Happy Saturday! Ted’s Final Four bracket is already busted, so he left this week’s column in my hands. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, and follow @danmcgowan and @tednesi on Twitter.
1. Let’s kick things off with a dispatch from Ted Nesi: “I’d sure love to offer you a detailed rundown of what’s in the new state pension settlement and how it will impact Rhode Island’s finances. But I can’t — because of Judge Taft-Carter’s gag order. Hey, at least I’m not alone. ‘I have no idea and that’s the truth. We have not been briefed,’ Rep. Joe Shekarchi said on this week’s Newsmakers. What seems clear (see this leaked document) is that this proposal is substantially similarly to the failed settlement from 2014, albeit with some additional tweaks to the retirement age and COLA rules. We should know more a week from now, since multiple labor leaders have said voting on the settlement must be completed by Friday. The push from the union side to get their rank-and-file to settle suggests they’re acutely aware of what’s known as ‘litigation risk’ — the unknowable chance that a decision goes against you, whatever the ostensible merits of your case. Don’t forget, too, that workers and retirees are already living in a post-pension-law world; there was no injunction to block the law from taking effect back in 2012, so COLAs will stay suspended and the new hybrid plan will be in place as long as the court process is still going. How many years are they willing to hold out? That’s just one of a host of questions that remain unanswered. Are most workers and retirees even interested in settling? Do non-votes count as yes votes (again)? Can one group scuttle the entire settlement (again)? Will a settlement end the entire lawsuit? And as Rep. Dan Reilly asked on Newsmakers, what will be the impact on the budget this year and next year? Will the General Assembly agree to the terms of the settlement? Do lawmakers have to act before April 20 in order to head off the trial start? And when will the gag order be lifted? Lots to watch.”
2. More from Newsmakers: you might be surprised to know that Reps. Dan Reilly and Joe Shekarchi agreed they would not vote for Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget in its current form, but they’ve come to that decision for very different reasons. Reilly said that while he thinks the governor has proposed “creative, innovative ideas” like high school students earning college credits and several real estate incentives, he’s concerned about some of the one-time revenue sources used to close the projected deficit as well as the so-called “Taylor Swift tax” that would create a statewide property tax on second homes valued at more than $1 million. He said he’s concerned the $1 million threshold could be reduced in future years if the state needs to close another shortfall. So why does Shekarchi, who managed Raimondo’s campaign for state treasurer in 2010, oppose the current budget proposal? The Providence Journal. Shekarchi said he doesn’t support a plan to remove a state requirement to publish legal notices in the newspaper, a provision former Gov. Lincoln Chafee proposed last year. “We need to keep public access to information to public meetings,” Shekarchi argued.
3. It’s all but a foregone conclusion that the Providence Board of Licenses will grant Mayor Jorge Elorza’s request to void the business licenses of Shark Bar & Grille, the Thayer Street restaurant whose owners federal prosecutors say bribed former House Speaker Gordon Fox in order to obtain a liquor license in 2008. But that doesn’t make this an open and shut case. When one side disagrees with a ruling by the licensing board, they have the right to appeal to the Department of Business Regulation (DBR), which can – and has in the past – overrule decisions made on the local level. If that doesn’t work, the matter can be taken to Superior Court or even the state Supreme Court. Peter Petrarca, a former state representative who has carved out a niche as a lawyer representing troubled bars and restaurants in front of the licensing board, said he thinks DBR will side with Shark’s owners. He noted that two other members of the board voted in favor of the license and there has been no indication from law enforcement officials that anyone else was involved with the bribes. It’s also worth noting that none of the partners in Shark have been charged with a crime. At the same time, the city probably has public perception on its side – as Mayor Elorza put it, the licensing board was “used as a platform for bribery” – which could make it more difficult for DBR to rule against the board.
4. Speaking of Elorza, don’t miss my report on the 15 bills he is asking the General Assembly to pass this year.
5. From the $70,000 auctioneer’s license to the $188 barber instructor’s permit, here are the 27 occupational licenses Gov. Gina Raimondo wants to eliminate.
6. Here’s another item from Ted Nesi: “The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank proposal unveiled this week by Governor Raimondo and Treasurer Magaziner is an interesting idea, particularly since they claim many of its programs are based on ones that are already up and running successfully in other states. One of the more surprising parts of the plan is the fact that the treasurer’s staff ‘found’ about $3 million in federal stimulus dollars earmarked to subsidize energy-efficiency bonds that, it turns out, Rhode Island still hasn’t used. On the one hand, Magaziner’s team deserves credit for their research skills; in an interview, the treasurer proudly noted his staff had discovered the money’s availability and thanked the congressional delegation for double-checking. On the other hand, President Obama signed the stimulus law more than six years ago with a promise to inject money into the economy right away. Even if you like the idea behind this program, you have to admit it’s highly unlikely that spending the cash now will give a boost to the economy of 2009-10, which was the whole purpose of the stimulus law.”
