1. Don’t forget to set your clocks forward tonight!
2. Tomorrow is March 9, which means Rhode Island’s primary election is exactly six months away – and it’s going to be a whirlwind six months for Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell. The WPRI/Journal poll suggested all three have a path to victory, if an uphill one for Pell. Three things to watch as the campaign grinds on are money, TV, and field. Like it or not, Raimondo’s big financial advantage over Taveras ($2.5 million to $1.03 million) and Pell’s personal fortune matter a lot. It will determine how many TV ads they can run, and when; how big a paid ground game they can put together; and how much internal polling they can conduct down the stretch. With even Steve Jobs’ widow pitching in, it seems clear Raimondo will have no trouble stockpiling more cash during 2014, putting more pressure on Taveras. A big strategic question now facing all three campaigns: when do they go on the air? The smart money says TV ads will start running in May, before viewers begin to go on summer vacation and tune out. Raimondo and perhaps Pell will have the luxury of running positive ads without worrying about whether they’ll have the money to counter attacks; Taveras will have to keep a close eye on whether he has enough for the crucial final weeks in August and September. (His aides will also be crossing their fingers that Pell fails to catch fire and decides to drop out.) The money and resources being devoted to the ground game will also be crucial – look no further than last year’s successful push to legalize same-sex marriage for evidence of how effective a targeted field operation can be. As for the Republican side, Allan Fung is still treating Ken Block as a nuisance more than a real threat; Block has his work cut out for him to nab the nomination. But never say never.
3. Former BankRI CEO Merrill Sherman isn’t commenting on whether she’s interested in purchasing The Providence Journal. “I have no comment on anything like that,” Sherman told me this week.
Which of the following statements is true: “Rhode Island is making slow but steady progress regaining all the jobs the state lost during the Great Recession,” or “Rhode Island has made almost no progress recovering from the drop in employment during the Great Recession”?
The answer: both, at least according to the latest data from the Department of Labor and Training.
Each month the DLT (along with the U.S. Labor Department) conducts two surveys to come up with the numbers for the monthly employment report. One survey asks households to say whether their residents are working or looking for work; the other asks employers how many people they have on their payrolls.
The responses provide two different numbers. The household survey produces the official unemployment rate – it’s a count of how many Rhode Island residents are working or looking for work. The employer survey, on the other hand, produces the monthly job count (formally known as “nonfarm payrolls“).
You wouldn’t expect the numbers to be identical – after all, a Rhode Island resident from Cumberland can hold a Massachusetts-based job in Attleboro, just as a Massachusetts resident from Seekonk can hold a Rhode Island-based job in Tiverton. Since 2010, though, the two measures have diverged sharply:
This chart tracks the monthly counts from both surveys – Rhode Island nonfarm payrolls in blue, Rhode Island resident employment in red – with both of them shown as a percentage of their December 2006 levels (the peak of the previous economic expansion). The two job counts moved roughly in tandem from 2007 through the middle of 2010, but then they began to move apart – and have stayed apart for more than three years.
As of January, Rhode Island nonfarm payrolls had made up 19,100 of the 39,800 jobs lost during the recession, or 48% of the total. (Not necessarily the same jobs, of course.) But Rhode Island resident employment had gone up by just 3,200 after a decline of 52,400, for a recovery of barely 6%.
This is a perplexing turn of events. Are Rhode Island employers hiring lots of non-residents from, say, Massachusetts and Connecticut? Is there something wrong with the data? Also, which side of the equation should Rhode Island policymakers focus on – the slow but clear recovery seen in the employer payroll data, or the almost nonexistent post-recession recovery in resident employment? What do you think?
• Related: The share of RI residents working is now the lowest in 30 years (March 6)
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s jobless rate dipped to 9.2% in January as the state’s employers added 3,800 positions, according to new data released Thursday.
• Related: The share of RI residents working is now the lowest in 30 years (March 6)
Rhode Island achieved a worrying new milestone at the end of 2013: the share of the state’s residents who were working dropped to the lowest level in 30 years.
Just 58.8% of Rhode Islanders ages 16 and up were employed as of November and December, according to revised employment data released last week by the R.I. Department of Labor and Training. (The count excludes institutionalized individuals and active-duty military personnel.)
