be seeking taxpayer support. “There’s not a ballpark I know that didn’t receive some type of public support, substantial public support,” he said this week. During a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, Skeffington said he does not expect to request taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for the proposed 10,000-seat stadium, but he may explore an agreement with the state that would involve the team leasing the stadium to the state in exchange for some kind of annual payment and the state then leasing it back to the team (this would likely be one of those $1-a-year scenarios). The thinking is that the owners can find their private financing by showing that the state is committed to the project. Separately, Providence City Council President Luis Aponte told WPRI.com he expects the owners to seek a tax break from the city, but indicated that it’s far too soon to say what that type of agreement would look like. For the “any public money is bad” crowd, this will undoubtedly be a deal breaker, but that group certainly doesn’t appear to include Gov. Gina Raimondo, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello or Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. At least not yet.

2. There were lots of great PawSox-related reads this week. Be sure to check out Ted’s in-depth look at the career of Jim Skeffington, who has been a behind-the-scenes staple in many significant development projects in Rhode Island for more than 40 years. While you’re at it, don’t miss the authoritative look at how Pawtucket is handling the proposed move from Valley Breeze reporter Ethan Shorey. Then skip over to New York Times’ columnist’s Dan Barry’s spectacular piece on the history of the team and what it means to Pawtucket. (Barry is the author of Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game, which took place at McCoy Stadium). If you still have time, read my look at the cities the PawSox owners want to model their stadium after.

3. By the way, if you’re in the group complaining about professional sports teams only creating low-paying jobs, just know the players in Triple-A baseball probably make even less.

4. Here’s a dispatch from the column’s usual proprietor, Ted Nesi: “State Rep. Patricia Morgan has good timing. The West Warwick Republican announced this week the House GOP has created a new policy group to study ‘spending issues in state government.’ The first target in their crosshairs? The quasi-public Rhode Island Convention Center Authority, which was created in 1987 and which Morgan says will cost taxpayers more than $780 million by the time its debt is paid off in 2035. And who was the driving force behind the authority’s creation? None other than Jim Skeffington, newly minted president of the PawSox, who is now back at the State House seeking taxpayer backing for his proposed Providence ballpark.”

5. And here’s another dispatch from Nesi: “Will the lawsuit over Rhode Island’s 2011 pension overhaul actually go to trial on April 20? Your guess is as good as mine. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter sounded a little exasperated Friday when she rejected a joint request from lawyers on both sides of the case to delay it further; now the plaintiffs are hoping a Supreme Court justice will see things differently when they meet with him Monday and grant a delay. Their argument: they don’t have nearly enough time between now and mid-April to wade through boatloads of documents, secure expert testimony and prepare their arguments. The state’s lead attorney, John Tarantino, compares the complexity of the litigation to the famed lead-paint suit, which took 18 weeks to try. One veteran lawyer involved in the case told me Friday that even if the trial starts in April, he could easily imagine a final Supreme Court decision not coming down until 2017 — six years after the law passed. Of course, that’s unless the entire case gets settled — still a live possibility, but far from a certainty, particularly with the state’s finances in such tough shape. And it’s all taking place as judges nationwide seem increasingly open to cutting pension benefits.”

6. Courtney Roque wrote a nice profile on Ted in the Wheaton Wire.

7. Will former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras end up the court-appointed receiver of the city he led for four years? Taveras announced this week he’ll head back to the private sector as a lawyer at high-powered Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP where one of the issues he intends to focus on is municipal restructuring. Taveras said he still considers municipal bankruptcy a last resort, but he didn’t rule out becoming the receiver of some community in the future. To be clear, he doesn’t believe Providence is heading down that route. In fact, he is adamant that the city will end this current fiscal year with a “modest surplus” even though the Elorza administration has said it is projecting a $3.6-million deficit. Separately, Taveras told WPRI.com he is moving from his home in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood to northern Rhode Island (he didn’t want to disclose exactly what community he’s moving to because he hasn’t officially closed on the house).

8, Here’s the bill to watch in the Senate when it comes to legalizing and taxing marijuana. Sponsors include Sens. Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick, and Paul Jabour, D-Providence, the chair and vice-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, respectively. As always, Sen. Josh Miller, D-Cranston, is driving the boat on this legislation.