7. Roughly 31,000 students across Rhode Island started taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam this week and with the exception of a few minor hiccups, the Department of Education reports testing went “very smoothly.” To be sure, critics would still argue that Rhode Island students faced an extraordinary amount of stress related to the exam, but there’s a distinct reason the state didn’t face the same backlash about the test that other states experienced: our political leaders supported the exam. Gov. Gina Raimondo said last week that she expected her children to take the PARCC and none of the state’s other general officeholders, leaders in the General Assembly or mayors came out swinging against the test. By standing united – or at least not outright opposing the exam – state and local leaders helped deflate any momentum the opt-out movement may have had.
8. While education is on your mind, be sure to read this startling report about the disparity in college degrees between Latinos and whites in Rhode Island’s capital city from the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet. Here’s the gist: Only 13% of Latinos over the age of 25 in Providence hold at least an associate’s degree, compared with 45.7% of white residents. The report makes the case that local leaders should take stock of its current enrollment, retention and graduation rates, set goals for improving outcomes and form and expand strategic partnerships with organizations that can help students. Given the state’s growing Latino population – 62% of students in Providence Public Schools are Latino – a failure to follow through on the recommendations could result in a drop in the state’s overall postsecondary attainment rate.
9. For those following the push for a streetcar system in Providence, The New York Times had a must-read on the issue this week.
10. If you follow former Providence Phoenix editor Philip Eil on Twitter, you’ve probably seen him rant about his years-long quest to obtain court records from a prescription drug-dealing trial in Oho that resulted in a life sentence for one doctor. (Eil wants to write a book about Dr. Paul Volkman.) Now he’s teaming up with the ACLU to sue the Drug Enforcement Administration for thousands of pages of documents related to case. For more, check out the above-the-fold, front page story on the suit that appeared in the Daily News of Portsmouth, Ohio, this week, as well as Phil’s blog post on his suit.
11. As we’re learning with all the campaign finance reform bills submitted in Rhode Island over the last couple of weeks, all it takes is a little corruption to get the ball moving. In Washington, D.C., Congressman David Cicilline is learning the same thing after his bill the require mandatory ethics training for all members of the House picked up steam following the sudden resignation of Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock this week. (Schock quit Congress after questions were raised about his mileage reimbursements and campaign spending in recent weeks.) Twenty members of the House signed on as co-sponsors of the bill the day after Schock’s resignation, but House Speaker John Boehner appears to oppose the plan.
12. Nobody in state government knows more about basketball than Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, so I asked him for his Final Four picks. (Note: this was submitted on Thursday morning before the round of 64 tipped off.) “First, Go URI. My pick for the NIT as Coach Dan Hurley gets his team ready for the 2016 NCAA tourney. Final Four: Kentucky. Besides my niece being a freshman at UK, it is hard to ignore Kentucky’s undefeated season. Wisconsin. Gonzaga. This is the breakout season for Coach Mark Few and the Zags. Providence. A hometown call, but the Friars, except for a late whistle in the Big East against Villanova, would have defended their Big East championship. If they can compete with the east region’s No. 1 seed, they can compete with anyone in the bracket, beginning with Dayton. The final: Kentucky vs. Gonzaga. Kentucky wins.”
13. Did you know the game that some say saved college basketball took place in Providence 26 years ago this month?
14. With the debate over the legalization of marijuana still happening in Rhode Island, pot fans are set to descend on the Rhode Island Convention Center in May for a two-day event held by New England Cannabis Conventions. The group held a similar event in Boston earlier this year, which included sessions called “Cooking with Cannabis” and “Career Opportunities in Marijuana.”
15. Movers and shakers: Rich Luchette is returning to Congressman David Cicilline’s Washington office as his spokesman following a stint working for a gubernatorial candidate in Ohio … Andrew Caruolo, the son of former House Majority Leader George Caruolo, is working as a publicist in the state’s legislative press bureau … Democrats Susan Cicilline Buonanno and Carol Hagan McEntee are set to square off in a primary for Donald Lally’s vacant House seat … Wendy Nilsson has been appointed superintendent of the Providence Parks and Recreation Department (the Board of Parks Commissioners has set a confirmation hearing for April 9) … Part-time city treasurer James Lombardi has picked up another part-time gig advising the City Council … former state Democratic Party political director Blake Collins has joined Mayor James Diossa’s staff in Central Falls.
16 Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – state Reps. Joe Shekarchi and Dan Reilly. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Marc Streisand, owner of Marc Allen Fine Clothiers; plus, Thorne Sparkman of the Slater Technology Fund and Paul Dunn of Enhanced Energy 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.
17. Good news: you can now listen to Newsmakers and Executive Suite on the radio, too – tune into WPRO 630 AM or 99.7 FM from 6 to 7 p.m. every Sunday evening to hear the shows.Dan McGowan ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan