Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: Nov. 22

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. Still glad you ran for governor, Gina Raimondo? The newly elected Democrat joined Tim White and me for this weekend’s Newsmakers, in her first major TV interview since she won, and offered some high-level insight into her thinking as she prepares to take over from Lincoln Chafee. Raimondo largely demurred when Tim and I pressed for details, though, saying she’s still figuring out what to do. One thing that was clear is she wants to bring in a number of new faces to run state departments and agencies, though no names have been formally put forward yet. What’s also becoming clearer is that Raimondo’s first weeks in office are going to be dominated by a serious budget crunch: her proposal for closing a $200-million-plus deficit is supposed to be submitted by Feb. 5, one month after the inauguration. There are few politically easy options available, and on Newsmakers Raimondo all but ruled out tax increases, meaning the savings will have to be found on the spending side. Unsurprisingly, she singled out Medicaid as a key focus – House Fiscal staffers report the health program’s costs are growing at roughly 7% a year, yet state revenue is growing by less than 2%.

2. House Finance Committee Chairman Ray Gallison had sharp words for Chafee administration officials during Thursday’s budget briefing, telling Steve Hartford: “I don’t like to have to have a supplemental [budget]. I’m telling you to close the gap.” It’s a familiar mid-fiscal-year sight: lawmakers browbeating the executive branch about overspending. And no doubt some of it is very much deserved. But in other cases, lawmakers may need to look in the mirror. The budget is supposed to pay for all the many and varied actions the General Assembly has ordered state government to carry out. But in recent years, with the state facing persistent deficits, their enacted tax-and-spending plans have been paired with a lot of talk about the need to “do more with less.” As anybody who’s been told the same by their own boss can attest, that’s a lot easier said than done. Is there a fundamental mismatch between what state lawmakers want state government to do, and how much money they’re willing to come up with to do it?

3. Not all of Rhode Island’s economic problems stem from factors here in Rhode Island. Read Jared Bernstein to understand some of the big global economic questions being debated today – it’s likely they have repercussions locally.

4. Secretary of State Ralph Mollis’s spokeswoman offered a rather striking comment the other day after a Journal reporter asked when exactly the office is going to get a response from hearing officer Lou DeSimone about the Mike Corso lobbying inquiry triggered by Tim White. “I don’t think it’s proper for our office to prod him…. You have to leave it to him to respond,” she said. “Why is it taking so long? Only he can answer that.” I’m sure the majority leader’s cousin appreciates such solicitude from Team Mollis – which is paying him $150 an hour for his services – but at this point the public interest might be well-served by a bit more prodding when it comes to getting answers on the nearly-five-year-old 38 Studios affair. Watch for whether Secretary of State-elect Nellie Gorbea tries to pick up the pace when she takes over, particularly with Patrick Lynch’s actions now under scrutiny, too.

5. A new Boston Fed study [pdf] on payday loans – which the General Assembly will likely debate again soon once critic Gina Raimondo becomes governor – concludes: “Our results provide support for the view that ‘cycle-of-debt’ borrowers dominate the payday lending market. These results imply that restrictions on high-cost consumer financial services may improve consumer welfare.”

6. Gina Raimondo is trying to put some distance between herself and the increasingly controversial draft RhodeMap RI document, approval of which has been pushed to next month following an intervention by Speaker Mattiello, prime sponsor of the legislation that led to it. “I haven’t dug into it. I’ve reviewed it,” the governor-elect said on Newsmakers. “They should do whatever they want – you know, vote on it or not vote on it – and it’ll be a tool that I review among many tools as I decide, and as I work with the General Assembly to decide, what’s the right strategy going forward. There’s been a lot of reports, and I’m sure there are some good ideas in there. … Certainly, as I said, that would be one – if it were to pass – that would be one plan that I would have a look at and take into consideration as I complete the overall plan.” But, she added, “I think there are some legitimate concerns.” If you want to see for yourself what all the fuss is about, here’s the full RhodeMap RI PDF.

7. “How pensions make investing too complex,” by Fortune’s Roger Lowenstein. And if you missed it during the week, check out my in-depth WPRI.com story about the legal uncertainty around Rhode Island’s pension law three years after it passed.

8. Democrats may have dominated Rhode Island’s elections on Nov. 4, but that doesn’t mean pro-choicers had a hugely successful night. According to Barth Bracy of Rhode Island Right to Life, “The bottom-line is that we picked up a net gain of five seats (one in the Senate and four in the House) in an already solidly pro-life General Assembly.” Bracy also attributes Allan Fung’s loss to “a deeply divided Republican Party.”