Before that point, Rhode Island’s employment-population ratio hadn’t fallen as low as 58.8% since April 1983, when the economic recovery during President Reagan’s first term was getting started.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is making a campaign swing through Iowa later this month – not because he’s running for president, but to call attention to climate change ahead of 2016.
Whitehouse’s office confirmed Wednesday the senator will visit Iowa and Nebraska for three days starting March 17 to talk with local activists about global warming as the Hawkeye State prepares to once again play its key role in choosing the Democratic and Republican nominees for president.
Anytime a prominent politician visits Iowa in the years leading up to a presidential election it sparks speculation that he or she is running for president. But in an interview, Whitehouse adamantly ruled that out.
By Ted Nesi and Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The woman who made three unsuccessful runs for governor of Rhode Island is throwing her support behind a new contender for the job.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The mayor of Providence would have no say over a controversial taxpayer-funded small business loan program controlled by the city, under a proposal released by mayoral candidate Brett Smiley Tuesday.
Smiley, an East Side resident and former chairman of the city’s Water Supply Board, is calling for the Providence Economic Development Partnership (PEDP) to establish an independent program that would place “loan-making decisions in the hands of qualified underwriters” rather than the agency’s current 15-member board.
Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s gubernatorial campaign is getting support from Silicon Valley royalty.
Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, will co-host a fundraiser for Raimondo on March 25 in Palo Alto, Calif., along with SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, who is married to Facebook executive and “Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg, and David Crane, a former advisor to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who has backed changes to public pensions in the Golden State.
“Gina represents a dynamic new generation of Democratic leaders – she helped usher in progress for Rhode Island by adhering to key principles that have steadily guided her career: creativity, tenaciousness, and listening well,” the invitation, obtained by WPRI.com, states. Suggested contributions are $250 to $1,000.
The Raimondo event is part of an Election Speaker Series organized by Emerson Collective, a nonprofit founded by Powell Jobs, according to the invitation. Powell Jobs gave a maximum $1,000 donation to the treasurer’s campaign last September, while Crane has given Raimondo $2,000 since 2012 and Goldberg has given her $1,000, according to R.I. Board of Elections records.
Raimondo’s campaign confirmed the event but declined to say how long the treasurer will be in California or whether she will hold other events while she’s on the West Coast.
• Related: Clay Pell loans his campaign $1M; Gina Raimondo has $2.5M (Feb. 2)
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence City Council is seeking to override Mayor Angel Taveras’s veto of an affordable housing ordinance that he claims would put Rhode Island’s capital city at “substantial risk.”
The ordinance would provide a tax rate for new and rehabilitated affordable residential housing units at 8% of the previous year’s gross rental income, a policy council members say has already been on the books thanks to a state law that was passed in 1995.
By Ted Nesi
NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A major Wall Street ratings agency has downgraded the financial outlook for St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island, warning the hospital group’s dwindling cash and large pension liabilities may force it to default on its bonds.
St. Joseph, which owns Our Lady of Fatima Hospital, is part of the nonprofit CharterCARE Health Partners and Affiliates group; CharterCARE is currently working to win state approval for its proposed merger with Prospect Medical Holdings Inc., a private-equity-backed for-profit California hospital group.
• Related: Q&A: Why RI hospitals are struggling financially, and how to fix it (Dec. 18)
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence City Councilman Sam Zurier has introduced a resolution asking the city’s Department of Public Works to submit a report detailing the cost, amount of materials used and number of lane miles plowed for the last three winters in an attempt to create a more efficient, data-driven system for removing snow in Rhode Island’s capital city.
1. Rhode Island has found a potent way to bring down its official unemployment rate: drive thousands of people out of the labor force. That’s one major takeaway from Thursday’s dismal revised jobs data, which showed the state’s jobless rate never actually fell below 9% in 2013 and was still the highest in the nation as of December. It reinforces the need to put the rate in context before celebrating its decline: believe it or not, nearly 7,000 more Rhode Islanders had a job when the unemployment rate hit its peak – 11.9% in March 2010 – than do today. So what’s really driving the rate down? A collapse in Rhode Islanders’ labor-force participation. About 27,000 workers left the labor force from 2007 through 2013, meaning they’re not employed and they’re not actively looking for work; that’s pushed the share of adult Rhode Islanders who have a job to the lowest level since the aftermath of the Volcker recession in 1983. It’s also coincided with a 16% decrease in Rhode Island’s 35- to 54-year-old population; if it weren’t for a huge jump in the number of senior citizens staying in the work force, the working population would be even smaller. Now, not all of this is unique to Rhode Island – there’s a heated debate happening among economists nationally about how much of the employment decline is demographic as opposed to recession-caused. But make no mistake: seven years after the jobs crisis started, Rhode Island’s labor market remains very weak. No wonder the state ranks 47th in The New York Times’ comparison of the 50 states’ recoveries.
