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

August 23rd, 2014 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post

Click here to read this week’s Saturday Morning Post on the new WPRI.com website »

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

August 16th, 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 here on WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. Mark your calendars: WPRI 12 and The Providence Journal will release a new exclusive Campaign 2014 poll next week. We asked Democratic primary voters whether they support Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo, Clay Pell or Todd Giroux for governor, whether they could still change their minds, and how they plan to vote in the other statewide primary races. We’ll release the first results live on WPRI 12 and WPRI.com Tuesday at 5 p.m. Tune in!

2. It’s safe to say this was not the best week of the campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung. Filming a TV ad in Ohio is a rational decision even if it opens you up to attacks; refusing to answer a reporter’s phone calls for 48 hours after he finds out you did so is just silly. Also interesting is the controversial Ohio consulting firm Fung is using: Strategy Group for Media, which BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins described in 2013 as “a campaign and strategy clearing house for the uncompromisingly conservative wing” of the House GOP. Indeed, nine Strategy Group employees – including founder Rex Elsass – donated a combined $6,850 to Fung’s campaign between May 29 and June 3, which will boost the candidate’s state matching funds if he makes it to the general election. (Fung allies were quick to point out that his rival Ken Block is using New Jersey-based Jamestown Associates, another controversial firm in Republican circles, but they’ve filmed Block’s ads locally.) Block criticized Fung as well for backing out of a cable-access debate scheduled for this week, which Fung’s campaign attributed to the candidate’s initial plans to attend the Asian American Journalists Association conference in Washington. (In the end, though, Fung decided to stay in Rhode Island.) These sorts of stories are hardly fatal to Fung’s campaign in and of themselves – few if any voters are going to pick a candidate based on his TV ad locations. But the negative headlines are an unwelcome distraction just three weeks before the primary. Plenty of Republicans seem open to Block despite his previous apostasies – he is, after all, a fiscally conservative businessman who rails against the Democratic General Assembly and played an instrumental role in killing the master lever. The result could come down to how high Fung can drive his vote totals in Cranston and Warwick.


It’s Victory Day, an only-in-Rhode Island institution since 1975

August 11th, 2014 at 12:01 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Like Del’s, Victory Day is a uniquely Rhode Island tradition.

Rhode Island is the only state that still observes an official holiday marking Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. It’s been that way since 1975, when Arkansas dropped the holiday – having already rechristened it “World War II Memorial Day” – and reportedly gave state workers their birthdays off as a consolation.

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

August 9th, 2014 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post

I’m back! Happy Saturday. Here’s another edition of the weekend column here on WPRI.com - thank you to Dan McGowan for ably manning it in my absence. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. With less than a month left before voters go to the polls, the Democratic primary for governor shifted to a new phase this week as Angel Taveras went on the attack against Clay Pell, a major strategic shift by a candidate who spent the last month decrying negative campaigning by Gina Raimondo. It’s the strongest evidence yet that Pell’s largely self-funded campaign is indeed getting traction and becoming a real problem for the mayor. Taveras now has to put forward three messages at once: the case against Raimondo, the case against Pell, and the case for himself. That’s not easy to do, especially with the smallest budget of the three – perhaps Taveras needs a signature issue that will set him apart. (On Friday his campaign highlighted education, also a key focus for Pell.) To the extent it reinforces the idea that he’s a viable candidate, Pell supporters actually seemed pleased to see their candidate taking fire; Pell booster Bob Walsh of NEARI went so far as to suggest Taveras is now the spoiler, which surely made Taveras backers’ heads explode. The question of spoilers, though, isn’t going to go away as Gina Raimondo floats above the Taveras-Pell fight with her new positive ad. If Pell overtakes Taveras as Raimondo’s main rival, how high is he ceiling of support? Could he actually woo enough voters to win outright – or only enough to help the treasurer secure victory?

2. One reason Clay Pell has become a force in the Democratic primary: his spending on TV and radio advertising through mid-August will total $1.4 million, slightly more than the $1.3 million that Gina Raimondo will spend and way more than the $641,000 that Angel Taveras has booked, according to tracking figures from one of the campaigns. Taveras has also already booked another $255,000 between Aug. 19 and Sept. 9. All told the three Democrats have booked $3.6 million in commercial time on broadcast TV, cable and radio so far – and that’s before Pell or Raimondo buy anything after Aug. 18, as they surely will. Those dollar figures don’t tell the whole story, though, because the candidates are paying different amounts for the ads. By another metric – gross rating points – Raimondo is tops with 11,654 points through Aug. 18, compared with 8,534 points for Pell and 6,589 points for Taveras.


Q&A: Jon Chesto explains new Projo owner GateHouse Media

July 23rd, 2014 at 2:38 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Jon Chesto BBJThere’s a new media giant in town: New Media Investment Group, GateHouse Media’s parent company, is buying The Providence Journal for roughly $46 million. The deal instantly gives GateHouse, a major force in Massachusetts newspapering, a huge foothold in Rhode Island less than a year after the company exited bankruptcy.

Jon Chesto is managing editor of the Boston Business Journal and a former business editor at the Patriot-Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts, which GateHouse owns. A close follower of GateHouse, Chesto wrote a perceptive analysis of the Journal deal Tuesday night. He spoke with WPRI.com on Wednesday about the deal and what it means for the paper’s future. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with the basics for people down here in Rhode Island. What is New Media Investment Group? What’s its relationship with GateHouse?

