Welcome to another edition of the Saturday Morning Post. Ted Nesi’s on assignment charting Santa’s efficiency, so I’m filling in for the final weekend column of 2014. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow @danmcgowan and @tednesi on Twitter.
1. Let’s get the obligatory New Year’s resolutions from elected leaders out of the way right off the bat: Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo: “My New Year’s resolution is to bring Rhode Islanders together to grow our economy. My jobs plan calls for an inclusive approach to five strategic areas: advanced manufacturing, workforce development, infrastructure, tourism, and small businesses/startups. Between our hardworking people, incredible natural and cultural resources, and rich history of innovation and entrepreneurship, Rhode Island has all of the ingredients it needs to rebuild the middle class and strengthen our economy.” Lt. Gov-elect Dan McKee: “My personal resolution is to sharpen my ping pong skills for the family ping pong tournament. My professional resolution will be to help Rhode Island become more small-business friendly beginning by educating National Grid customers how to purchase their energy more wisely.” General Treasurer-elect Seth Magainzer: “My New Year’s resolution is to bring a steady hand to our state’s finances, and to use the Treasurer’s office to promote economic growth in Rhode Island. And to eat more vegetables.” Sec. of State-elect Nellie Gorbea: “Spend more time with the best husband in the world and my three amazing daughters who bring so much joy to my life.” Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza: “Run a 5K in less than 25 minutes and get as many residents as possible engaged in sports and recreational activities.”
2. Don’t look now but Providence Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza is bringing back the city’s orange “P” logo, which emerged late in David Cicilline’s tenure as mayor but disappeared over the last four years. You might remember the minor talk-radio criticism that came from Cicilline’s decision to pay a Tennessee-based firm $100,000 to label Providence the “Creative Capital” and create the “P,” but Elorza spent many months on the campaign trail stressing that the city needs to take better advantage of its arts community. (Remember, he’s already pitched a plan to host a New England version of the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.) Elorza and many of his top aides are already donning pins showcasing the logo. For those looking for a backstory on why Mayor Angel Taveras got rid of the “P,” there isn’t much. He just liked the city seal better.
3. The 5:51 p.m. email from Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s office Tuesday evening confirming that the Central Coventry Fire District had filed for bankruptcy may seem like the ultimate news dump, but Rhode Island’s second local government bankruptcy in four years will likely represent one of Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo’s earliest challenges when she takes office Jan. 6. It might also be Raimondo’s first opportunity to seek input from incoming Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who is leaving his position as mayor of Cumberland just as the town’s consolidated fire district begins to take shape. In Cumberland’s case, town voters overwhelmingly approved a plan to take steps to merge its four fire districts in 2010, but it took until 2013 for state lawmakers to approve legislation that allowed the town to move forward with its plan. Of course, the Central Coventry Fire District faces more immediate concerns. Its bankruptcy filing shows the district owes more than $4.4 million to its 20 largest creditors with estimated liabilities of between $1 million and $10 million.
4. Don’t miss Walt Buteau’s look at the career of Sean Daly, who retired this week.
5. One of the most overlooked parts of outgoing Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’s political obituary will likely be his relationship with City Council President Michael Solomon, who rarely interfered with the mayor’s vision and regularly delivered Taveras the votes he needed to accomplish his goals. That wasn’t easy, especially when dealing with many City Council colleagues who are far more interested in solving minor problems in their own neighborhoods than taking on pension reform. Solomon won’t be remembered as a gifted speaker, but his decision to take the traditional council president’s role of being an adversary of the mayor and turn it into a partnership is one of the key reasons the city avoided bankruptcy two years ago. As for the next council president, it still looks like Ward 10 Councilman Luis Aponte has the upper hand to succeed to Solomon, but Ward 4 Councilman Nick Narducci has emerged as the strongest challenger. It’s worth noting that Narducci was close enough to Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza to make it onto the stage during his victory speech on election night.
6. One of the first major issues that will land on the desk of the next council president will be how to craft the process for tax stabilization agreements along the vacant I-195 land. The council’s Ways and Means Committee only started discussing creating a uniform process for city tax breaks over the last few weeks and no ordinance ever made it out of committee. We already know that the purchase and sale agreement for a private student housing project allows the developer to back out of the deal if a tax stabilization agreement isn’t reached by March 1. Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Salvatore told WPRI.com he is “committed to making the process more predictable and less political, so that potential developers have a level playing field,” but it’s unlikely Salvatore will have a leadership position if Aponte secures the presidency. For his part, Aponte says he wants to bring in people from the 195 Commission to talk the City Council early in 2015.
