The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIJune 2nd, 2012 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. It’s hard to call any document that spends $8.1 billion modest, but Democratic lawmakers’ final tax-and-spending blueprint is basically a status quo proposal. There are a few hints at big changes – what’s up with this new education chancellor? – but the main point is that spending barely budges from $8.12 billion this year to $8.1 billion in 2012-13. Taxation and spending gets tweaked in different places – a small expansion of the sales tax here, more school funding there – but it’s nothing dramatic. The status quo may be good politics ahead of the November elections, but with 11.2% unemployment and collapsing municipalities, is it good policy?
2. A few random budget nuggets. For some reason, lawmakers refused to go along with Governor Chafee’s request that they stop paying members of the only three boards and commissions that still do so – the Personnel Appeal Board, the Board of Elections and the State Labor Relations Board. They also refused to make any changes to the union-controlled police and fire relief fund at DLT. They told Treasurer Raimondo and Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly to figure out how to get Central Falls into the state-run pension system by January. They’ll also start making retired state lawmakers pay for health insurance and enroll in Medicare at 65. State employees will continue to get a paid day off on Election Day. Here’s the budget bill PDF.
3. The New Orleans Times-Picayune’s announcement that it will only publish print editions three days a week suggests one potential future for The Providence Journal: becoming a Sunday-only publication. Advertising-heavy Sunday editions are the most lucrative of the week for papers, and it’s important to hold onto print ads as long as possible since they’re far more valuable than digital ones. Reducing the frequency of publication, in turn, cuts printing and distribution costs. A Sunday-only printed Projo could be more like a newsweekly (think Time or Newsweek) than a daily paper – putting the events of the past week in context, publishing exclusives, etc. Focusing resources on a single day of the week could also allow The Journal to jazz up its offering – use full color on every page, hire all the best writers in Rhode Island as contributors, round up other outlets’ most interesting scoops as The Week does so successfully. Meanwhile, ProvidenceJournal.com could cover breaking news and other daily happenings online, perhaps with beat-based blogs and verticals; a Felice Freyer health blog, for example, would be a must-read. If nothing else, these are the kinds of dramatic rethinks papers should be considering while they still have enough of their dwindling revenue base to manage the transition.
4. And speaking of media, one of the voices I’d love to read in a Sunday-only Projo would be that of The Pawtucket Times’ Jim Baron, who knows the State House as well as anybody and writes a terrific weekly column that should get wider distribution. You can follow Jim on Twitter (which he recently joined at the behest of us young’uns).
5. One of the more intriguing aspects of the 38 Studios deal is that partisanship is no guide to the positions taken on it. Donald Carcieri? A supporter and a Republican. Bob Watson? An opponent and a Republican. Gordon Fox? A supporter and a Democrat. Lincoln Chafee? An opponent and an independent. It reminds me of state Sen. Dawson Hodgon’s comment to Ian Donnis a few months back that “the dividing line up there is not Republicans and Democrats; it’s adults and children.”
6. Quite a week for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. First he reached a landmark settlement with retirees and unions to cap pension benefits – and hopefully avoid a court fight – which impressed even RIPEC’s John Simmons, who’s a tough critic. Then on Friday came news his administration had reached PILOT deals with tax-exempt hospital groups CharterCARE and Care New England. As important as the money is the principle – Taveras has established the precedent that Providence’s nonprofit hospitals can and will provide money to the city. As one observer cracked to me: “Welcome to the slippery slope.”
7. Speaking of Providence’s pensions, don’t miss Tim White’s article on misleading math getting thrown around as part of the debate – a deeply underfunded pension system is allowing retirees to drain it even further by taking large, lump-sum cash payouts.
8. Among the many fatal errors Curt Schilling made after the 38 Studios transaction was his complete failure to try and turn around Rhode Islanders’ negative views about the deal. The company never held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Providence after its relocation in April 2011. Schilling rarely made public appearances here and his spokesmen never responded to inquiries. He even launched its first game in Bellingham, Mass., which seemed almost insulting – wasn’t there a single game store in the state backing his company where Schilling could release “Reckoning”? It all sounds petty, and perhaps it is, but it’s also why there was no appetite among taxpayers to do anything for 38 Studios when Schilling begged for help last month.
9. The names of two more state senators, both Warwick Democrats, bubbled up as potential successors to Senate President Paiva Weed after I raised the question last week: Michael McCaffrey, who chairs the Judiciary Committee and has $127,504 in his war chest, and William Walaska, the deputy majority whip who just did the ports commission and has $71,913 on hand.
10. Patrick Laverty, who’s quickly made a name for himself in media circles as a new Anchor Rising contributor, is a man of many talents. On Monday, he’s hosting a meeting of the new Rhode Island chapter of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) at 6:45 p.m. at Swipley’s headquarters in Providence’s Jewelry District (39 Pike St.) Patrick’s enthusiastic pitch: “No matter whether you consider yourself a techie, coder monkey or a CISO, head on over to the new OWASP RI meetup Monday night and learn or chat about all things Web security!”
11. The General Assembly is using the state’s $100 million surplus to plug a bunch of budget holes. My colleague Walt Buteau suggested a different approach – why not just cut each Rhode Islander a $100 tax rebate check? If you do it by household, the amount could be even more. Or they could make the rebate a spend-it-in-Rhode-Island voucher with a time limit, which would get people to spend the money quickly and boost the local economy.
12. This week on “Newsmakers” – Swipely’s Angus Davis and Joystiq’s Alexander Sliwinski on what went wrong at 38 Studios. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. See you back here next Saturday morning.
Tags: saturday quick hits