The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI

February 22nd, 2014 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com. For quick hits all week long, follow @tednesi.

1. Don’t believe anybody who says they’re sure of whether the pension settlement is going to go through. As I chronicled Thursday, there at least 10 flavors of opinion on the merits of the deal, a sign of how fluid and heated the debate around it is. That said, keep in mind that the settlement doesn’t necessarily have to be popular to pass. That’s particularly true during the upcoming first round of votes by union and retiree plaintiffs, which must be finished by mid-April. As Kathy Gregg first noted, a ballot that isn’t returned will be counted as a “yes” – so rank-and-file opponents of the deal have to convince at least 50% of their brethren to affirmatively mail in a ballot marked “no” to kill it. That’s a tall order when the voters are split into six groups that won’t be gathering together in any local union hall: state workers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, municipal employees and retirees. Put another way: the deal’s proponents are organized and well-financed; the opponents aren’t. Still, it’s possible a groundswell of opposition could torpedo it. But if the settlement passes that vote and a second one on the union/retiree side, labor lobbyists only need to convince half of the state legislature to back the deal to get it enacted. That seems doable, particularly if proponents of the settlement can win the spin war by highlighting how lopsided its financial impact is.

2. One way the deal’s supporters could get it passed: pay off the municipalities. Specifically, the General Assembly could agree to pay the extra pension contributions the settlement requires from cities and towns. (Clay Pell put forward a version of this idea, though he didn’t suggest covering the full cost.) As the Rhode Island League of Cities & Towns’ Dan Beardsley reminded me this week, back in 1989 the legislature helped close a budget deficit by changing the calculation for teacher pension contributions from 60% state and 40% municipal to 60% municipal and 40% state. “They said we’re going to flip it for one year; it’s been like that since 1989,” he said. If the settlement passes as is, Beardsley said, it would be “probably the second-worst unfunded mandate pushed onto the cities and towns in my four decades here at the League” after the 1989 switch. And it’s not like places such as Providence (facing a $1.2 million hit in 2015-16 under the settlement), Woonsocket ($559,000), East Providence ($506,000) or Central Falls ($216,000) are exactly rolling in dough to pay the higher tab.

3. ‘Tis a time of great flux in the media world, as illustrated by Jason Schwartz’s terrific new 5,000-word piece about The Boston Globe under John Henry in Boston magazine. As I reported earlier this week, The Providence Journal’s Dallas owners are getting ready to send out the sale book to potential Projo buyers, and Schwartz’s piece is a reminder of just how much is at stake for Rhode Island when it comes to who takes over on Fountain Street; there is a world of difference between a John Henry and, say, a Doug Manchester. But what’s also clear from the story is that Henry has injected more urgency – and money – into the vital task of rebuilding the Globe’s business model for the 21st century, and that he’s very much engaged with the latest industry trends. Will the new Projo owners – if the paper does get sold, which isn’t guaranteed – be attuned to the cutting edge in media? And will they want new leadership at The Journal, as Henry did at The Globe?

4. Speaking of media, Scott MacKay broke the news Friday that Jim Taricani, our worthy competitor as Channel 10′s longtime chief gumshoe, will be retiring from the station on April 1. Retired Providence Journal columnist M. Charles Bakst sent along this fond tribute to Jim, a local legend:

Let me second the words of Rhode Island Public Radio’s Scott MacKay and add a couple of thoughts about the upcoming, well-deserved retirement of Channel 10′s Jim Taricani.

It will be a huge loss for viewers, but he will leave an enduring legacy, the model of a tough-as-nails reporter who was willing to face jail – or, as it turned out, house confinement – if it meant getting you the story and helping you understand what your corrupt government was up to. He has a zealous appetite for news, a genuine curiosity, decades of perspective, a vast network of sources, knows topics like politics and the mob inside out, and, so important, a tremendous pride in the seriousness of his work and the potential of television, a news medium whose standards, he would be the first to acknowledge, sadly, now are so often diluted.

I have known him as a competitor and a colleague; he often invited me to be a panelist on “10 News Conference.” He is very bright and has very good taste, except for his being a New York Yankee fan. I continue to hope that his wife, Laurie White, a Sox devotee who also is president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, can yet swing him around.