7. I learned this week that my 2001 Ford Taurus brings in less in tax revenue than the city pays to provide motor-vehicle related services per registered vehicle in the city. One way to fix that, according to a new report released by the Providence City Council, would be to impose a minimum tax – maybe $100 or $150 – on all cars valued below $3,000. At this point, no council member is proposing such a plan and any minimum tax would require a change in state law, but it does raise the question about whether the city is getting the bang for its buck when it comes to car taxes. (Don’t forget, the city saw its annual car tax revenue grow by 81% in 2011 when it lowered the tax rate from $76.78 per $1,000 of assessed value to $60 and the tax exemption from $6,000 to $1,000.) One option favored by Sam Bell from the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America would be to keep the same tax rate and exemption for low-value cars, but eliminate the tax break those with cars valued over $25,000 received as part of the 2011 changes.
8. Movers and shakers: Arianne Corrente is leaving her post at Harvard University to serve as Congressman David Cicilline’s district director … Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo will nominate Michael DiBiase for Director of Administration, Scott Jensen for Director of Labor and Training; and Melba Depena for Director of Human Services … Raimondo also appointed Jonathan Womer to oversee the Office of Management and Budget … Providence Mayor-elect has named Sheila Dormody his director of policy; Marisa O’Gara and Theresa Agonia his deputy chiefs of staff; and David Ortiz his senior adviser to the mayor and director of strategic communications … RIPR reports that for Republican Party Chairman Ken McKay is launching a political consulting firm.
9. Don’t forget, the new year brings a new minimum wage in Rhode Island and Massachusetts: $9 per hour. Here’s a breakdown of the 18 other states that also raised the minimum wage for 2015. It’s worth noting that Rhode Island’s sub-minimum wage for workers who earn tips will remain $2.89 per hour.
10. Here’s the key paragraph from House Speaker Nick Mattiello and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed’s big op-ed in the New England Real Estate Journal hailing the 10,000 jobs at Quonset Business Park: “The growth at Quonset has not happened overnight. However, with smart, thoughtful planning and a team effort from all levels of government the Business Park has become a major engine of economic growth for and job creation for Rhode Island. Quonset Business Park is a real success story, and we should all be encouraged by that success. The close to 200 companies growing there and the more than 10,000 people working there are helping to move Rhode Island forward.”
11. Speaking of Mattiello and Paiva Weed, there will be 18 new faces in the General Assembly when the legislative session begins in January. They’ll join a class of 1,325 new lawmakers across the country, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Rhode Island’s 7.9% turnover rate in the Senate and 20% turnover rate in the House are both slightly below the national average. Among each state’s House of Representatives, Arkansas, Maine, Maryland and Michigan all posted turnover rates above 40%. Among state Senates, Maine’s 28.6% turnover rate was by far the highest in the country.
12. Mattiello will welcome a more diverse House of Representatives than we’ve seen in recent years, thanks to the addition of Guatemalan-American Shelby Maldonado, Cape Verdean-American Jean Philippe Barros and Colombian-American Carlos Tobon. They join African-Americans Marvin Abney, Ray Hull and Joseph Almeida, Dominican-American Grace Diaz and Panamanian-American Anastasia Williams as the eight House members of color in 2015. Interestingly, that means Rhode Island will have a higher percentage of minority House members (11%) in 2015 than it had before the House was downsized from 100 to 75 members in 2003.
13. If you’re take a few days off next week, here are some great reads to help pass the time: How David Gregory lost his gig as host of Meet the Press … The secret world of stolen smartphones … GQ’s fascinating profile on Buzz Aldrin … Hunting internet trolls … Will race be an issue in the 2016 GOP presidential primary? … Fascinating read about the business of investing in young rappers … The Los Angeles Times on a former Assembly Speaker’s son being accused of murder … How the government can rate colleges and get it right … An interesting look at what it’s like to cover education … David Sedaris on working as an elf at Macy’s.
14. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Rob Armstrong, owner of Munroe Dairy. 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.