New Media Investment Group is a publicly traded company that’s an umbrella group that includes GateHouse and a number of companies that have been acquired by Fortress [Investment Group]. Prior to that it was an affiliate of Fortress that bought the Dow Jones community papers formerly known as Ottaway, and those were sort of the original New Media papers. There have been several papers since.


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

July 19th, 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 here on WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. The Democratic lieutenant-governor primary between Frank Ferri, Dan McKee and Ralph Mollis isn’t exactly the hottest race in town, but it’s still a feisty fight. And it could matter: as Tim White points out, a lieutenant governor became governor 22 times between 2000 and 2010 alone. The three candidates met Friday for the second of this month’s pre-primary debates on Newsmakers to make their pitch for the votes – and attention – of viewers at home. The conventional wisdom has Mollis as the frontrunner in the race, and the debate will reinforce that thinking. The two-term secretary of state stayed calm and collected throughout, and kept his cool in the face of a blistering series of attacks on his record by McKee. The man had done his homework. McKee was on the offensive throughout the debate, jabbing Mollis – and occasionally Ferri too – about everything from 38 Studios to North Providence’s bond rating; he also spoke passionately about education policy. Ferri, a latecomer to the race, was understandably nervous and sometimes spoke haltingly in his first major debate with the other two. He eschewed attacks – other than one on Don Carcieri – and drew clear distinctions on issues such as health care, marijuana and immigration that could play well with progressives. Right now, though, it looks like Rhode Island could be in for a rematch between Mollis and Republican Catherine Taylor.

2. Frank Ferri has represented Warwick in the Rhode Island House since 2007, and he made some interesting comments during the debate when he expressed regret about his vote for the 2011 pension law championed by Gina Raimondo. “When we were presented with a pension reform, we thought we had the best offer on the table. We thought that was the best that we could get,” he said. “I know I worked hard on trying to lower the [retirement] age and a little more consideration to COLAs. But now we learn – after the court ordered that they go back into negotiations – there was a better deal. So knowing that there was a better deal, knowing now that not everybody that should have been at the table was at the table, I’m not sure how I would have voted back then.” In fact, he continued: “Now that I know there was a better deal for the workers I probably would have not voted for it back then.”


Chart: Here are the industries that added (or cut) jobs in RI

July 17th, 2014 at 6:07 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate fell to 7.9% in June, the lowest level in six years, and employers have added nearly 6,000 jobs since January. But not all industries have fared equally well in the recovery.

On the positive side, employment in the arts/entertainment/recreation industry has jumped by 21% since December 2006, the last month before the downturn began in Rhode Island, to 9,400. For raw jobs added, the leader is health care/social assistance, which has added 5,300 positions since the end of 2006.

On the negative side, two historically blue-collar occupations – construction and manufacturing – continue to struggle. Construction employment is still down by an eye-watering 27% compared with December 2006; there were 6,300 fewer people working in construction in June compared with back then. In raw numbers, the manufacturing sector has been hardest hit, down by 10,900 jobs since the end of 2006.

The public sector hasn’t been immune, either: local government employment is down 11% since 2006.

Here’s a look at how employment changed in each industry from December 2006 to June 2014 as defined and tracked by the R.I. Department of Labor and Training. They are in order from most jobs added (health/social assistance) on the left to most jobs lost (manufacturing) on the right:

RI employment by sector 2006 vs 2014 crop 2


July 14th, 2014 at 3:51 pm by under General Talk, On the Main Site, Tony's Pinpoint Weather Blog

Good Afternoon from chief meteorologist Tony R Petrarca












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

July 12th, 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 here on WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. The three candidates running for general treasurer – Ernie Almonte, Frank Caprio and Seth Magaziner – squared off Friday in the first of this month’s pre-primary debates on Newsmakers, and the hour-long exchange gave a clear indication of how Caprio and Magaziner are pitching themselves to Democratic primary voters. Caprio, a familiar face, touted his record during his previous term in the treasurer’s office, casting himself as not only more experienced than Magaziner but also wiser today than he was when he made his botched run for governor. Even though he’s not technically the incumbent, in many ways Caprio is really running a re-election campaign, with all the advantages and challenges that implies. Magaziner is keeping a tight focus on the pension fund’s investment returns, and the need for the state to start matching the national average. (Cate Long might approve.) The 30-year-old is also trying to use his youth to his advantage by arguing the State House needs new faces, and to cast Caprio as a fair-weather Democrat who isn’t loyal to the party. Waiting in the wings is Almonte, a Democrat until last month who now has tacit GOP support for his independent bid. He emphasized his background as an accountant, suggesting the treasurer should be focused on math and money rather than partisan politics. That message could resonate in a state where one in two voters are registered independents, though non-party bids are always uphill battles.

2. Both Frank Caprio and Seth Magaziner are trying to navigate political tightropes in their campaigns. Caprio’s political profile was long that of a moderate or even conservative Democrat, and he’s acknowledged flirting with the Republican Party. Yet in his comeback bid for treasurer he’s striking a populist tone critical of Wall Street and high finance that wouldn’t be out of place with the party’s Elizabeth Warren wing: he strongly opposed the rehiring of the state’s longtime financial advisers at First Southwest, suggested the state is wasting money with hedge funds, and raised doubts about paying the 38 Studios bonds. All that sounds like an appeal to voters who dislike Gina Raimondo – but when asked to judge Raimondo’s work as treasurer, Caprio gave her an “A” grade. Magaziner, though, has challenges of his own. He is strongly supported by some progressives, who bonded with him while he was serving on the Marriage Equality Rhode Island board, and has won the endorsement of unions such as the National Education Association Rhode Island. Yet he’s also backed by some pro-Raimondo types who see him as the best option to protect her pension law, he is open to investing with hedge funds, and he supports paying the 38 Studios bonds. Meanwhile, a huge question remains unanswered: what will Bill and Hillary Clinton do to help Magaziner, the son of their old friend Ira?


Caprio’s campaign ineligible for public matching funds

July 11th, 2014 at 4:26 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democrat Frank Caprio’s comeback campaign won’t be getting public matching funds after all.

Caprio filed paperwork with the R.I. Board of Elections on June 23 saying he would participate this year in the state’s matching funds system, which provide money to help fund campaigns on a sliding scale based on how much the candidate raises, but a state official said Friday he isn’t allowed to get the money.

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Chart: 23% of Rhode Island workers are now age 55 or older

July 8th, 2014 at 2:26 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island’s work force is getting older and older in the wake of the Great Recession.

The total number of Rhode Island workers ages 16 to 54 dropped by 55,000 between 2006 and 2013, while the number of workers ages 55 and older rose by 31,000, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey. Those totals include both employed and unemployed workers.

A total of 23% of Rhode Island workers were at least 55 years old in 2013, compared with 17% in 2006.

Here’s a chart comparing the number of workers in each age group in 2006 versus 2013:

RI labor force by ageWhile the growth in Rhode Island’s 55-plus labor force wasn’t enough to offset the decline in its 16-to-54-year-old one, the opposite was true across the broader population. The state’s civilian non-institutional population ages 16 and older grew by 7,000 between 2006 and 2013, thanks to a net gain of 54,000 residents ages 55 and up.

Rhode Island’s population losses between 2006 and 2013 were concentrated in one age group: 35- to 54-year-olds, whose overall number fell by 47,000 during that period – a 14% drop. That decline suggests middle-aged residents either left the state, aged out of the group but weren’t replaced by younger residents, or some combination of the two.

Adults between the ages of 25 and 54 are referred to by economists as “prime-age” workers because they are in the prime of their working lives – focusing on their careers, raising their families and saving for retirement.

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

Q&A: John Sides on what really matters in Campaign 2014

July 7th, 2014 at 9:09 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

john SidesWho says political scientists are stuck in the ivory tower? In recent years, blogs like The Monkey Cage have helped popularize poli sci research, taking an academic approach to the 24-hour news cycle and debunking long-held myths about government and elections.

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, a Monkey Cage contributor and the co-author (with Lynn Vavreck) of a fascinating new book, “The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election.” Via email, Sides talked with me about what his research shows will really impact this year’s election in Rhode Island.

There are always books published soon after a major election that try to tell the story of how one side won and one side lost. What’s different about “The Gamble” from other campaign postmortems like “Game Change” or “Collision 2012″?

Other campaign postmortems do an excellent job using their access to campaigns to tell us why campaigns made the decisions they did. I think “The Gamble” helps to answer a different question, which is whether those decisions actually affected voters. To answer that question, you need the tools of social science, such as quantitative data and the ability to test hypotheses and rule out alternative explanations.


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

July 5th, 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 here on WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. I hope all of you had a safe and happy Independence Day! (Rhode Island, of course, effectively declared its independence on May 4, 1776. Is a second holiday in order?)

2. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is hoping an uptick in Rhode Island’s economic growth – spurred in part by the tax cuts he just pushed through the General Assembly – will be enough to wash away the budget deficits currently projected for the coming years, which are set to rise from more than $100 million in 2015-16 to more than $400 million in 2018-19. If growth alone isn’t enough, though, don’t expect Mattiello to raise taxes to fill the gap. “I’m not looking to raise taxes in the future,” Mattiello said on this week’s Newsmakers. “My goal is to continue to create a better economic environment and atmosphere and to grow our economy. I think the way we work on reducing that structural deficit is to do things differently, and this budget was the first budget to do things differently and move in a different direction, to create that better economic environment, that better economic activity.” When pressed on what spending cuts he might consider if tax increases are off the table, however, Mattiello sounded a note of caution: “The reality is, even though it’s an $8-plus-billion budget, a lot of the spending is fixed and there’s not a lot of areas to look at anymore. But we will always look at efficiencies and making cuts where appropriate.”


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

June 28th, 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. Quite a week in Rhode Island politics, eh?

2. Here’s some news WPRI 12 broke late Friday that you might have missed – the state has reached a 38 Studios legal settlement with Moses Afonso Ryan and Tony Afonso. “I hope this is going to be the first in a series,” state attorney Max Wistow tells me.

3. If you’re wondering whom to thank – or blame – for the improbable comeback campaign of Buddy Cianci, put the Great Recession near the top of the list. The economic meltdown that began in 2007 was a body blow to Rhode Island and its capital city, one whose effects are still being felt seven years later. The downturn’s cascading financial fallout nearly drove Providence into bankruptcy, and although Angel Taveras avoided that drastic step, the city is still stuck with high unemployment, high taxes, too many potholes and too few prospects. Voters are looking for a savior – and Cianci thinks he’s well-positioned to play the part. His checkered past is real, but so is his love for Providence, and his name is synonymous with the happier days of the 1990s. The ironies here are numerous. For one thing, as Tim White reported Thursday night, some of Providence’s biggest financial problems have their roots in the Cianci days – as his opponents will remind voters in the coming months. For another, the stage for Cianci’s comeback was partly set by the actions of his successor and nemesis, David Cicilline, whose East Side allies are appalled at the prospect of his return to City Hall. To the extent that the Cicilline administration mismanaged the city’s finances in 2009 and 2010 – and then misled voters about the situation – they undercut their own case that post-Cianci Providence is better than what came before.