Jim’s personal story as an early heart-transplant recipient was an inspiration, and for years he has toiled, in both high-profile and backstage ways, to promote cardiac health and to counsel individuals with heart problems, myself included.

He has been a part of the fabric of Rhode Island, an institution, not a guy who flits from TV market to TV market. Rhode Island was made for him, and I can imagine him thinking along the lines of the woman from Boston who is reputed to have said, “Why should I travel anywhere? I’m already here.”

He was Jim Taricani, and that’s a role he will have for years to come, whether employed by Channel 10 or not. I think of the legendary Red Sox pitcher, Luis Tiant, who continues to be adored and is hounded for pictures and autographs even though he hurled his last game forever ago. He glides through life being Luis Tiant. For the rest of his days, my journalist friend will glide through life being Jim Taricani.

5. NBCNews.com’s Tony Dokoupil takes a look at Patrick Kennedy’s war against legal pot.

6. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “It didn’t take long for one of Rhode Island’s premier labor leaders to find a new gig: with his last day as president of the Providence Teachers Union scheduled for next Friday, Steve Smith is set to become a field representative for Local 1033 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. The 57-year-old Smith served as a state rep for 20 years before handing his seat off to current Rep. John Carnevale in 2008, and he’s long been one of the most respected voices in organized labor. At Local 1033, Smith is stepping into the position previously held by veteran political operative Ernest Carlucci, who has joined Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s staff. Smith’s departure from the Providence Teachers Union comes at an uncertain time for city teachers. With the current union contract set to expire in August, a new mayor on the way and teachers expressing strong concern over the Common Core and evaluations, the next president is going to have a lot on his or her plate. As it stands now, it looks like the battle will come down to current Vice President Maribeth Calabro (she becomes president as soon as Smith officially steps down) and Melissa Cimini, a former member of Smith’s executive board.”

7. My pal Josh Barro has eight ideas for supply-side policies that could boost the economy, and his third item is especially relevant for Rhode Island policymakers: “The next round of big deregulation fights should be at the state and local level.” (For six bonus ideas, check out Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s Forbes list.)

8. If you haven’t heard about the Capital Good Fund yet, check out CEO Andy Posner on Executive Suite this week. The Providence nonprofit provides financial services – most famously, payday-loan alternatives – to lower-income Rhode Islanders. What’s just as interesting, though, is Posner’s critique of the way nonprofits are managed in America. He thinks they need to think more like for-profit enterprises – not in terms of their motives, but rather in terms of how big they try to get and how closely they scrutinize the effectiveness of their own work. (For more on that, check out Posner’s articles in the Stanford Social Innovation Review here and here.) On that front, Posner is now working to raise $100,000 in an “IPO” to help fund its expansion; he says he hopes in five years to lend out $100 million and in 10 years to be serving 100,000 people per year.

9. Rhode Island added 24 farms from 2007 to 2012, continuing a trend I chronicled for PBN back in 2009.

10. Have you ever heard of Elleanor Eldridge? Born in Warwick, she was a successful Providence entrepreneur during the early 1800s, according to this New York Times review, who authored one of the earliest memoirs by a free American black woman. According to CCRI’s Sarah C. O’Dowd, “the essence of her story has universal appeal: basically, it is a classic tale of right over wrong, the account of how a victim of injustice fights a series of apparently insurmountable obstacles and finally overcomes the injury done to her.” Eldridge is back in the news these days as one of the protagonists in Jacqueline Jones‘ new book “A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America.”

11. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the items we published this week: 10 ways to look at the proposed pension settlement … why the deal may save even more than $3.9 billion … Council 94′s Mike Downey explains what happens next … charting the pension shortfall since 2009 … a comparison of the Raimondo, Fung and Taveras pension settlements … CVS is hoping to open MinuteClinics in Rhode Island this year … Providence suspends a South Side boxing program … and an audit says the EDC may have misspent $2 million with Betaspring.