9. Best wishes go out to state Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston, who fell and cracked her shoulder on Feb. 4. She’s been out of work and unable to attend meetings at the State House, but that hasn’t stopped her from submitting eight pieces of legislation this month, including a bill to establish standards for distance learning (like online courses) at colleges and universities.

10. Torrent downloaders, rejoice. Net neutrality advocates scored a big victory this week when the Federal Communications Commission voted to regulate broadband Internet service so that providers can’t slow down web traffic. (For more, read this explainer from the Washington Post.) One of the leading activists on the issue is none other than David Segal, a former state representative and Providence City Council member who ran for Congress in 2010. He wrote in from Washington D.C. to explain what he believes the F.C.C. vote means: “Without net neutrality, they could block sites or slow sites down to make them harder to use. They would want to do this if the content competes with content they own – think Comcast prioritizing NBC’s content and undermining competitors – or if they disagree with a site’s political content, or if they want to shake websites down for fees. The cable companies are incredibly powerful, and will probably try to overturn the order in Congress or in the courts, but we can beat them.”

11. New Sec. of State Nellie Gorbea’s transition team is giving the Democrat some wiggle room when it comes to Rhode Island’s voter identification law. The 12-member committee offered 20 recommendations for Gorbea this week, but did not take a position on whether to support the current law or advocate for it to be abolished. Instead the group suggested Gorbea should “partner with social scientists and election system experts to review the impact of this law.” That may come as a surprise to those who supported Gorbea simply because she was opposed to the voter ID law on the campaign trail, but it’s worth noting she has long said she wants to study the changes before making a final call. Other recommendations from the committee included increasing the maximum fine the secretary can impose on those who fail to registers as lobbyists; provide same-day voter registration and improve early voting options; and streamline the business registration process. You can read all of the recommendations here

12. Coventry Fire District Fire Chief Paul Labbadia was fired this week after a months-long review by the district’s board. If you need to catch up on the details, make sure you watch Tim White’s blockbuster investigation from November.

13. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is back on the fundraising trail. The mayor had a $1,000-a-head fundraiser – complete with valet parking – at the East Side home of Marie Langlois and John Loerke on Tuesday. He also stood by his pledge to not raise taxes this year, said the city may need to change its snow plowing strategy and pointed a finger at former Mayor Angel Taveras for leaving him with a small projected deficit during an interview with WPRI.com.

14. Will Mayor Elorza support legislation that requires tax-exempt institutions – like Brown University – to pay up to 50% of all taxes that would have been collected if the property was taxable to help pay for police, fire and rescue services? The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. John Carnevale, thinks so. Carnevale, who co-chairs the Providence delegation at the General Assembly and is a close friend of Majority Leader John DeSimone, told WPRI.com he believes his annual attempt to tax what he calls the “alleged nonprofits” has legs this year. No House Finance Committee meeting on the bill has been scheduled yet.

15. Education reform group Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now (RI-CAN) is out with a new report that calls lifting the moratorium on school housing aid a “winning choice for policymakers that will strengthen our schools and our economy.” That moratorium is already expected to expire later this year, but with $600 million in facility maintenance deferred since 2011, there will likely to be significant funding in the state budget to help cover the needed repairs. RI-CAN recommends creating a school housing authority similar to the one in Massachusetts to oversee projects and funding, dedicating a funding stream toward school repairs, instituting a pay-as-you-build approach that ensures school districts can obtain bond approval and providing more access to capital to all schools.

16. Movers and shakers: Mike Raia, a former communications director for Angel Taveras, is leaving his job at WGBH to handle communications for Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts … National Education Association Rhode Island rabble-rouser Pat Crowley is leaving the union’s local branch to join its national staff … Jon Boucher, who previously served as the state Democratic Party’s executive director, has joined Mayor Jorge Elorza’s staff as the director of intergovernmental affairsRuss Hryzan has tossed his hat in the ring to become the state Republican Party’s 1st vice-chair … Robert McConnell, the brother of U.S. District Court Judge Jack McConnell, has been sworn in as a Housing Court judge in Central Falls.

17. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Pawtucket Red Sox President Jim Skeffington. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive SuiteMike McDermott and Dan McGowan on the PawSox; Robert Manning and Jennifer Schwall of the Cherrystone Angel Group. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and

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