The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIFebruary 23rd, 2013 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. Few things are more perplexing than the near-total lack of debate in Rhode Island about how the state should take advantage of rock-bottom post-crisis interest rates. (Governor Chafee’s budget chief Pete Marino is a rare exception; he wants lawmakers to move up $11.1 million in “shovel-ready” RICAP projects.) Rhode Island already knows it’s going to spend huge sums on infrastructure over the coming years; as Evan Soltas argues, there’s a strong case for spending more now while borrowing costs are low and construction workers are idle. Rich Overmoyer, whose Fourth Economy Consulting did this week’s economic report, recalls that in 2003 former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell kick-started the Keystone State’s economy with a $2.8 billion stimulus. “I have seen in a lot of states a stimulus can have a profound effect,” Overmoyer told me. He cited Massachusetts, Connecticut, Kansas and Michigan as taking thoughtful approaches: “There are some creative models out there also that become a little more palatable with the legislature, in terms of how to get at that and peg it to something that you’re not bankrupting the future.”
2. CVS Caremark, Rhode Island’s biggest private company and top for-profit employer, is on a hot streak as former chief Tom Ryan’s vision starts to pay dividends. The Woonsocket pharmacy giant surprised Wall Street with a $3.9 billion profit for 2012 on $123 billion in sales, sending CVS stock to a record high of $52.77 a share. “Obviously we’re very pleased,” CEO Larry Merlo crowed to investors. The company just made its first foray outside the United States, paying cash for Brazil’s 8th-biggest pharmacy chain. Its MinuteClinic franchise is already growing like gangbusters, and with Obamacare set to give 30 million more Americans health insurance, the outlook for CVS is rosy.
3. Should Rhode Island Republicans bother running a real campaign against Jack Reed next year? The case is often made that every elected official should face an opponent, for reasons of democratic accountability. But practically speaking it’s hard to see how the state’s beleaguered GOP would benefit from expending energy on a challenge to Reed. The last time a Rhode Island Republican who wasn’t named Chafee won a U.S. Senate race was 1930 – before the New Deal and the Bloodless Revolution. And Reed isn’t just any Democratic incumbent, either: he’s the most popular senator in the country, with a $1.9 million war chest and committee posts that make fundraising easy. Wouldn’t Republicans be better off focusing on state-level issues in competitive communities?
4. Last week’s item about the case against plastic-bag bans caused a bit of a stir. But a follow-up post by Wonkblog’s Brad Plumer says the original study is more inconclusive than Ramesh Ponnuru thinks. “The idea that widespread use of reusable bags may cause gastrointestinal infections if they are not regularly cleaned is plausible,” Tomás Aragón, San Francisco’s health officer, said in response. “However, the hypothesis that there is a significant increase in gastrointestinal foodborne illnesses and deaths due to reusable bags has not been tested, much less demonstrated in this study.”
5. Come by Brown University this afternoon for the Rhode Island Fiscal Summit, an event organized by the student group Common Sense Action. President Obama’s former “car czar” Steven Rattner will deliver the keynote, and I’ll be moderating a panel featuring former Congressman Bob Weygand, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and the Providence Chamber’s Laurie White. The fun starts at noon in Alumnae Hall.
6. There were many remembrances of the Station fire’s 10th anniversary this week, but I highly suggest you make room on your calendar for one more: Tim White’s Newsmakers special tonight at 7:30 on WPRI 12. It features a moving interview with Don Carcieri recalling that night and the days that followed, as well as other recollections plus stories from our colleagues. Tune in. … And speaking of the fire, Jim Langevin has reintroduced his bill to provide a tax break of up to $500,000 for small- and medium-sized properties that install automatic sprinklers. Republican Aaron Schock co-sponsored a similar bill with Langevin during the last session, but cost concerns have stymied the proposal so far.
7. The Providence Planning Department’s reputation already took a beating after my colleague Dan McGowan uncovered widespread financial issues in the PEDP loan program it oversaw. But apparently PEDP isn’t the only problem: this week Dan revealed that the Obama administration cut off federal funds for affordable housing in the city more than a year ago due to “program deficiencies.” Former planning chief Tom Deller left last year and this month was replaced by Rubén Flores-Marzán, who’ll have his work cut out for him.
8. Newly installed Central Falls Mayor James Diossa – who’s already up for re-election in September – signed a new city ethics ordinance this week. Could it have a real impact? Common Cause Rhode Island’s John Marion sees room for optimism: “Based on the problems we have seen at the municipal level in our state, Central Falls’ new pay-to-play provisions (which would have been a significant obstacle to Charles Moreau, as well as the practices of Buddy Cianci in Providence) are a watershed for our state. Likewise, the honorable service ordinance can stop practices that are really frustrating to citizens who see criminal and civil penalties imposed on corrupt public officials, but then watch those same public officials collect pension benefits. I really hope both of these new ordinances will act as an extra deterrent to practices that have been far too common in Rhode Island.”
9. And speaking of Central Falls, the city’s amazing high-school chess team has once again qualified for a national competition. The team needs to raise $8,000 to attend April’s SuperNationals tournament in Nashville, but so far they have less than $1,000. Click here to make a donation and help them get to Tennessee.
11. Rhode Island PBS was kind enough to include me on the panel for this week’s episode of “A Lively Experiment,” along with Common Cause’s John Marion, URI’s Maureen Moakley and Brown’s Wendy Schiller. Topics include runoff elections, the looming federal budget cuts and yet another economic study. Watch tonight at 7 p.m. on WSBE Learn (Ch. 36.2), Sunday at noon on WSBE-TV (Ch. 36.1) or online at the RI PBS blog.
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Donald Carcieri, Brendan Doherty and others remember the Station nightclub fire. Watch Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on WPRI 12 or Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – an encore interview with Vibco’s Karl Wadensten. 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.
Tags: saturday quick hits