The lucky 47 who’ve already ‘won’ their General Assembly races

June 26th, 2014 at 10:55 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

RI_Statehouse_SouthDozens of General Assembly races are effectively over before a single ballot is cast because only one candidate filed for the seat by Wednesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, according to a WPRI.com analysis of information posted by the secretary of state’s office.

That includes 45% of all senators and 40% of all House lawmakers – approaching half of each chamber.

Here’s who is currently listed as running unopposed in both the primary and the general election and therefore probably won’t have to campaign to win re-election (or, in one case, a first election) this fall:

  1. Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D), District 1
  2. Sen. Dominick Ruggerio (D), District 4
  3. Sen. Paul Jabour (D), District 5
  4. Sen. James Doyle (D), District 8
  5. Sen. Walter Felag (D), District 10
  6. Sen. Lou DiPalma (D), District 12
  7. Sen. Dan DaPonte (D), District 14
  8. Sen. William Conley (D), District 18
  9. Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), District 19
  10. Sen. Roger Picard (D), District 20
  11. Sen. Frank Lombardo (D), District 25
  12. Sen. Frank Lombardi (D), District 26
  13. Sen. Joshua Miller (D), District 28
  14. Sen. Michael McCaffrey (D), District 29
  15. Sen. James Sheehan (D), District 36
  16. Sen. Susan Sosnowski (D), District 37
  17. Sen. Dennis Algiere (R), District 38

  1. Rep. Chris Blazejewski (D), District 2
  2. Rep. Thomas Palangio (D), District 3
  3. Rep. John DeSimone (D), District 5
  4. Rep. Raymond Hull (D), District 6
  5. Rep. John Lombardi (D), District 8
  6. Rep. John Carnevale (D), District 13
  7. Rep. Nicholas Mattiello (D), District 15
  8. Rep. Robert Jacquard (D), District 17
  9. Rep. Joseph McNamara (D), District 19
  10. Rep. David Bennett (D), District 20
  11. Rep. Joseph Shekarchi (D), District 23
  12. Rep. Joseph Trillo (R), District 24
  13. Rep. Jared Nunes (D), District 25
  14. Rep. Patricia Serpa (D), District 27
  15. Rep. Donald Lally (D), District 33
  16. Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D), District 38
  17. Rep. Stephen Ucci (D), District 42
  18. Rep. Cale Keable (D), District 47
  19. Rep. Michael Morin (D), District 49
  20. Rep. Robert Phillips (D), District 51
  21. Rep. William O’Brien (D), District 54
  22. Rep. Arthur Corvese (D), District 55
  23. David Coughlin (D), District 60 (incumbent Rep. Elaine Coderre is retiring)
  24. Rep. Raymond Johnston (D), District 61
  25. Rep. Gregg Amore (D), District 65
  26. Rep. Jan Mailk (D), District 67
  27. Rep. Raymond Gallison (D), District 69
  28. Rep. Jay Edwards (D), District 70
  29. Rep. Marvin Abney (D), District 73
  30. Rep. Deborah Ruggerio (D), District 74

It’s always possible someone could mount a write-in campaign against one of these candidates, but defeating an incumbent without your own name on the ballot is a very, very tall order. On the other hand, it’s also possible the number of uncontested races will actually grow if some of the individuals currently listed as challengers in various races don’t return enough signatures by the July 11 deadline.

One other thing that could change: political parties also have until the end of Thursday to nominate their own candidates in races where they don’t have a candidate yet, WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming notes. There are currently 39 Republicans and 25 independents listed as running (including incumbents).

This post has been updated twice to reflect additional filings.

Analysis: Cianci candidacy upends RI political landscape

June 25th, 2014 at 4:06 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

More from WPRI.com: Full story | Cianci’s opponents | Timeline | Photos | In-Depth

Buddy is back.

Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. is already the most iconic Rhode Island political figure of the past half-century. But now, at age 73, the twice-convicted former-mayor-turned-radio-host-turned-mayor-turned-radio-host has decided to try and add one more “-turned mayor” to his résumé. In doing so, he’s upended everything we thought we knew about how Campaign 2014 would unfold in Rhode Island.

Good luck to the long list of down-ballot candidates – Frank Ferri, Nellie Gorbea, Ernie Almonte, and on and on – trying to get attention in elections most voters don’t know or care much about. The only two political stories that are likely to garner significant attention over the next few months are Cianci’s comeback bid and the race for governor – with the latter campaign a distant second in the coverage contest.

The motivation for Cianci is obvious: he thinks he can win, and he loved being mayor. If you’ve listened to the guy bark tips on snow-plowing to elected officials he’s interviewing from his studio during a storm, you know this is a man who still relishes the tasks of a municipal chief executive. And he’s never gotten to leave office on his own terms.


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

June 21st, 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. The Republican primary for governor between Allan Fung and Ken Block continues to be quite a fight. As Walt Buteau put it after Tuesday’s WPRI 12/Providence Journal debate, the gloves didn’t have to come off during it because they were never on in the first place. Fung once again hammered Block for backing Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012; considering only 6% of Republicans voted for the president two years ago, that certainly makes him an outlier. Yet the former Moderate Party chief has worked to offset his heresy by acting as a relentless – and effective – opponent of top General Assembly Democrats, whom some Republican regulars dislike even more intensely than Obama. Looking ahead, Fung is set up well to win the Rhode Island Republican Party’s endorsement Thursday after being recommended by its Steve Frias-led nominating committee, though that wasn’t enough to secure previous nominations for Jim Bennett or Ron Machtley. Either way, the final decision will be made by a tiny swath of Rhode Island’s 743,000-strong electorate: as Scott MacKay noted after Tuesday’s debate, Don Carcieri defeated Bennett with just 17,227 votes back in 2002.

