The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIJanuary 26th, 2013 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. Rhode Island’s flavor-of-the-week in economic development is brain science. On Thursday the Providence Chamber’s Laurie White pitched a public-private brain science research center to state senators, and Governor Chafee quickly embraced the idea. If the proposed center is going to be globally competitive, White and Chafee will need to come up with a lot of money: in recent months Columbia University secured $200 million to endow a new Mind Brain Behavior Institute, a UTexas-Baylor-MIT group is putting together $50 million for a Neurodegeneration Consortium, and Connecticut’s governor plans to invest $200 million in bioscience. Even with John Donoghue, can Brown University and the Lifespan hospitals compete on that scale? And is it affordable or viable in an era when the “meds and eds” are facing unprecedented pressure to clamp down on costs? The answers to these questions may be yes, but it’s important they get asked. The 38 Studios debacle was the product of economic desperation and a lack of rigor; if a huge amount of money is about to be put on the line, Rhode Island should try to avoid making the same mistakes.
2. If you’ve never watched Executive Suite, this is the week to tune in: Aaron Renn’s interview (already online) will change how you think about economic development in Rhode Island – starting with the fact that you’ll no longer think about it happening “in Rhode Island.” Renn offers a great antidote to the platitudes that often pass for bold thinking locally; when you’re done watching the show, check out his articles about Providence, too.
3. Governor Chafee said on Newsmakers last week that he’s resistant to the push for higher income taxes in Rhode Island because he considers it more harmful to economic growth than the sales tax. A 2008 OECD paper [pdf] offers some support for Chafee, though the evidence is at the national level. “The results of the analysis suggest that income taxes are generally associated with lower economic growth than taxes on consumption and property,” the paper found. “Property taxes, and particularly recurrent taxes on immovable property, seem to be the most growth-friendly, followed by consumption taxes and then by personal income taxes. Corporate income taxes appear to have the most negative effect on GDP per capita.” Does the same hold for state tax regimes? If so, it would suggest Rhode Island under Chafee is moving in a more growth-friendly direction than Massachusetts is under Deval Patrick.
4. Don’t miss this Slate story about Google’s data-driven approach to human resources. Fascinating.
5. As Barack Obama begins his second term this week, Brown University poli-sci professor Michael Tesler has become a go-to expert on the question of how racial attitudes have affected the nation’s first black president. Tesler, who came to Brown in 2011 from UCLA, co-authored the 2010 book “Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America.” His interesting, troubling work was featured in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic article “Fear of a Black President” last fall. “Racial attitudes had a significantly greater impact on health care opinions when framed as part of President Obama’s plan than they had when the exact same policies were attributed to President Clinton’s 1993 health care initiative,” Tesler argued in a recent paper [pdf].
6. Another Brown academic, Mark Blyth, made a cameo in the Financial Times last week, as columnist Samuel Brittan highlighted Blyth’s Web video “Austerity.” Brittan wrote: “Ignore the political bile and partisanship – the author succeeds in demonstrating that austerity policies have mainly succeeded in making depressions and unemployment worse.” Blyth’s upcoming book, “Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea,” is due out in April from Oxford University Press.
7. Governor Chafee’s third budget continues to be much more warmly received than his first two. The latest evidence came Thursday from Senate Finance Chairman Dan DaPonte, who told his colleagues at a Senate economic conference: “The budget we’ve been presented with this year is certainly much better in a lot of ways than the last five years of what we’ve had to deal with.” But he also expressed concern that the state’s economic outlook actually got worse between last May and November, and urged his colleagues “to keep the discipline that we’ve had in sound practical and sensible budgeting.”
8. Sheldon Whitehouse and David Cicilline are going to be busy in the coming weeks. In exchange for agreeing to suspend the debt ceiling, House Republicans made Senate Democrats agree to pass a budget for the first time since 2009. That means a lot of work between now and April 15 for two committees: Patty Murray’s Senate Budget Committee, which Whitehouse serves on, and Paul Ryan’s House Budget Committee, which Cicilline just joined. The two local Democrats are liberals on fiscal policy who’ll likely try to impact the debate, particularly since they both just won re-election as staunch defenders of Social Security and Medicare.
9. And speaking of Whitehouse, I expected him to be disappointed with the Reid-McConnell filibuster compromise announced this week considering how much he criticized their last agreement. But in a statement, Whitehouse told me he thinks the changes will move the Senate closer to three things he wants: “talking filibusters,” no filibusters on motions to proceed, and a faster nomination process. “This new agreement stands a real chance of allowing us to achieve those goals,” he said. “It’s an important step in the right direction. If for some reason this proves not to achieve those goals, we can and should get back to work and make any necessary corrections.” For more, read Ezra Klein’s interview with Sen. Jeff Merkley.
10. I got a chance to see the new production of “Anne Boelyn” at Pawtucket’s Gamm Theatre the other night, and was amazed once again that a former police garage has been turned into a theatrical space with world-class theater, all on a budget of about $1.2 million a year. David Wax was recently named the new executive director at the Gamm, and it will be interesting to see where he takes it.
11. Five House lawmakers missed Thursday’s big vote on same-sex marriage, all Democrats: Spencer Dickinson, Deborah Fellela, Brian Patrick Kennedy, Peter Palumbo and Donna Walsh. Walsh was on a long-scheduled vacation and is a well-known supporter of gay marriage. My colleague Dan McGowan, who covered the vote, reports Dickinson and Palumbo were at the State House Thursday but for some reason didn’t vote. But where were Fellela and Kennedy?
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Brendan Doherty, who’s not ruling out a 2014 run for governor. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Urbanophile.com’s Aaron Renn. 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.
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