The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIFebruary 11th, 2012 at 6:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
Welcome to the fourth edition of my new column. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com and I may include them. Thanks for all the great feedback so far. Let’s jump in.
1. The situation in Providence is a a puzzle at this point. The city has a sizable $22.5 million budget deficit. More than half the savings to close that shortfall is in doubt ($6 million in Medicare savings and $7 million from the tax-exempts). On the other hand, the scramble to pass the Fiscal Stability Act we saw back in 2010 shows state leaders can act fast if they decide a bad precedent is about to be set on the local level. Will Governor Chafee, Speaker Fox and Senate President Paiva Weed really let the capital city slide into bankruptcy? Or will they find a way to keep Providence solvent for this fiscal year – perhaps through borrowing or a loan from the state – and give Mayor Taveras another fiscal year to sort out Providence’s problems? That would allow more time to hammer out a deal with Brown and let the Medicare trial take place. The mayor could also reap savings from cuts in pension benefits, none of which have been implemented (and therefore booked) yet. If Providence goes bust, it will be because state officials decided to allow it.
2. Among Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s lesser-known accomplishments is the fact that on Valentine’s Day 2009 she set the Guinness World Record for most consecutive kisses in 60 seconds. (Don’t believe me? Watch the video.) Alas, during Friday’s “Newsmakers” taping Gist told us she lost her crown last year; the new record is 118 kisses, topping her 112.
3. Kodak’s death throes have resulted in a lot of attention for its corporate hometown of Rochester, New York, where the camera-maker has been a ubiquitous presence for decades. What’s interesting, though, is how Rochester used the foundation provided by Kodak to prepare for a future without the company. This New York Times op-ed argues the lesson is that ”good policy making, entrepreneurship and a little luck can ensure that a city doesn’t just survive, but thrive.” Perhaps there’s a lesson there for Providence, too. (Bonus fun fact: Rochester is where Common Cause Rhode Island’s John Marion is from.)
4. My alma mater Wheaton College made headlines again last week with the revelation that alum Mimi Alford ’66 had an affair with JFK when she was a 19-year-old Wheaton student and White House intern. President Kennedy comes off as creepy, to say the least, in her telling.
5. One of the big takeaways I got from interviewing Jared Bernstein this week was how few fiscal options Rhode Island and other states have these days. On some of the big conundrums – like how to deal with Medicaid cost growth or pay for more infrastructure repairs – his answers boiled down to, “Convince the federal government to help.” It doesn’t seem like the winds are blowing that way these days.
6. A big if bittersweet moment quietly came and went on Feb. 2 for Congressman David Cicilline when the House of Representatives voted on one of his bills in its entirety for the first time. Cicilline moved to replace the text of the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act, a GOP bill the House eventually approved, with his own Jobs Score Act; his effort failed 172-245. Still, a big moment in the career of any congressman.
7. Speaking of Congress, Cicilline’s colleague Jim Langevin must be a decent boss. A new Sunlight Foundation study found his office had a staff retention rate of 68% from 2009 to 2011, slightly better than the House average of 64%. Of 19 staffers Langevin employed in the summer of 2009, 13 were still around last year. We know at least two of them took high-powered jobs elsewhere in Rhode Island’s public sector: Brian Daniels left to run Chafee’s policy shop, and Joy Fox departed to become Treasurer Raimondo’s deputy chief of staff.
8. Tim White, whose birthday was Friday, has a knack for stories about workers tampering with their time clocks. In 2009, of course, he got that unbelievable tape of a Cranston school worker cranking the gears to fraudulently punch timecard after timecard. This week it was an East Providence DPW employee who used a pen to scratch up a biometric reader. What’s weird in this case, though, is the public records angle. First the police didn’t want to give him the arrest report without city officials’ permission because it concerned a “personnel matter.” (The department relented.) Then the police refused to release the hidden-camera video showing the tampering because it is, to quote East Providence’s lawyers, “a record identifiable to an individual used to discipline an employee of a public body” – even though the police had already identified him in both the arrest report and a subsequent interview! Sometimes it’s like “APRA in Wonderland” in this state.
9. RIPR’s Ian Donnis raises a good point: Rhode Island taxpayers extended a $75 million loan to make Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios a key corporate citizen, so why did he headline the big “Reckoning” launch event in Bellingham, Mass., rather than Providence? True, the loan didn’t fund this game, but it’s the same company.
10. Nesi’s Notes editor emeritus M. Charles Bakst sent me a note last week expressing his horror at the Jessica Ahlquist/Cranston prayer banner saga. ”I am appalled at the treatment of her by her fellow students and by mean-spirited critics who are older and who should know better,” the retired columnist says. “What I want to know is: Where are the adults in Rhode Island? And why isn’t this situation considered more of a teachable moment? Instead, a young person with courage (and with right on her side) is, so to say, left out to dry. Several religious leaders did speak out sympathetically, and I give them credit, but many more voices need to be raised.” The banner is covered up at this writing.
11. Have you bought one of the new “Save Chocolateville” candy bars being sold at Whole Foods University Heights to benefit children in Central Falls? WPRI 12 has confirmed that the $5 dark-chocolate bars are, indeed, delicious.
12. Jeremy Duffy of Providence ad agency Duffy & Shanley made a good point on Twitter: A majority of casual hockey fans probably thought Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was a Canadian before he started publicizing his anti-Obama political views.
13. This week on “Newsmakers” – Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. Watch Sunday at 10 on Fox Providence. See you back here next Saturday morning.
Tags: saturday quick hits