2. Fun fact: Clay Pell donated $250 to Gina Raimondo’s campaign for treasurer in June 2010, making his future opponent one of only two state-level candidates he supported with a contribution before he began exploring a gubernatorial campaign late last year. The other was Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, who got $125 from Pell in 2005; Roberts is supporting Raimondo for governor.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The man largely credited with helping save Providence from bankruptcy is leaving City Hall.
Michael D’Amico, who served as the city’s director of administration since Mayor Angel Taveras took office in 2011, plans to launch a consulting firm that will specialize in finance and accounting, union contracts, and labor and government relations.
State officials released their annual revised employment data Thursday, and the news is grim.
Until now, it had been possible to hold out hope the annual February/March benchmark revisions to the employment data – which replaces the original survey results with more comprehensive data – would show a brighter picture in the job market than initially reported. But the new data dashes those hopes.
As this chart shows, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate was higher than initially reported during all but one month of 2013 (January), finishing the year at 9.3% rather than 9.1%:That wouldn’t always be bad news – sometimes the unemployment rate goes up because more people are joining the work force, out of growing optimism about job prospects. But that wasn’t the case here: the revisions show even more Rhode Islanders left the labor force – 9,900 total – during 2013 than originally reported, with about two-thirds of that reduction caused by a decline in the number of employed residents.
All of those numbers are seasonally adjusted. There was a bit of good news in the non-seasonally-adjusted numbers for how many jobs were on the payrolls of Rhode Island employers as of December: 470,800, up from the initial estimate of 467,700. However, even that number was below the 471,900 total a year earlier.
DLT also noted that the December unemployment rate of 9.3% was the lowest since November 2008.
• Related: Watch: The 5 charts you need to see to get RI’s jobs crisis (Jan. 23)
An earlier version of this post incorrectly said unemployment was higher in all but two months of 2013.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Another top aide to Providence Mayor Angel Taveras is leaving City Hall, but she isn’t going too far.
Liz White, who has served as Taveras’s deputy director of communications since last year, is departing to manage City Council President Michael Solomon’s campaign for Providence’s top job. Taveras, a first-term Democrat, is running for governor.
By Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The convicted former mayor of Central Falls could be released a year early from prison under the terms of a newly-signed plea agreement.
The men vying to succeed Gina Raimondo as Rhode Island’s general treasurer are all supporting the proposed settlement she recently announced that would end unions’ legal challenge to the 2011 pension law.
The three Democrats running for treasurer are former Treasurer Frank Caprio, former Internal Auditor Ernie Almonte, and political newcomer Seth Magaziner. No Republican has entered the race so far.
Almonte spoke out Wednesday in a Providence Journal op-ed, describing the settlement as possibly “the best short-term option” while also criticizing how long lawmakers allowed the pension problem to fester.
“This is a worthwhile settlement because it achieves significant savings without costly litigation and uncertainty,” Almonte, who raised red flags about the pension problem as internal auditor, wrote. “But it also highlights the true cost of continuing to delay making difficult decisions that will shape our state’s future.”
Has Rhode Island’s housing bubble finally finished bursting?
While it’s impossible to say for sure, new data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency shows that after a six-year decrease that pushed Rhode Island’s home prices down 27%, the decline has stopped.
The FHFA all-transactions house price index for Rhode Island, which measures changes in the cost of single-family homes, soared by 151% from the fourth quarter of 1996 through the first quarter of 2006, when the bubble popped. The index then began to drop, falling 27% through the second quarter of 2012.
The new data released Tuesday, however, shows Rhode Island home prices have barely moved in the six quarters since then, bouncing around in a narrow range compared with their big swings over the prior decade and a half. Single-family house prices have thus steadied at nearly double their 1996 level:
• Related: Why is it more expensive to live in Providence than in Boston? (May 16, 2011)
By Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – As Massachusetts moves forward with expanded gambling in the state, most of the discussion is about the possibility of three resort-style casinos opening there.
