By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State lawmakers would be prohibited from accepting campaign contributions during the General Assembly session under legislation introduced by State Rep. Spencer Dickinson.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State lawmakers would be prohibited from accepting campaign contributions during the General Assembly session under legislation introduced by State Rep. Spencer Dickinson.
The guest speakers at House Speaker Gordon Fox’s big economic conference next week are drawn heavily from the government and nonprofit sectors, with few representatives from private companies.
The agenda released late Friday lists 16 guest speakers, only five of them from private companies. And of those five, one is a former candidate for governor (Ken Block) and two are government officials as members of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation board (Cheryl Snead and Karl Wadensten).
The two other speakers from private firms work for companies that are headquartered in Massachusetts: John Sheets Jr. from Natick-based Boston Scientific and Gary Ezovski, who sold his firm Lincoln Environmental to Woburn-based ATC Group Services back in 2007.
Speaker Fox said the summit is designed so lawmakers can “listen to key people in the trenches,” but the list doesn’t include any Rhode Island business owners or startup executives without ties to government. (Hopefully House members will supplement the summit by watching episodes of Executive Suite.) As for the Senate, Teresa Paiva Weed will lay out her recommendations for improving the economy in a report on Tuesday.
The full agenda for the House summit is posted after the jump. (more…)
By Tim White and Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island taxpayers are footing the bill for a government car with a state-employed driver that transported Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed home from the Democratic Party’s biggest bash of the year, a Target 12 investigation reveals.
Target 12 requested details on how often Senate leaders take the state vehicle to or from campaign events, but officials said they have no official policy on how the car can be used and they don’t keep a log of its trips.
Kennedy has cut the asking price for his three-acre waterfront property on Farmlands Drive in Portsmouth to $1.395 million, a $200,000 reduction from the original asking price in January, according to its listing with Prudential Prime Properties.
The former congressman built the 10-room, three-story home overlooking the Sakonnet River in 2001. It’s described as the Kennedy Orchard House and features three bedrooms, three bathrooms, two fireplaces and 3,144 square feet of living space. The estimated annual tax bill for the property is $17,975.
Kennedy, who now spends most of his time in New Jersey with his wife and new baby, has said he plans to buy a home in Providence to maintain his ties with Rhode Island. He retired from Congress in 2010 but returned recently to campaign for his successor David Cicilline.
Kennedy wouldn’t be the first Rhode Island politician to be disappointed by the local property market in the wake of the housing bust. Gov. Lincoln Chafee was forced to cut the price of his Providence home repeatedly before it finally sold for $675,000 last September.
• Related: Patrick Kennedy inherits millions from his late father Ted (Aug. 25, 2010)
The American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC – has been in the headlines lately after coming under attack from liberal groups. Businessweek ran a long exposé about the group in December. The left-wing Nation magazine has done its own series. The New York Times editorialized against it; The Wall Street Journal came to its defense.
Apparently, though, Democratic state lawmakers missed every word. Rhode Island’s Future editor Bob Plain has spent the week reporting on ALEC and he found that not only is state Rep. Jon Brien now on the group’s national board, but one in five members of the General Assembly is affiliated with the group.
That’s not all. In 2008, the Assembly passed a joint resolution urging Congress not to move insurance regulation from the state level to the federal level. The original version [pdf] included a lengthy preamble extolling ALEC and said explicitly that the legislature “joins the American Legislative Exchange Council” in taking such a position; the final version [pdf] removed all references to ALEC.
The 2008 resolution was sponsored by state Sens. William Walaska, a Democrat, along with Leo Blais and Kevin Breene, two Republicans. (Blais was ALEC’s Rhode Island head before Brien.) It passed the Senate unanimously and the House 63-1, with Rep. Joe Trillo the only “nay.” It took effect on July 8 without Gov. Don Carcieri’s signature.
That wasn’t the only time the Democratic-dominated Senate has formally stood with ALEC.
The latest salvo is the mailer at right from the Have a Heart Coalition, which attacks House Speaker Gordon Fox, House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello and two of the men tipped as potential Fox successors – Helio Melo and J. Patrick O’Neill – for having “trampled on the dignity” of the disabled.
The mailing does not say who funded it, but the address given for the Have a Heart Coalition is that of the United Nurses & Allied Professionals union on Branch Avenue in Providence. Jim Parisi of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals union and Jeanne Jose of UNAP are the contact people on the coalition’s website.
The Have a Heart Coalition has not registered as a lobbying organization with the secretary of state’s office, according to its online directory.
