The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI

February 18th, 2012 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post

Welcome to the latest 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. Is there a fate worse than bankruptcy for Providence? Quite possibly: the city could go the way of Greece. It’s been more than two years since the Mediterranean nation revealed a huge hidden budget shortfall and the crisis there still isn’t over. European leaders have given Greece just enough cash to stay afloat without solving its underlying structural problems. The combination of austerity and uncertainty has crippled the Greek economy and harmed the rest of Europe. It’s possible to imagine a similar situation unfolding in Providence: Smith Hill blocks the city from filing for bankruptcy, providing just enough cash to make payroll without addressing its unsustainable retirement liabilities or providing a permanent increase in funding. A crippled Providence would limp along, unable to really move forward. Yes, they might avoid the headline “Rhode Island capital files for Chapter 9″ – but in the long term, is bad publicity worse than bad policy?

2. With Rhode Island Republicans set to file a lawsuit over the Keablemander, it’s worth taking a look across the border at Massachusetts. The birthplace of the gerrymander apparently managed a surprisingly above-board redistricting process this time around.

3. Watching Curt Schilling make the rounds on TV this week offered a tantalizing possibility that, should 38 Studios succeed, some of the benefit will indeed accrue to its new home state. True, Schilling debuted “Reckoning” in Massachusetts and the company still hasn’t held a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony at its new Empire Plaza headquarters. Still, there aren’t a lot of local firms getting the kind of publicity 38 Studios is at the moment; Schilling told Jimmy Fallon it “was built to be something that stays around and becomes huge.” The game is #49 on Amazon at this writing and had a strong debut in the U.K., with a sequel possibly in the works. (But how’s Project Copernicus looking?)

4. I’m keeping an eye on Rhode Island’s tax revenue, which continues to surpass expectations. January’s numbers had the state up 3.6% seven months into the fiscal year, with $57 million more than expected in the treasury. If that continues, it could let lawmakers give Governor Chafee the $39.5 million in extra education funding he wants without having to raise the meals tax as he proposed.

5. U.S. Senator Jack Reed has done some savvy legislating in recent weeks to help his home state. The payroll tax deal included provisions to give high-unemployment Rhode Island longer jobless benefits and to provide federal funds to pay for the WorkShare program. Under the radar, he also backed an amendment to a Senate transportation bill that will let RIPTA use federal money for its operations (as opposed to capital) over the next two to three years, which would certainly be a boon to the ever-cash-strapped agency. Not to be outdone, his colleague Sheldon Whitehouse filed an amendment to create a program to fund infrastructure projects of “national and regional significance,” with an eye on getting money to fix the deteriorating Providence Viaduct bridge on I-95. “We’re looking for ways to provide assistance to the state in very difficult times,” Reed told me Thursday night.

6. I’m a sucker for stories about the impact of the Great Recession on my fellow Millennials, and three interesting ones came across my desk this week: Derek Thompson on the delay of adulthood, Ezra Klein on the failure of liberal arts degrees, and Reuters’ Lou Carlozo on renting as the new American Dream.

7. Adman Josh Fenton’s GoLocalEmpire expanded north Wednesday with the launch of GoLocalWorcester, the first spinoff of his flagship site here in Providence. Fenton knows how to make a splash: the Worcester site’s headliners include Natalie Jacobson, Bob Lobel, Bill Delahunt, Tim Cahill and – as the Boston Herald gleefully noted – Mr. Big Dig, Matt Amorello. GoLo’s detractors are legion, but Fenton’s moxie has made the Providence site a force that local politicos and media types can’t ignore – more so than many may admit. It will be interesting to see how he does in the more competitive Massachusetts media market.

8. The smart money is on TIAA-CREF beating out Great-West for the contract to run Rhode Island’s new hybrid pension plan. CREF is a known commodity – it handles retirement accounts at URI, RIC and CCRI – and can provide the educational tools Treasurer Raimondo has said are a priority. Plus, the optics of picking a Canadian company aren’t so hot.

9. Anecdotes don’t make for good economic reporting, so take this for what it’s worth. But an East Providence real-estate agent of my acquaintance reports home sales in December and January were much stronger than he expected, which he takes as a good sign for the rest of 2012. Meanwhile, The Sun Chronicle found improving demand at some Attleboro manufacturers. Green shoots?

10. On the other hand, there’s this bit of doubt from economist Justin Wolfers: “How much of the #recoverywinter is due to unseasonably warm weather muting the usual seasonal dip?” That must be having an impact here in Rhode Island. RIDOT Director Mike Lewis, for one, seems pretty gleeful about how little he’s had to spend on winter supplies this season. The bean-counters here in TV Land are less thrilled, since nobody’s watching storm coverage.