2. Speaking of Republicans, the party is now set to field competitive candidates for at least three of the five statewide offices. Either Fung or Block is poised to lead the GOP at the top of the ticket, and both could have crossover appeal to some independents and Democrats. Catherine Taylor – a proven vote-getter who nearly defeated Ralph Mollis in 2010 – will kick off her campaign for lieutenant governor Monday at Saul Kaplan’s Business Innovation Factory. (It could easily wind up being a rematch against Mollis.) Dawson Hodgson is running a spirited, if underfunded, campaign for attorney general against incumbent Peter Kilmartin that’s trying to harness voters’ anger over 38 Studios. (Rhode Island State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell didn’t help Hodgson’s cause this week, though.) Also, John Carlevale, who placed fourth in the 1994 Democratic primary for secretary of state, will make another attempt this year on the GOP ticket. That leaves general treasurer as the only office without a known Republican candidate at this time. Over in the General Assembly there’s almost nowhere to go but up for Republicans, who control just 11 of 113 seats in the wake of Obama’s 2012 landslide. GOP Chairman Mark Smiley tells RIPR he expects the party to field at least 40 “viable” candidates in “targeted races that we believe we have a really good shot at winning.” One tough break for most GOP candidates: the Rhode Island Senate kept the master lever in place for this November’s election.


5 takeaways from Tuesday night’s Republican RI gov. debate

June 17th, 2014 at 10:51 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Ken Block Allan Fung June debateThe two Republican candidates for governor – Allan Fung and Ken Block – met Tuesday night for their first TV debate of the primary campaign. For a full recap of what they said, check out Dan McGowan’s full story on WPRI.com. The entire video of the whole 60-minute debate is posted on WPRI.com here.

Here are five quick takeaways from this second primary debate of the season. (And here are five takeaways from the Democrats’ debate if you missed them.)

1. This primary is already very heated. The Democratic candidates were disappointingly polite when they debated last week; not so the Republicans. Right from Tim White’s first question – which, granted, was about the “Blockheads” ad – Allan Fung attacked Ken Block relentlessly for supporting Barack Obama and failing to oppose Obamacare early and often. Block responded by saying Fung was once a registered Democrat who donated to Democratic politicians, and by questioning the mayor’s stewardship of Cranston. WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming thought Fung came out on top in the first half – no small achievement since he, unlike Block, had never done a prime-time TV debate before – but that Block got the better of the mayor in the second half; he literally stunned Fung into a brief silence when discussing the Cranston police scandal. Block on the other hand never really seemed rattled, though the flip side of that is he seemed uncharacteristically low-energy at times. This hasn’t hit Cicilline-Gemma levels of negativity yet, though: each man did a classy job when asked to compliment his opponent.


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

June 14th, 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. When are the gloves going to come off in the Democratic primary for governor? With less than three months to go, soft support for the frontrunner and 22% of voters undecided, it’s hard to believe the campaign will stay as polite as it looked at our WPRI 12/Providence Journal debate Tuesday night. It’s widely assumed Gina Raimondo will be the first to go negative on TV – she has the money, she’s running a close second, and Providence offers plenty of fodder for her to criticize Angel Taveras (fairly or otherwise). There are risks, though. Campaign pros say negative ads can be very effective despite voters’ dislike of them. But if Raimondo and Taveras get into a bruising battle, it could make some disenchanted voters take a closer look at Clay Pell – who went on the air Friday with a positive spot. As the debate showed, there are very few policy differences between the three candidates, especially Taveras and Raimondo; they’re going to have to find somewhere to disagree.

2. If Gina Raimondo wants a lesson in the promise and peril of negative advertising, she should look across the aisle to the Allan Fung campaign. His “Blockheads” ad attacking Ken Block got people’s attention, driving home his relentless message that Block is a squish who voted for Barack Obama. (“Twice!”) But the use of a phrase like “blockheads” has opened Fung up to criticism that he’s insulting primary voters, and the ad’s slippery phrasing about Block and Obamacare earned him a “Pants on Fire” from PolitiFact – not exactly the kind of free media you want. You only need to look at Eric Cantor’s shock loss in Virginia to see how an attack ad can backfire on an establishment candidate if it raises the profile of his opponent (and if it doesn’t pass the smell test, as in Cantor’s case); but if it works, Fung’s team will end up looking smart. Fung and Block are set for their first TV debate Tuesday night at 7 on WPRI 12, and as Scott MacKay puts it: “There may be more teeth on the floor at WPRI than at the ESPN fisticuffs.” Whatever happens Tuesday, the idea that Fung will be able to wait in the wings as the positive candidate while the Democrats drive up each others’ negatives has gone out the window.


Chart: RI’s state budget has grown by $1 billion in last 2 years

June 12th, 2014 at 11:38 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island’s 75 House lawmakers are set to kick off their annual budget debate at 2 p.m. Thursday. The Providence Journal’s Kathy Gregg reports that fewer proposed amendments have been filed than she has seen in years, which means it could be a relatively brief debate compared with last year’s chaotic two-day session.