Update: Looks like that’s not the only mailer from the Have a Heart Coalition floating around. Here’s another one passed along by a reader:
What’s ironic is Chafee’s original 2011-12 budget proposal didn’t even call for those cuts, as he reminded me in an interview last year. But he did sign the revised budget lawmakers crafted that included them.
Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee says he won’t challenge Congressman David Cicilline in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District primary, putting to rest speculation he could try to wrest the nomination from the unpopular incumbent.
“Although it is nice to be mentioned as a possible candidate for U.S. Congress, I plan to remain in Rhode Island and work on local and state issues,” McKee told WPRI.com in an email Friday. “As I did in 2010, I will be asking Cumberland voters for their support for mayor in 2012.”
McKee, who considered running for Congress when Patrick Kennedy retired, was among the only mainstream Rhode Island Democrats still being discussed as a potential primary challenger to Cicilline. Cumberland is also the hometown of Republican candidate Brendan Doherty.
Without McKee in the race it appears the incumbent’s only primary opponent may be businessman Anthony Gemma, who must make a decision within two weeks under the terms of a merger agreement his company signed Thursday.
McKee won a fifth term as mayor in 2010, defeating independent David Iwuc 64% to 36%. He is widely viewed as a potential candidate for statewide office in 2014, possibly as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor or secretary of state.
McKee said he will continue to focus on education policy. “I am interested in being part of Rhode Island’s transformation,” he said. “As mayor I can continue to work on improving our public schools through the Mayoral Academies and work with municipal leaders to transform the way our town governments operate.”
• Related: Cook Political Report: Cicilline-Doherty race is now a ‘toss up’ (March 1)
(photo: Cicilline’s office)
The influential Beltway forecasting firm Cook Political Report updated its scoreboard of competitive U.S. House races on Thursday, and sharply downgraded Cicilline’s chances of holding his seat after this week’s WPRI 12 poll showed him 15 points behind Republican challenger Brendan Doherty.
Cook House editor David Wasserman moved the 1st District race from “Likely Democratic” – meaning it wasn’t competitive – to “Toss Up,” which means “either party has a good chance of winning.”
“A Republican hasn’t won a House seat in the Ocean State since 1992,” Wasserman writes. “But 20 years later, Democratic Rep. David Cicilline’s unpopularity has seriously jeopardized his party’s chances of holding onto what should be a very safe seat.” Unsurprisingly, he places most of the blame on Providence’s financial crisis.
Raising taxes on the wealthy won’t work in Rhode Island “unless you’re going to hand out handcuffs and chain people to the radiators.”
Who said that? State Rep. Jon Brien? A Chamber spokesman? The Tax Foundation?
But not everyone agrees. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a study last year that concluded Fox’s whole premise is a “myth”:
Attacks on sorely-needed increases in state tax revenues often include the unproven claim that tax hikes will drive large numbers of households — particularly the most affluent — to other states. The same claim also is used to justify new tax cuts. Compelling evidence shows that this claim is false. The effects of tax increases on migration are, at most, small — so small that states that raise income taxes on the most affluent households can be assured of a substantial net gain in revenue.
Asked Friday during a taping of WPRI 12′s “Newsmakers” whether he would consider supporting such an income tax increase as suggested by labor leaders, Fox said flatly: “No.” He later said he might consider supporting such a policy but only if it gets paired with a decrease in a different revenue source, such as the municipal car tax.
Fox’s comments came the day after Governor Chafee warned the budget proposal he’ll release later this month will contain “deep, deep cuts” in government spending. The speaker said he is wary of raising taxes because it could damage the state’s already weak economy.
Fox, who has emerged as perhaps the most powerful person in state government, discussed a host of issues during the half-hour interview, including the 10.8% unemployment rate and job creation, the local pension crisis, Brown University’s tax status, the Cranston prayer banner, the leadership styles of Chafee and Angel Taveras, and the evolution of his own political philosophy as a Providence Democrat.
The interview will air at 10 a.m. Sunday on Fox Providence and be posted online Saturday.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Gordon Fox wants to curtail one of the General Assembly’s most cherished traditions: the mad dash to pass a backlog of legislation during the closing days of the session.
“I strongly believe that if bills, particularly non-budgetary items, are introduced earlier in the session it helps the House of Representatives to vet and consider the information in an orderly manner,” Fox wrote in a Dec. 1 letter to Governor Chafee obtained by WPRI.com. “It also prevents or lessens the chances of bills not being given the due consideration that they deserve before the General Assembly session ends.”
In addition to the governor, Fox reached out this month to other leaders including Treasurer Gina Raimondo, rank-and-file House members, state agency chiefs and the judiciary in an effort to get a head start on the 2012 legislative session. State lawmakers return to Smith Hill on Tuesday.
This is the first time Fox, a Providence Democrat who succeeded former Speaker Bill Murphy in February 2010, and his staff have tried to get an early handle on the legislative priorities of various officials and departments, spokesman Larry Berman told WPRI.com.
Rhode Island’s Democratic-dominated House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to pass the pension bill basically unchanged from the finance committee’s version, with 57 votes in favor, 15 against and three no-shows (Grace Diaz, Robert Flaherty and John McCauley).
With three out of four House lawmakers voting for the bill, the outside observer might think the legislation agreed to by Governor Chafee, Treasurer Raimondo and legislative leaders sailed to passage. But that’s not really true, because the actual fight didn’t come at the end – it was over a handful of amendments that could have torpedoed the enterprise.
An examination of four crucial votes – three on amendments, and the final up-or-down vote to pass it – shows 40 lawmakers broke with House Speaker Gordon Fox and his team on at least one of them. That means a majority of the House’s 75 legislators voted against the pension bill that was originally hammered out by the state’s leaders.
Five of the 40 rebel lawmakers – Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, Karen MacBeth, John Savage, Teresa Tanzi and Donna Walsh – voted for all three so-called “poison pill” amendments, yet supported the bill on the final vote. They can tell their constituents they backed the full Raimondo-Chafee pension law, even though they voted to change it significantly.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A reworked version of the Raimondo-Chafee pension bill will be released publicly at Wednesday’s joint finance committee hearing amid growing signs the legislation could pass by Thanksgiving.
House Speaker Gordon Fox told reporters the two finance committees could vote on the amended “Sub A” version of the legislation as soon as Thursday after reviewing it during a hearing the afternoon before. That timeline would allow the full House to take up the bill as soon as Nov. 17, one week before Thanksgiving Day.
Fox said he still wants to wrap up the process by the holiday. The House and Senate may hold simultaneous votes on the legislation, he said. ”Our theory now is that we’ll act in coordination,” he said.
Fox and others who attended a closed-door caucus of House Democrats on Monday afternoon described the gathering as spirited but cordial. The biggest bone of contention is whether to freeze cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), and if so for how many years, they said.
“I mean, we’re the House – it gets raucous, but that’s good,” Fox said. “They speak their minds. Some would say it’s raucous; I think we’d say we’re not staid.”
The Cook Political Report on Thursday downgraded Cicilline’s chances of holding onto his seat next year as the influential Washington newsletter released new ratings on competitive U.S. House races around the country.
Cook’s House editor, David Wasserman, moved the 1st District from “Likely Democratic” to “Lean Democratic” – meaning he’s decided it now qualifies as a competitive race.
Wasserman made the change without additional comment. A Likely rating indicates seats that “are not considered competitive at this point but have the potential,” while Lean seats “are considered competitive races but one party has an advantage,” according to Cook’s definitions.
Cicilline is the only endangered Democratic incumbent in the country who represents a district where his party holds a double-digit advantage. Cook gives Rhode Island’s 1st District a Partisan Voting Index score of “D+13.” His is one of 49 House races coast to coast that Cook rates as competitive right now.
The downgrade by Cook comes the same week one of its competitors – the Rothenberg Political Report – published a 2,000-word article laying out Cicilline’s troubles and concluding he may be “one of the most vulnerable incumbents” in Congress.
At least three Democrats and two Republicans have already expressed interest in challenging Cicilline next year. Republican candidate Brendan Doherty has scheduled his first major fundraiser for later this month, WPRI.com reported earlier today.
Just because the race is considered competitive doesn’t mean Cicilline will lose, though. Wasserman also changed the 1st District from “Likely Democratic” to “Lean Democratic” last fall – and Cicilline managed to win the election by six points.
Bill McBride, who writes the must-read economics blog Calculated Risk, has been keeping an eye on Governor Chafee’s (thus far unsuccessful) efforts to unload the Providence house he and has wife bought in 2006.