11. Moderate Party founder Ken Block has been beating the drum this week in warning state and city leaders they’re off on the wrong track when it comes to developing the land in Providence freed up by the relocation of I-195. He suggested tying up all the land and most of the EDC’s tax breaks to attract a national company of Google-esque size and significance. “We will not get nearly as many jobs out of a ‘meds and eds’ approach as we will from hosting a competitive procurement for this land which takes into account total job creation potential,” Block argues.

12. As we wait to find out who won the big Powerball ticket, here’s a funny connection to politics passed along by a reader. John Koza, the guy behind the National Popular Vote initiative, says he got the idea after he spent years working on another interstate compact – the one that authorized Powerball.

13. This week on “Newsmakers” – a wide-ranging conversation with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. Watch Sunday at 10 on Fox Providence. 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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10 Responses to “The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI”

  1. Pat Crowley says:

    About the Ezra Klein story. Harvard was my back up school in case the state college thing didn’t work out…..

  2. Jim Donahue says:

    Schillings employees may be working in Providence but if they don’t live here what does RI get? its a split between the two states unfortunately and no property taxes for the muni’s. It’s something but I really wonder about how much that will help if they don’t go belly up. If they do go bellyup oh my.

    The 800 pound elephant in every room in the US is housing prices, housing foreclosures and a lack of equity in housing. That has and will continue to suck the US economy dry until there is a final end to it.

    People were still taking out Jumbo ARMs right into the 1st quarter of 2008 maybe a bit longer so we’ve got another year of home owners going underwater because they can’t refinance out of the ARM.

    There is at least a 6 month backlog of houses up for sale and another year to 18 months of new foreclosures and we both know the bank settlement was an election present for the sitting President rather than anything that will help defrauded homeowners or defrauded investors who bought the AAA rated crap. The Fed is still worried about deflation.

    US Gasoline usage is WAY down this year so far and I have seen more larger layoff notices than I have in awhile. We could be slipping back on a national scale to a recession but maybe RI will recover instead. The national recession hasn’t really been national. Some places have been doing great.

    Wow this was a long one. Just got carried away.

  3. YRI says:

    How about this idea? If the “revenues” (our taxes) are coming into the state coffers faster, use some or all of it to pay down bonded indebtedness faster. Spending more on subsidizing what is primarily teacher union salaries and fringe benefits, under the guise of aiding elementary/secondary education is a flim flam and perpetuation of the buying off of a certain bloc special interests. Yeah, how about doing something that promotes the general welfare… the fiscal health of the state and its subdivisions.

  4. Vincent Sheehan says:

    From:Vincent Sheehan

    Retired Providence Firefighter,accidental disablity pension 12/27,1979
    I’m putting this letter forward to enlighten people of just a few of the problems. 1st, when a Firefighter/or/Police officer retires under disability he/she mudt go thru a full battery of test and the Doctords must agree,
    2nd, the ordinance with reguard to Fire Fighters states, “He/She can no longer do FIRE FIGHTING DUTIES. If the ord, is in need of a wi\ord change then vote for it, in the mean time let cool hesds [revsil. This will workout without everyone having heart attacks worring if Prov, goes chap.9. T.Y.