Stepping back, the budget blueprint crafted by Democratic legislative leaders and approved last Thursday night by the House Finance Committee proposes $8.78 billion in total spending from all sources (the majority of it state general revenue and federal assistance) during the 2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1. That’s an increase of slightly more than $1 billion compared with the budget passed two years ago for the 2013 fiscal year.

Here’s a chart showing the total size of the budget since former Gov. Don Carcieri’s final year in office:

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 11.33.35 AM

And here’s a chart showing how much each revenue source increased or decreased each year:

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 11.37.55 AM

General revenue has been responsible for almost half the total increase in the budget since fiscal 2011, with federal aid picking up about one-third. (These dollar amounts are all nominal and not adjusted for inflation, though inflation has been low throughout this period.)

Follow my @tednesi Twitter feed later today for live coverage of the budget debate, and tune into Eyewitness News at 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 on WPRI 12 as well as 10 on Fox Providence for the latest updates from our team at the State House. If you want to dig into the budget documents yourself, they’re all posted here.

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

5 takeaways from Tuesday night’s Democratic RI gov. debate

June 10th, 2014 at 11:05 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Raimondo Taveras Pell June 2014 debateThe top three Democratic candidates for governor – Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell – met Tuesday night for their first TV debate of the primary campaign. For a full recap of what they said, check out Dan McGowan’s full story on WPRI.com. The full video of the entire 60-minute debate is online here.

Here are five quick takeaways from this first primary debate of the season.

1. Nobody bombed. Supporters of the three candidates will point to the best moments each of them had and the occasional stumbles of their rivals, but the truth is there didn’t appear to be any really bad moments that will become a major post-debate headache for their campaigns. Particularly in the first debate, when the candidates are still trying to get their sea legs, they likely have the Hippocratic oath in mind: “First, do no harm.” As WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming put it, “I would say they all held their own tonight. But nobody had a knock-out punch.”


Renn, writing in City Journal, calls RI ‘the nation’s basket case’

June 9th, 2014 at 9:41 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

City Journal Spring 2014 RIAaron Renn, the one-time Rhode Island resident and author of the Urbanophile blog, is out with a big new piece about Rhode Island’s intractable economic problems in City Journal, an urban affairs quarterly published by The Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. The article is called “The Bluest State,” and it’s a bracing read.

Here’s a sample:

Blue-state defenders say that progressive policies work. After all, liberal-leaning states boast some of the nation’s wealthiest and best-educated populations. But many are also reeling from problems ranging from high costs of living and widening income inequality to chronic fiscal crises. And leading blue states such as California, Massachusetts, and New York possess unique assets — respectively, favorable climate, educational hubs, fortress industries — that shelter them, at least for a time, from the full economic consequences of their public policies. What happens when you go blue in a more average, workaday place? Rhode Island — a blue state in its purest form — provides an answer. …

[E]ven as Rhode Island’s industrial base steadily eroded, the state’s political leaders didn’t seem to understand that they no longer had any marketplace leverage. This myopia continues to the present day. The state’s leaders act as if they’re selling a unique luxury product — à la Michael Bloomberg’s notorious quip about New York City — when they’re selling a commodity, at best. They feel justified in adopting the same arrangements as Massachusetts and Connecticut without the compensating economic advantages that would help pay for such policies, at least for a while. As [Robert] Atkinson put it: “For a long time, Rhode Island could essentially afford to be inefficient and quasi-corrupt … because things just sort of needed to be there. That was gone a long time ago.” Someone forgot to tell the state’s political leaders.

The article is worth reading in full even if you’re inclined to disagree with Renn, both to see the sheer number of outlier policies Rhode Island has enacted and to get a sense of one smart observer’s critique. One part of his thesis that’s sure to be debated is whether it’s accurate to say that Rhode Island’s overall policy thrust is liberal; as RIPR’s Ian Donnis quickly pointed out, the state has had primarily Republican governors since the 1980s, and its Democratic legislative leaders are often criticized by progressives.

Renn’s article also isn’t just about left/right divides. The question of whether Rhode Island gets value for money in its government spending, for instance, should concern Democrats as much if not more than Republicans. The imbalance in the state’s unemployment program raises serious questions about fairness. The state’s pension burden looks set to take resources from other priorities for decades. And the high cost of housing here acts like an indirect tax on the middle and working classes.

For more from Renn – who addressed Rhode Island House lawmakers to provide economic advice earlier this year – check out his 2013 interview on Executive Suite.

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

June 7th, 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. A quick look at our new WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll suggests the Democratic primary for governor is Angel Taveras’s to lose. Three months out from the vote, the mayor is looking at some heartening numbers. He continues to lead Gina Raimondo, this time by 33% to 29%, the same margin as in our February poll. He’s also very popular with likely Democratic primary voters: 67% of them rate him favorably, while 54% rate her favorably. Even among voters in union households, where his negatives are highest, only 24% rate him unfavorably. Yet a closer look at the poll should give Taveras pause. Raimondo’s favorable numbers aren’t bad, after all – they’re just not as good as his. She leads him among independents and, more importantly, senior citizens, who are likely to go to the polls. And only 33% of those currently backing Taveras say they’ll definitely vote for him on Sept. 9, compared with 44% of Raimondo voters, giving her a tiny edge among those who’ve made up their minds. That suggests Taveras’s support is soft – and Raimondo has the financial resources to take advantage of that using a fusillade of negative ads. Who wins? Who knows. This race is as competitive as it looks.