12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a political roundtable on Campaign 2014 and the pension settlement featuring Tim White, Joe Fleming, Cara Cromwell, Tim Murphy and yours truly. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Capital Good Fund CEO Andy Posner. 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.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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9 Responses to “The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI”

  1. Snow says:

    #1 you’re exactly right here, Ted, the workers under the various groupings are not organized, and will be easily controlled. I noticed the dates and times for the meeting, and they are are using this information to control the message. Meetings during the early day on Wednesday will only be attended by retirees. Leadership will know this and with spin the message to herd that particular group. The same thing goes for the 4:30 meetings at Eleanor Slater, which will be more likely attended by ACI guards and state hospital workers. The location and time suggest that these workers will attend right after their shift.

    Some unintended consequences are going to result. Workers are flooding social media sites blasting the settlement. They feel the voting method is stacked against them, and they have been betrayed by leadership. The relationship between union members and their various memberships are going to fray. At a time when solidarity should hold sway, we are going to see only distrust and resentment. I wonder where all this will lead. Will leadership be fired, voted out? No one knows. I do think there will be much damage,but what form it takes, is anyone’s guess.

  2. Tradita says:

    Some retirees I’ve spoken with are on the fence, seeing only the one-time $500 bribe. Perhaps they assume that if this settlement passes, there will be no future changes to the pension system; however, the settlement does not guarantee that this is the last change.

    My personal vote will be a NO. IMO, Before any “settlement” can be discussed, we need a court decision on the legality of altering the pension agreements of those who retired prior to enactment of the 2011 pension reform law.

  3. Mike says:

    What a helpless feeling for public employees and pensioners. Their union leadership completely let them down by (a) accepting a deal that only returns 6% of what was taken from them in 2011, and (b) agreeing to a voting process that counts all unreturned votes (or unsent, or thrown away “no” votes) as “yes”.

    It seems like the sole purpose of this deal was to allow Raimondo to get on with her campaign without having to answer pension trial questions. It’s understandable why she’d want to do that, but it’s completely incomprehensible why the union leaders would agree to it.

    What should have come out of the mediation was a deal worded “Do you want the existing lawsuit against the State to continue – yes or no?”. THEN let all non-returned votes count as “yes”. Or even fairer, only count returned votes (no matter how the deal is worded).

    Anyone affected by this must show up when the judge holds public hearings and voice their opinion of this unfair voting process. That is the only hope for this, as it is too easy to rig the votes under this bogus process.

  4. Bea says:

    It looks like union leadership sold out the retirees on behalf of current workers, even though retirees had the strongest case–they have a signed agreement spelling out pension amoount, terms and cola.

    This is all Gina’s doing, with the help of her sidekick David Boies.
    That $500. every 4 years won’t even buy you one of David Boies’ bottles of fine Wine !

  5. Bob says:

    union clowns get back every penny they put in, in about 3 years. bunch of crybabies. waahhh.
    Don’t worry babies, your union leader will fill and warm a bottle for you.

    1. Mike says:

      You’re missing the point of pensions: they are deferred compensation. For example, most teachers have masters degrees. That same amount of education would often pay more in the private world – at least in salary. Public workers have long worked for less current salary in exchange for deferred compensation (pensions). That same opportunity is available to anyone, as is the ability to lobby your politicians to change laws GOING FORWARD.

      But the bottom line in this case is that one party (the State) is trying to renege on their end of a contracted deal (“work x years, get x pension for x years, with x COLA”) AFTER the other party (public employees) has already upheld their end of the contract. That cannot be allowed to become the precedent and the trial would likely conclude that.

      Maybe stop being so bitter that you don’t have a pension pal?

  6. Bob says:

    deferred compensation? ha ha ha good one. Call it what it is. Welfare for a solid bloc of Democratic voters.
    Contracts? The only people in the entire universe who believe these silly contracts are fair and should be honored are you union sheep. Nobody else cares what you strong armed some dumb politicians into signing. Only you sheep are shedding tears for yourselves. It’s one big crybaby fast of greed.

    Contracts are broken all the time. You sheep are nothing special.

    1. Mike says:

      You’re right, contracts ARE broken all the time. And then one party SUES the other for breach.

      As for your misunderstanding of deferred compensation, try hiring police, firefighters, teachers and other government workers over the last several decades and paying them just their salary and no pensions. Ha! Good luck with that; they’d all go work in the private industry – and many would take YOUR job!

    2. The facts says:

      Can you give any example (be specific ) on a union contract broken ?