As I reported yesterday, the Chafees have reduced the price twice since putting the home on the market in mid-February – it’s now listed for $799,000. McBride, who knows the housing market better than just about anybody, thinks they’re getting closer to what the market will bear:
When this house was first listed, I argued we’d see a price reduction. Although Case-Shiller doesn’t track Providence, house prices have fallen about 15% in Boston and 23% in New York – and that would suggest a selling price in the $700s for the Chafees’ home. So many homeowners are unwilling to price their homes realistically – at least the Chafees have been willing to reduce the price.
One of McBride’s commenters noted that the house has an appraised value of $801,200, so the Chafees are only now asking for what the city says it’s worth. Meanwhile, another commenter questions whether the local property market should be compared with those in Boston and New York:
I don’t know much about Boston’s real estate market. But why would you compare the real estate markets in Providence and New York? The economic base, job scene, inventory, relocation market, etc. is totally different. Providence once was one of America’s great manufacturing towns. Now, all it has left is government and education.
Providence has more in common with Detroit or Cleveland.
“I support that as an alternative that I believe has enough support in the General Assembly to pass and become law this year,” Watson said Friday morning during a taping of WPRI 12′s “Newsmakers.”
The East Greenwich Republican defended his opposition to gay marriage, brushing aside arguments about civil rights while citing the importance of maintaining the traditional definition of the word “marriage.”
“I happen to believe in the power of the word ‘marriage,’ and I believe it has a historical connection, and I believe that currently our current political environment is such that I think the public would be more supportive of civil unions, and I support that, as well,” Watson said.
Watson also discussed a sharp exchange he had on the House floor earlier this week with Speaker Gordon Fox – a riveting video of which will air as part of the “Newsmakers” episode – after the GOP leader called for a quick vote on gay marriage so attention could shift to the budget; the speaker had his microphone turned off.
“I don’t like it when they turn my microphone off, and I also don’t like it when we keep secrets in that building,” Watson said of the Statehouse. “There’s no reason why we can’t discuss the travel and the tracking of the gay marriage bill. It is a distracting issue. It’s been a preoccupation throughout the course of the session, and I just hoped and expected when we came back off of April vacation we would be focused on the budget exclusively.”
Watson also discussed whether lawmakers are still likely to increase sales tax revenue; the prospects for further pension changes; how the budget could be balanced exclusively with social-service spending cuts; and the need for more oversight of legislative staff pay.
I jumped in for the second half of the show to discuss pensions and my Chafee interview with Tim White, Ian Donnis and Arlene Violet. The full episode will be posted online today and air at 10 a.m. Sunday on Fox Providence.
It feels like a million years ago now, but back when he was running against Frank Caprio for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Attorney General Patrick Lynch suggested replacing Rhode Island’s two-chamber General Assembly with a single chamber by doing away with the Senate. (Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral legislature right now.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the politicians who currently serve in the chambers Lynch wanted to downsize were not very supportive of his proposal. Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, who found out about his idea in a campaign press release, told the Projo she was “surprised” by the suggestion. Her House counterpart, Speaker Gordon Fox, suggested that since no state has adopted a unicameral legislature in the last 100 years, “that might tell you something.”
Well, maybe Fox will reconsider his opposition to closing the Senate now that lawmakers in a number of other states like Maine and Pennsylvania are considering the idea, as The Wall Street Journal reported Monday:
In Maine, members of the state’s House of Representatives passed a bill last year that would shrink the legislature to one chamber from two. A Pennsylvania legislator introduced a bill this year to do the same. The speaker of the House in Kentucky also floated the idea. Over the past year, officials in half a dozen other states have discussed attacking the size of government by cutting the size of the legislature. The current election campaigns across the country have further fired the debate. …
The debate over unicameralism is gathering steam because state governments are strapped for cash. The recent recession cracked many budgets, and the continuing sluggish recovery is taxing others. Modern-day proponents of unicameral legislatures tend to be Democrats. But the movement began with Nebraska Sen. George Norris, a Republican, who barnstormed the state to drum up support for his idea in 1934. …
At the height of the Depression, Nebraska decided to save money by getting rid of its second legislative chamber. It worked. When the unicameral legislature debuted in 1937, with each representative called a senator, the body cost half as much to run as the old one. And there is less duplication and overlap. …
[Nebraska] cut its statehouse through a ballot initiative, not a law. And that 1934 ballot included a pair of popular measures—legalized gambling and an end to Prohibition—that likely propelled the full ballot to approval, says Richard Brown, the assistant clerk of Nebraska’s statehouse.
So, contra Fox, it’s only been 73 years since Nebraska went unicameral, not a full century. Maybe Patrick Lynch was ahead of his time.
(image credit: Wikipedia)