9. Jack Reed is making waves with his call for Congress, not Wall Street, to pick the New York Fed’s chief.

10. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from my colleague Dan McGowan: “With just over a month until the Providence City Council kicks off a new term, veteran Washington Park Councilman Luis Aponte remains confident he has the votes to become the next council president. Aponte, who in the early 2000s was considered strong contender to become Providence’s first Latino mayor, has been dogged by his own failure to file more than 20 campaign finance reports – he’s facing fines approaching $50,000 – as well as a whisper campaign from some of his colleagues who question his ability to lead the council and also fear giving up their own power. What still remains a question is whether a viable alternative has actually emerged in the race. Council President Pro Tempore Terry Hassett told RIPR he intends to seek the council’s top job, but then he showed up at a Team Aponte meeting last Sunday afternoon at the Ward 6 Democratic Party headquarters, at the end of Atwells Avenue you’ve probably never visited. Those who attended the meeting left feeling like Hassett was still supporting Aponte – Hassett would remain council president pro tempore – but they said he acknowledged he liked the idea of leading the council himself. (For his part, Hassett hasn’t returned a phone call, a text message or two Facebook messages, and he quickly left Thursday’s City Council meeting before I could catch him.) Here’s the rub. If you count Hassett, Aponte has nine votes, or one more than he needs to be the president. But the consensus among many council members is that Hassett and Councilman John Igliozzi are a package deal, meaning the Aponte Nine could quickly crumble if Hassett and Igliozzi jump sides. (It’s worth noting that Igliozzi has long clashed with some of the East Side councilors who oppose Aponte.) For now, Aponte is just trying prevent defections. He’s filed the majority of the past-due campaign finance reports and told WPRI.com he plans to attempt to work out a settlement with the state for the fines. At this point, he’s managed to keep Councilwoman Sabina Matos – who has expressed interest in the job herself – on his team and he even met with another possible opponent, Councilman David Salvatore, recently. This much is clear: the election season isn’t over yet in Providence.”

11. The gambling grass isn’t looking greener on the other side of the Rhode Island border at the moment as The Boston Globe’s Mark Arsenault reports that in Southern Massachusetts, “complex development risks may still prove too daunting to potential applicants and leave little or no competition for the license.” Among those risks is the existence of Twin River in Lincoln, which is of course threatened by expanded gambling in Massachusetts but likewise poses its own threat to the bottom-lines of its would-be competitors. Yet even if the Southeastern Massachusetts casino license remains dormant, Rhode Island will still have to deal with the new Plainville slot parlor just 20 or so miles from Twin River. State officials are already bracing for the hit: legislative aides estimate Rhode Island’s gambling revenue will drop 12% in the 2015-16 fiscal year, from $383 million this year to $335 million then, as the effects start to be felt.

12. This modern-day amateur movie trailer for “The Empire Strikes Back” is fantastic.

13. The Providence Journal’s new parent company just keeps getting bigger. GateHouse Media announced Thursday it’s buying the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, adding yet another New England daily to its stable of papers across the region. The Boston Globe, Boston Herald and Sun Chronicle soon will be among the few papers in Southeastern New England that aren’t owned by GateHouse, and it’s hard not to imagine GateHouse would like to snap up The Sun Chronicle (my journalistic alma mater) at some point, too. The BBJ’s Jon Chesto, soon leaving for The Globe himself, suggests GateHouse executives “hope to prove that a giant conglomerate of local papers can benefit from a national scale.” Perhaps The Journal’s interim publisher, Bernie Szachara, will shed a little light on the company’s strategy when he speaks to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner Monday night.

14. Speaking of the Projo, here’s their editorial on Tim White’s recent Coventry fire chief exposé.

15. For all the economic gloom in Rhode Island, there are still bright spots in the state’s business sector. One is Swipely, the restaurant-focused tech startup founded by Angus Davis, which announced this week it now has $4 billion under management. BetaBoston marveled, “Is it the fastest-growing New England tech company?” For more on Swipely, check out Davis’s Executive Suite interview from earlier this year. Another bit of good news in the local tech sector was the announcement that Teespring, also a startup, raised a whopping $35 million in a Series B round. The company remains headquartered in Providence, though it now has offices in other places as well, and PBN’s Patrick Anderson reports Teespring expects to add more jobs in Rhode Island going forward. For more on Teespring, check out co-founder Walker Williams’ 2012 Executive Suite interview.

16. Narragansett Beer’s CEO expects “pretty big news” soon about returning production to Rhode Island.

17. A 19th-century whale hunt logbook, on display at the Providence Public Library, gets some love from Slate.

18. I’ll be on 89.7 FM WGBH’s Under the Radar with Callie Crossley this Sunday at 6 p.m. Tune in!

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Governor-elect Gina Raimondo. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Navigant Credit Union CEO Gary Furtado, plus Benny’s co-owner Arnold Bromberg talks Black Friday. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.

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

An earlier version of this post said Lou DeSimone is the majority leader’s brother; he is his cousin.

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