But for Rhode Island officials, the most immediate concern is a much smaller piece of the puzzle that experts say could have a major impact on state revenue: the awarding of a license for one single slot parlor in the Bay State.
• Watch: Executive Suite with Twin River Chairman John Taylor (Feb. 2)
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The campaigns of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo exchanged fire Tuesday about the two Democrats’ records on pensions, signaling Rhode Island’s ongoing battle over retirement benefits will be a battleground in this year’s primary for governor.
“Not only has the mayor failed to solve Providence’s pension problem, for most of his term he was too busy to bother with it,” Raimondo campaign manager Eric Hyers told WPRI.com. “He skipped 80% of the meetings of the board that oversees the city’s pension fund in the first half of his term.”
“We’re not surprised that she’s attacking him now since her constantly evolving positions and statements prove that she will say or do anything to get elected,” Taveras campaign manager Danny Kedem told WPRI.com.
By Dan McGowan
CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – If he’s elected governor, Ken Block is going to have a busy first year in office.
The Republican candidate for Rhode Island’s top job unveiled an ambitious plan to overhaul the state’s tax structure Tuesday, pledging to reduce the car tax, corporate tax and estate tax all in his first year as governor.
Preparations for a September trial in the union lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s landmark 2011 pension overhaul are still happening despite the high-profile announcement of a proposed settlement to end the suit.
Court spokesman Craig Berke confirmed Monday that the Sept. 15 start date for the pension lawsuit trial remains in place. R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter set the date on Feb. 12, just hours after the first press conference to announce the pension settlement was abruptly postponed.
Berke told WPRI.com that if the proposed settlement hasn’t been approved by Sept. 15 – which would require affirmative votes by workers, retirees and state lawmakers – the trial will begin as scheduled.
Judge Taft-Carter ordered lawyers on both sides of the pension suit to begin coming up with an agreed-upon schedule for the pre-trial discovery phase when evidence will be collected. The judge also ordered that discovery should be completed by 30 days before Sept. 15.
The trial, like the settlement, would cover not only unions’ challenge to the 2011 pension overhaul but also their earlier suit opposing pension cuts enacted by the General Assembly in 2009 and 2010. The two sides presumably could still complete a settlement and end the litigation after the trial begins, however.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A top Wall Street ratings agency is throwing its support behind the proposed pension settlement deal reached earlier this month by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Treasurer Gina Raimondo and the state’s labor unions.
The analysts from Moody’s Investors Service acknowledged, however, that some of Rhode Island’s more cash-strapped local governments could struggle to fund the higher costs called for under the pension settlement, singling out Woonsocket and Providence.
• Related: 10 ways to look at the proposed RI pension settlement (Feb. 20)
(chart: Moody’s Investors Service)
Providence Journal owner A.H. Belo’s stock is on a tear just as the company prepares to sell the local daily.
Shares of Dallas-based A.H. Belo have jumped more than 30% in New York Stock Exchange trading since closing at $8.05 on Feb. 11, a day before the company announced a $16 million annual profit for 2013 and gave an update on its efforts to sell The Journal. The stock was at $10.49 at 11:56 a.m. Monday.
The rising share price has triggered at least 10 stock transactions by A.H. Belo insiders, SEC filings show.
It’s a far cry from the grim days of early 2009, when A.H. Belo stock tanked amid the post-crisis market crash and deep uncertainty in the newspaper industry. The company’s shares fell as low as 68 cents on March 10, 2009, meaning an investor who bought the stock that day and held it would have a 1,442% gain today.
A.H. Belo Chief Financial Officer Alison Engel told investors Feb. 12 that the company would send out sale books to potential Journal buyers this month, and that she expected the process “to wrap up, I would assume, sometime in April or May.” Engel didn’t respond to an email requesting further comment; Journal executive editor Karen Bordeleau declined to comment.
A.H. Belo already sold its third major newspaper – The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif. – last year, so selling The Journal would allow the company to narrow its business focus to its flagship Dallas Morning News and associated businesses in its home base of Texas.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Through rain, sleet, snow and heat, they just want to get to school.
That was the message members of the Providence Student Union youth activist group sent early Monday morning when they gave policymakers and politicians a firsthand glimpse of just how far some students have to walk to school if they do not have bus pass.