The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIMarch 2nd, 2013 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. Here’s an idea for Republicans who want to boost their woeful numbers in the General Assembly next year: if Senate leaders kill gay marriage again this session, the GOP could run candidates who support the measure in a bid to peel off Democrats and independents. It’s not as crazy as it might sound: the advocacy group Marriage Equality endorsed a number of Republican legislative candidates in 2012, including Dawson Hodgson, Chris Ottiano and Brian Newberry, and others in the GOP share their stance. The gay marriage issue might allow Republicans to divide Paiva Weed Democrats from Obama Democrats: polling shows majority support for gay nuptials among Rhode Islanders, and low-information voters may be casting ballots for Assembly Democrats whom they wrongly assume are on board with the idea. Of course, Republicans would run the risk of losing support from their own party’s opponents of same-sex marriage – and they’d need to run competent campaigns that target the message to the right voters. But the idea offers a potential way for the Rhode Island GOP to pick the lock the Democrats have on the electorate.
2. Looking over the new Brown University poll, WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming told me he was struck by how similar the results are to what we found in our big statewide survey last September. “It’s a mirror of our poll,” Fleming said. “There hasn’t been much movement for anybody. Voters’ opinions haven’t changed much.” That’s bad news for Lincoln Chafee, who needs his numbers to improve before long if he wants to win re-election.
3. The Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s Justin Katz has noticed a curious trend at the General Assembly this year: a surprisingly large number of bills being filed that have to do with pets. One in particular seems to go against the Assembly’s stated 2013 mission of helping small businesses – H5398, which would impose new regulations on pet groomers, including a $100 annual licensing fee. (Sponsors: Joe Shekarchi, Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, Greg Costantino, Pat Serpa and Frank Ferri.) Does the Assembly need to get involved here? Rhode Island already has more licensing rules than many other states. The state charges $25 to become a licensed tree trimmer, $75 to become a licensed barber and $150 to become a licensed upholsterer – but nothing to become a licensed bartender. What’s the guiding principle behind all this?
4. “For the first time since the New Deal, a majority of Americans are headed toward a retirement in which they will be financially worse off than their parents, jeopardizing a long era of improved living standards for the nation’s elderly,” The Washington Post reports.
5. House Speaker Gordon Fox has taken a number of steps to increase the Assembly’s transparency since he took office in 2010. As I reported this week, the legislature will soon start streaming its proceedings online – a welcome move even if Rhode Island is the last state to do it. And here’s another promising development: Fox announced at the Summit Neighborhood Association’s annual meeting that committee votes are going online, too. Spokesman Larry Berman tells me he expects that to be up and running within a month: “We are in the process of purchasing tablets for committees and they will vote on these tablets, with the voting results appearing on our website instantaneously.”
6. At the Summit gathering Fox was also asked about whether he’ll support Rep. Maria Cimini’s bill to raise taxes on wealthy Rhode Islanders. “To be determined,” the speaker replied, acknowledging people wouldn’t like that answer. “It’s a complicated issue,” he said. “How do you balance tax-equity policy with competitiveness against other states? … I’m not sure where I’m going to go on that.” Fox said the Assembly is studying the issue, and tax revenue from Rhode Island’s high-earners is already on the rise. But the speaker indicated he’s more comfortable with Congress raising taxes on the rich than state lawmakers: “Redistribution theories are, I think, more appropriate on the federal level,” he said.
7. My colleagues Tim White and Dan McGowan combed through EBT data for Rhode Island’s welfare program and found more than $10,000 was withdrawn in December at liquor stores, smoke shops, bars and Twin River. Obviously many taxpayers will raise their eyebrows at that – though it’s less than 1% of the $3.1 million withdrawn that month – but it’s also bad for the families receiving benefits; as Dan and Tim point out, ATMs at those venues often charge high fees that take more from their monthly allowances. The payroll tax cut extension President Obama signed last year requires states to crack down on welfare money being used at those sorts of places (as well as establishments where “performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment.”) Rhode Island lawmakers are now considering legislation to ramp up enforcement before a report to the federal government is due next February.
8. Bob Woodward aside, there’s a certain inconsistency in the way Democrats have been talking about sequestration since it passed in August 2011. Rhode Island offers a good example. All four Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation voted for the law while making clear they didn’t like it and only did so to stop Republicans from forcing a federal default. Yet on the campaign trail last year, Sheldon Whitehouse and David Cicilline took credit for the law’s $2.2 trillion in spending cuts and cited them as a sign they were working to cut the deficit. Now, however, they’re once again blasting the cuts. In theory they can have it both ways – after all, they did vote for the law even if they’re unhappy with it. But taking credit for passing a policy that you oppose actually implementing is, at least, a little confusing.
9. If you’re fascinated, as I am, by the resignation of Benedict XVI and the process that will lead to choosing a new pope, I highly recommend reading the writing and reporting of John L. Allen Jr., the Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter. He’s been on the beat a long time, and it shows. You can read his stories here and follow him on Twitter.
10. Word came this week that Michael Fascitelli, a 1978 URI grad, is resigning as CEO of Vornado Realty Trust, one of the nation’s biggest owners of office and retail property. The 56-year-old North Providence native will probably have a comfortable retirement: his total compensation last year was $64 million.
11. As expected, Royal Bank of Scotland confirmed Thursday plans to sell about 25% of its stake in RBS Citizens Financial, based here in Providence. If you missed it Wednesday night, check out my analysis of what a Citizens IPO could mean for Rhode Island. The big news since then: TD Bank’s CEO flatly ruled out buying Citizens and said he’s exasperated that it’s still being suggested.
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Tim White tour the city’s rundown homes. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz and Treasurer Gina Raimondo, plus Thomas Lyons on our failing law schools. 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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