    Letter about court ruling 1-31-2012

    Please,, the former mayors have given away everything so they can get the votes. If you spent 30-40 years on the fire or police depts, and were told that each week the city matched your 9-10% of your pay to go to your pension, then you find out they haven’t done it for 50 years, WHO is at fault.??? When I signed my papers the who pays what were laid out where the city and myself and the controllers office wittness. It stated:
    “This pension carries benifets of 66 & 2/3s to the injured Firefighter and family health coverage for the life of the injured, all at city of prov expense, payable thru the retirement clause and in all the contracts, including but not limited to CBA agreements.
    People who get contracts thru CBa’s are held to strict guidelines by law. People who sign CBA’s are being held to the same standard. Whether they are elected officials of a Union or the City, or a Judge. The law is just that, the law.
    Please look at ” ARENA vs Prov Pension ” in early 1990′s the judge after years of work and searching found that even though the fire and police were getting 3%, the MAYOR ordered the 5 & 6% cola’s in by exectuive order, (my understanding of that time) I had no clue what was going on because of my injuries and the damm drugs I had to take.I started to receive 5% several years later. The City of Prov also states that no retire will pay more than $400.00 deductible per year, well last year I paid $976.00 and my wifes was 812.00 so where is this $400.00 come from.?? Read the pension guidelines. These are laws, because without the laws, the contracts would be voided.
    My 1st check in 1980 was for $824.00 per month for the next 3 years before the cola kicked in.
    On 1-30-2012 the judge in the latest go around with the city of providence sided for the plantif,the fire and police, stating that a contracts were in place all the time and the rule of law was clearly on their side. If people keep playing games electing the same people every year and expect a different result are not realizing what they are doing, Please stop electing pupputs and put people in these important positions that will reflect your well-being and your voice. These contracts are public info anyone can view them under the foia that is federally ordered. Look at the years and timming to elections and SUPRISE they seemed match the years that all is well with everthing,how can elected officials blow that much smoke and people believe it.They claim to be unaware of their own actions.What happened to the ” rainny Day fund that showed a large balance before mayor Travers took over.? When people see this, what do they do ? they promote them to congress and other places.Fire and police work hard for the monies they earn, and yes I am a retired firefighter who retired with a broken back.Between injury and surgery I spent 3 month in bed with very little movement, and the next 1 & 12 years getting to walk without crutches or a cane. The swelling on my spine took 3 months to reduce enough to operate. I have lost my left kidney to cancer, and 2 other cancers in bladder with surgery. Had chemo and all the “goodies” for cancer. I had 2 heart attacks as well. Here I am at 66 years old and feel like 102 and feel like the begger at a corner looking for a hand out, no I just want what was promised in writting and fairly due me, my family deserves that at least for service to the city and the loss of earnings I could have made.I currently get Medicare and I pay for part B, as do other Fire/police retiree’s. REMEMBER fire and police do not pay social security tax’s due to private pension. I worked enough in the 60′s to get my quarters in so I started getting S/S. My 1st check was for S/S was $ 111.00 and no cola’s for last 2 years , so now you might understand why this issue has pushed me to write this. If you want to screw someone at least have the #^%@’s to tell them up front, not after all these years.I have to live on 3 small checks every month my S/S, my city check pension and my wifes small S/S check. Together they don’t total what is set aside for a cleark in city hall . I have a very strict budget. By the way I pay for medicare, so I really feel screwed by the city of providence. If the mayor or anyone in power has anything say,say it to my face and stop this behind closed doors and behind my back bull-shit. Sit down with the concerned people and talk out the problem, stop screaming “chapter 9 ” thats like screaming fire in a crowded theater. After awhile no one listens’no lisnens.!!! The Mayor his council (legal) and retires should sit down with the Union lawyer and stay at the table until a reasonable agreement is found. My personal feeling is that the Mayor and or the Gov. wants Providence to go into chap #9, well if that is what they want then all this was for nothing and we might as well move back to the caves and start all over again. Maybe in 10,000 years we will be civilized enough to sit and talk rather than scream, and act like kids in a schoolyard. I’ll take my ball back to my cave. Let me know where and when and I’ll be at any meeting the have. I told the girl at the R.W.Casinio when we were there for the medicare thing, that, I see you in court before I let that happen, well, been there done that. NOW WHAT….

    V.S.

    1. Ed says:

      Vinnie first of all no firemen or cops stay on the job for 30 or 40 years. Most of you bozos bail out at the first chance you get. Next stop with the victim card, you clowns believe what you are told instead of doing the research. You have gotten more than you deserve now go away. Too bad Jack Kervorkian is not alive. Your existence shows you have no life but are a just taking space.

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  6. [...] Lastest Recover My Files News February 20, 2012 The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits upon governing body & some-more in RI Harvard was my behind up propagandize in box a state college thing didn't work out….. Schillings employees might be operative in Providence though if they don't live here what does RI get? a the separate in between a dual states unfortunately as well as no skill taxes for … Read some-more upon WPRI-TV twelve (blog) [...]

  7. snow says:

    I think Ezra Klein ( who I usually agree with) has it all wrong. Kids apply to Wall Street, not to get skills, but to get rich. Kids apply to Teach for America because it is a resume builder, and a short cut, not into teaching, but into the new get-rich -quick world of educational consulting and educational policy. Plus, TFA grads get entree into Wall Street this way through special initiatives. TFA has the added benefit of allowing kids to feel good about giving back, an idea Millenials have been bombarded with by their baby boomer parents since they could talk, and supported by college prep schools in the form of volunteer work requirements, an absolute must for a competitive college application.

    It’s sad, but we have brought twenty-something’s up to need the backgrounds and skills of forty year olds just in order to get into the best colleges. This type of training has “educated” them to continuously aligned themselves for the next life stage. They are acutely aware that they must lay foundations for their careers via the resume. TFA utilizes this mind-set for its own agenda.

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  9. [...] (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}In my Saturday column (you read it, right?) I highlighted a recent Ezra Klein piece that argued Wall Street, Teach for [...]