The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIMarch 23rd, 2013 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. Friday’s ominous news about coming cuts at Lifespan should make Rhode Island leaders think again about banking on the “meds and eds” to power the state’s economy in the years ahead. There is growing pressure from regulators and insurers for the health-care industry to tighten its belt, a push that got new support from Steve Brill‘s big exposé on hospital prices. The story is similar in higher education (though Brown University could probably charge as much as it wants and still fill the dorms). Down in Washington, apparently the debate is over about whether the federal government should cut back – the only question now is how much austerity and how soon, with health a top target for savings. Researchers in Providence’s vaunted Knowledge District are heavily dependent on the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, both of which are being cut by the sequester; Rhode Island stands to lose nearly $8 million in funding from the NIH. It all presents a huge challenge, one which Margot Sanger-Katz nailed in a must-read National Journal article about Pittsburgh, a city often held up as an eds-and-meds model for Providence. “The health care boom that is propping up the American economy could eventually come back to haunt us,” she warns. Does Rhode Island have a Plan B?
2. Another reason to worry about the meds-and-eds model: it’s not clear it helps the less educated Rhode Islanders who’ve been hit hard by the recession. Aaron Renn suggested recently, “there’s no flow-through to people who aren’t directly tapped into the knowledge economy itself. … [T]he majority of residents are missing out.” What to do? Harvard’s Ed Glaeser thinks the answer is simple: ”The best policy for local economic development is to attract and train smart people and then get out of their way.”
3. A Campaign 2014 dispatch from my ace WPRI.com colleague Dan McGowan: “With Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras bringing in political operatives ahead of next year’s election, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung says he too remains ‘seriously interested in the governor’s race.’ The Republican wouldn’t rule out running for a different statewide office, but acknowledged that he enjoys being a chief executive. Fung doesn’t currently have a deep political team like his Democratic counterparts – he still takes personal calls from reporters – but he said that once he gets through his budget in April, he’ll be prepared to make some ‘head-scratching announcements.’” Stay tuned.
4. Reserve your free tickets now for Dan Ariely, the Duke professor whose research and writing on behavioral economics have made him a star of the TED-talk circuit and a New York Times bestselling author. Ariely is speaking in Providence on April 20 as part of RISD’s Presidential Speaker Series.
5. Newsmakers is, of course, appointment viewing week in and week out, but this weekend’s episode is a must-watch for anyone interested in Rhode Island politics: a half-hour interview with Rep. J. Patrick O’Neill, the Pawtucket rebel who bolted from House Speaker Gordon Fox’s leadership team last fall and caused mayhem last week with his (nullified) vote on the ethics bill. Why did O’Neill do it? How did Fox’s opposition to income taxes change their relationship? Who really knew 38 Studios was going to get $75 million? And does O’Neill still want to be the next speaker? Watch and hear his answers. Bonus: Tim White obtained video from the two hearings – the look on Rep. Edie Ajello‘s face as O’Neill makes his motion tells the tale.
6. Did you know a 30% federal tax killed off the big bands in the 1940s?
7. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual study on rental costs estimates Rhode Islanders need an hourly wage of $18.18 to pay fair-market rent on a two-bedroom apartment – obviously significantly more than many people take home. It’s striking that rental costs remain so high despite years of high unemployment and population loss – what would happen to rents if, God forbid, the state economy actually started humming and more people wanted to move here for work? Rhode Island is already the nation’s second-densest state – the housing stock needs to get closer or higher if supply is going to expand, which would require a very different attitude from residents, regulators and zoning boards. Bringing more people here could be a way to expand the economy and boost productivity – as PBN’s Patrick Anderson put it, current policy is “devaluing one of our prime assets, underutilized urban land.” One suggestion from Nesi’s Notes commenter Mario: legalize basement apartments, which “would increase affordability and values.”
8. Here’s a provocative hypothesis from The American Conservative’s Daniel McCarthy: “The root of the GOP’s problem now is the same as that of the Democrats in 1969: the party’s reputation has been ruined by a botched, unnecessary war – Vietnam in the case of the Democrats, Iraq for the GOP.” Peggy Noonan offered a similar opinion in her column this week.
9. I finally got around to reading the big study of Rhode Island’s antiquated state personnel system and was struck by this statistic: the state government has cut 43% of its HR jobs since 2005, with the number of full-time HR employees dropping from 169 to 97. That brought Rhode Island closer to other governments: the state now has one HR staffer for every 114 state employees, down from one for every 83 in 2005, which means Rhode Island is now in line with New Hampshire and Vermont.
11. Ted Orson, the attorney who represented Central Falls in its Chapter 9 bankruptcy case, doesn’t expect to see other local lawyers follow in his footsteps. “In Rhode Island I don’t think we’re ever going to need a Chapter 9 again,” Orson said at The Bond Buyer’s conference on distressed municipalities this week. “Negotiation is happening and state court litigation is happening. We believe it will not be necessary.” Orson may be right: the Central Falls disaster clearly scared municipal officials and retirees in many places, making it easier to negotiate previously unthinkable concessions on pension benefits.
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Pawtucket Rep. J. Patrick O’Neill. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite - Michael and Timothy Ehrlich, co-founders of the Ocean State Angels investment group, and Daniel Kamil, co-owner of the Cable Car Cinema, to discuss his Kickstarter campaign to save the theater. 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.
This post has been updated.
Tags: saturday quick hits