2. And then there’s Clay Pell. His support has dipped to 12%, and his negatives have shot up after the Mystery of the Missing Prius. For a little-known candidate facing two formidable opponents, that’s not exactly what you want to see with three months to go. Yet Pell’s backers remain adamant that he won’t get out of the race. They’re making a big bet on the combined power of Tad Devine’s TV ads and Bob Walsh’s NEARI-powered ground game to carry him to victory. For skeptics, the thing to watch is whether Pell actually shells out significant cash. So far he’s only loaned his campaign $2 million – until he spends the money, he can still take it back. The size and duration of his first TV buy will be telling. Indeed, next week is shaping up to be a big one for the 32-year-old: Tuesday night’s WPRI 12 debate will be his first chance to make a new impression on many voters, and his campaign will likely go up on TV soon thereafter.


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

May 31st, 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. Mark your calendars: WPRI 12 and The Providence Journal will release a new exclusive Campaign 2014 poll next week. We asked Democratic primary voters whether they support Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo, Clay Pell or Todd Giroux for governor, whether they back Frank CaprioErnie Almonte or Seth Magaziner for general treasurer, and how they feel about other big issues. We’ll release the first results live on WPRI 12 and WPRI.com Tuesday at 5 p.m. Tune in!

2. This week’s Diversity and Inclusion Professionals gubernatorial forum illustrated how differently the Democratic and Republican primaries are playing out. Democrats Taveras, Raimondo and Pell were relentlessly polite, eschewing attacks and accentuating the positive. Most of their comments were, to be honest, pretty bland. Meanwhile over at the next table, Republicans Allan Fung and Ken Block took repeated shots at each other, with Block particularly aggressive in his criticisms of Fung. The Cranston mayor’s campaign is clearly having to work harder for the nomination than they expected, and their early TV debut and growing use of GOP surrogates is evidence of how serious the threat from Block is. Their debate June 17 should be feisty. As for the Democrats, there’s no way their race is going to stay as sedate as it looked at the forum. Taveras has a target on his back as the frontrunner; Raimondo has plenty of money but plenty of baggage; and Pell needs to shake things up if he wants to lap the other two. The Rhode Island Association of Democratic City and Town Chairs’ inability to reach consensus and endorse one of the three Thursday night is another reminder their party’s nod really is up for grabs. Watch for Pell to join Raimondo on the airwaves before long, increasing the pressure on Taveras to match them both – though his campaign has to be careful with its more limited financial resources.


Key Raimondo aide Brumberger leaving for private sector

May 29th, 2014 at 5:44 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

A longtime member of Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s State House team is heading for the exit.

Josh Brumberger, who is currently Raimondo’s deputy treasurer of policy and financial empowerment, said Thursday he will leave the treasurer’s office next month to do business development for Utilidata Inc., the Providence-based energy-management startup.

Brumberger, 35, was hired by Raimondo shortly after she took office in February 2011 and played a key role in developing policies such as the 2011 pension reform and a statewide push to improve financial literacy. His departure comes as a bit of a surprise, with Raimondo in the thick of a campaign for governor.

Brumberger also worked on former U.S. Sen. John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign, and was called to testify during Edwards’ 2012 trial for campaign finance fraud. He was also featured in “Game Change,” the popular campaign book penned by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

Brumberger is the second key Raimondo aide to leave Treasury this month. Joy Fox, Raimondo’s spokeswoman throughout her tenure there, moved over to her gubernatorial campaign this week. Raimondo’s former chief of staff, Joe Pratt, was shifted to a different job in 2012 and left her office last year.

Heather Hudson will take over as Raimondo’s director of financial empowerment and Rebecca Webber will become her policy director at Treasury once Brumberger leaves.

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

An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Brumberger worked on John Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign; he worked on his 2004 campaign.

Some things never change – Rhode Island economy edition

May 28th, 2014 at 10:08 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island A History McLoughlin via BNIn 1978, the late Brown University historian William G. McLoughlin published “Rhode Island: A History,” a short book timed to the nation’s bicentennial that tracked the development of the Ocean State from its founding as a colonial refuge to what was then the present day.

The 1970s were a difficult economic time for Rhode Island. In addition to the national problem of stagflation, the state was reeling from President Nixon’s decision to pull the U.S. Navy out of Quonset, eliminating thousands of jobs. Some argue the state has never really recovered from the blow.

Writing in the wake of the Navy pullout, McLoughlin finished the book with an appropriately dreary take on the state’s economic condition and its prospects – one that still sounds surprisingly familiar in 2014:

In 1946 the state budget was only $20 million a year and the sales tax only 1%; today the state budget is well over $500 million, the sales tax is 6%, and on top of it, there is now a state income tax. Taxation of business and property taxes in the cities have virtually reached their feasible limits without business expansion. The state’s corporate income tax is 2% to 3% above the national average. The constant effort to find new sources of revenue recently has led to a state lottery, dog racing, jai alai, and other forms of gambling. …

Since 1929 Rhode Island has consistently had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. In 1975 unemployment figures rose above 15%. Although the state’s population increased by 17% from 1950 to 1975, manufacturing jobs in that period declined from 125,000 to 109,000 and all jobs from 240,700 to 233,900. No new industry has arisen to take up the slack in textiles, though jewelry manufacturing is increasing slightly, and tourism is a major source of income during the summers. Service jobs, state and federal agencies, and education have provided most new employment since 1932. But since that data, the economy has been increasingly dependent on regular grants of assistance from the federal government. With long tenure common among its congressional delegation, as happens in any one-party state, Rhode Island has managed to get a goodly share of that federal income. One of the most important sources of federal aid has always been the United States Navy, whose bases in Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Quonset (where the Quonset hut was invented), and Davisville made the navy the state’s largest single employer from 1945 to 1973. But when President Richard M. Nixon closed the bases in 1973, except for training purposes, the state suffered its most severe economic blow since 1929. Every political leader since 1930 has campaigned on the promise of bringing new industries to the state and more jobs for the people; but despite earnest effort, none of them has succeeded.

A decade later, McLoughlin’s take would look too gloomy: Rhode Island’s unemployment rate fell to a record low of 3.8% during the late 1980s. But he only had to wait a few years to see the state struggling once again, thanks to the banking crisis of 1991. The first half of the 2000s also saw unemployment drop to a low level, only to soar and stay elevated during and after the Great Recession.

(book cover: Barnes & Noble)

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

May 24th, 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. I hope all of you have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend. Hopefully everyone can take some time to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, particularly Monday at 3.

2. Four months after Governor Chafee proposed his budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, a roughly $70 million shortfall has opened up in his tax-and-spending plan. The culprits include soaring Medicaid enrollment, weak tax revenue, unbudgeted union raises, and $4.6 million for HealthSource RIRichard Licht, the governor’s right-hand man, says the administration is “looking at lots of options” to close the gap. “We have a $70 million problem – we will solve it, working cooperatively with the General Assembly,” Licht said on this week’s Newsmakers. “I wish we had $70 million to spend; unfortunately, we have $70 million to cut, and we will.” Of course, that $70 million shortfall doesn’t account for the cost of the General Assembly’s own priorities – notably tax cuts and nixing the Sakonnet tolls. A two-step on the corporate tax – dropping the rate to 7% while switching to combined reporting – has momentum and is apparently revenue neutral, so its passage is highly likely. Another Speaker Mattiello priority – restructuring the estate tax to eliminate the “cliff” at $921,655 – will be more challenging but could still find its way into the final document. A solution on tolls remains uncertain. The budget machinations are all taking place against the backdrop of an election year, which has lawmakers hoping to finish the session early without making anybody too mad – especially before the June 25 filing deadline for candidates.


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

May 17th, 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. Ken Block says he’s leading in the Republican primary for governor – and he’s got a poll to prove it. A survey of 300 likely Republican primary voters commissioned last month by Block’s campaign puts him on top at 46%, with Allan Fung at 37% and 16% undecided. The poll was done by the respected Florida firm Fabrizio, Lee & Associates. “What we really wanted to know was, is what we have been doing working? Is it being received by the voters well inside the Republican primary?” Block said on this week’s Newsmakers. “And the answer to all those questions is a really resounding yes.” The Block campaign’s previous internal poll last October put Fung at 53% and Block at 25%, so the new poll represents a 37-point swing in Block’s favor. These are internal surveys, though, and the Republican primary electorate is notoriously hard to poll. Fung campaign manager Patrick Sweeney dismissed Block’s findings, saying in an email: “Our internal polling shows Republicans are rejecting Ken Block because he supported Obamacare and voted for President Obama twice.” (Fung, unlike Block, isn’t releasing his internals.) We’ll see who’s right. But if the GOP primary is as competitive as Block argues, the first TV face-off between the pair June 17 on WPRI 12 is looming as a big moment.

2. The latest issue of Architectural Digest says Providence is the country’s best small city. Agreed!


Q&A: S&P’s lead RI analyst on the 38 Studios bond debate

May 13th, 2014 at 1:41 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

standard_poors_logoA heated debate has picked up once again over whether Rhode Island lawmakers should put $12.5 million into the state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 in order to make the next two payments on the bonds sold to lure 38 Studios to Rhode Island.

On Monday, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services downgraded its rating on the 38 Studios bonds from A to BBB, and put a negative watch on all of Rhode Island’s bonds, including its general-obligation debt. Henry Henderson, director in the U.S. public finance group at S&P and its lead credit analyst for Rhode Island, co-authored the report.

Henderson spoke with WPRI.com on Tuesday about the 38 Studios bonds and how S&P makes its decisions. The following is a transcript of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Last June, Standard & Poor’s kept the rating and outlook on these bonds unchanged and said they were unaffected by the debate. Yesterday you dropped the rating sharply and put them on a negative watch. What changed from 11 months ago in your view?


Clay Pell supports paying off the 38 Studios bonds

May 12th, 2014 at 4:57 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Clay Pell econ 4-23-2014 Scott delsoleAdd Clay Pell to the list of politicians who support paying back the 38 Studios bonds.

Pell, a Democratic candidate for governor, had signaled early in his campaign that he might not support including $12.5 million in the next state budget to pay investors who bought the 38 Studios bonds.

His two Democratic opponents, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, had already been on record at the time as saying the state should pay back the money.

On Monday, however, Pell campaign manager Devin Driscoll said his candidate has now come around to the same view as Taveras and Raimondo.

“Clay does not believe Rhode Island should default on its moral obligation bonds when they come due,” Driscoll told WPRI.com in an email. “38 Studios was a terrible mistake – and another example of why we need to change the culture of politics in Rhode Island.”

Driscoll said Pell would work to restore “faith in state government,” and added: “In the meantime, Clay believes the state must strongly pursue recovery of its original investment to the fullest extent of the law.”

Pell’s comments came the same day Standard & Poor’s threatened to downgrade Rhode Island’s bond ratings if lawmakers decline to pay the 38 Studios bonds. The two Republican candidates for governor – Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Barrington businessman Ken Block – both oppose paying the bonds, which were authorized in 2010 by former Republican Gov. Don Carcieri’s administration.