Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: Sept. 5

Happy Labor Day Weekend! 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. Larry Lucchino was out of the country this week, but when he gets back he’s going to have to take a serious look at whether it’s time to abandon Jim Skeffington’s dream of putting a PawSox stadium on the old 195 land. Take the initial construction estimate of $77 million, add Brown’s demand for $15 million, top on compensation to the federal government for the parkland, and the cost of the project has likely ballooned to well over $100 million. Opposition to taxpayer subsidies for the ballpark appears to be intense, giving Governor Raimondo little reason to stick her neck out on the issue. So what’s Plan B? Victory Plating is mentioned often, but there could be competition there from Lifespan. (“At this time we don’t have anything to say about that property,” the hospital giant’s spokeswoman told me this week.) There’s still McCoy Stadium, of course, but people close to the team are adamant publicly and privately that Lucchino and his co-owners have no interest in staying there – and in any event, at this point it’s not clear Rhode Island taxpayers would back significant spending to rehab McCoy anyway.

2. While the state’s attention has been focused on the Providence ballpark fight, the PawSox have been struggling to attract fans to their current home. Attendance at McCoy Stadium looks set to hit a two-decade low once the minor-league regular season ends Monday, with an average of 6,545 per game so far, down from 7,367 last year and a high of 9,561 back in 2005. At that pace, McCoy attendance will total about 466,000 this season, down almost 10% from last year. One explanation could be the PawSox’s record – as of Thursday they were stuck in last place, 22 games out of first. The big-league club’s woes probably haven’t helped, obviously. The negative publicity surrounding the new ballpark push could be keeping folks away, as well. The late Jim Skeffington would say McCoy’s age and location are partly to blame. The most ominous possibility is that minor-league baseball is just having more trouble attracting people these days – which raises additional questions for proponents of the Providence stadium.

3. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan (who celebrated his birthday Thursday): “He never mentioned it before, but Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said this week he thinks ‘there are a lot of natural advantages’ to building a new baseball stadium on the Victory Plating site located off Allens Avenue rather than the vacant I-195 land. Elorza said he first urged the late Jim Skeffington to consider the alternate site and has done the same with Larry Lucchino in recent weeks. Up to this point, Elorza has been fairly tight-lipped about where he stands on building a ballpark in Providence, especially compared to Council President Luis Aponte, who supports the concept but has made it clear he believes the city should be ‘made whole’ for the loss of any potential property taxes associated with the project. While everyone is now focusing on Brown’s demands, the ‘what does Providence get out of this?’ question has always been something that has concerned state leaders because, while it is entirely possible the city could be steamrolled into allowing a stadium to be built, no one wants an uncooperative mayor and City Council getting in the way. Elorza now says he doesn’t believe the city should ‘be out of pocket for even one cent of the costs of building or operating the stadium,’ meaning he wants to see a dedicated revenue stream for the city. Before he endorses any proposal, Elorza said he wants more due diligence done by the team. He also confirmed he’s made Brett Smiley, the city’s chief operating officer, his point person on the stadium moving forward.”

4. Mayor Elorza is sounding more lukewarm about the Providence streetcar project, too.

5. Add David Cicilline to the list of Hillary Clinton supporters who aren’t happy with how she’s handled the controversy over her email server. “I agree with you that this is an issue which has consumed a lot of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and it’s regrettable because she’s a woman who has a tremendous record of achievement,” Cicilline said on this week’s Newsmakers. He argued that Clinton’s record and policy positions provide her with a compelling message, “so every moment she’s speaking about emails or email coverage and not about those issues, I think, is unfortunate. The reality is, I think she’s acknowledged that she didn’t handle this well, and in retrospect having her own server was not a good idea and that she hasn’t communicated about it well.” Cicilline twice cited a USA Today op-ed by former U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins, a Clinton supporter who prosecuted David Petraeus, that insisted Clinton committed no crime. Still, he said, “this is not helpful to her campaign, and what I really wonder is – it would have been helpful if people around her, staffing her, maybe suggested this is not the right way to operate, here’s why.”

6. Congressman Cicilline also weighed in about the jailed Kentucky clerk. And he’s still struggling over whether to support the Iran deal.

7. Meanwhile, not one but two lawmakers from the Republican majority in the U.S. House are coming to Rhode Island later this month. North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry, a member of Speaker Boehner’s leadership team, will be at Brown University on Sept. 23 to headline a fundraiser for the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island. The following Sunday, Sept. 27, Florida Congressman David Jolly will hold a double-fundraiser at Madeira Restaurant, a Portuguese restaurant in East Providence. A 6 p.m. VIP reception will benefit Jolly’s bid to succeed Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate, and a 7 p.m. general reception will benefit the Rhode Island GOP. (“The Pats play early so there’s no conflict,” the organizers smartly noted on their invitation.)

8. Treasurer Magaziner is facing a big decision that’s flown under the radar so far: should AllianceBernstein keep the contract for Rhode Island’s $7-billion, low-ranked CollegeBoundfund 529 plan?

9. Before you get too excited about Governor Raimondo’s announcement that Rhode Island finished the 2015 fiscal year (which ended June 30) with a surplus of $166 million, keep in mind that most of that money probably doesn’t fit the average person’s definition of a “surplus.” When the General Assembly crafts the final budget compromise each spring, lawmakers bank on using the current year’s surplus to balance the next year’s budget. So the budget approved in June for the current fiscal year (which started July 1) was balanced by carrying over a $118.6 million surplus from the prior year. Thus, to figure out the surplus over the already-allocated surplus (the “surplus surplus”?), you have to take the number Raimondo announced this week and subtract the amount the General Assembly already used to plug a hole in this year’s budget. That gives you a “surplus surplus” of about $48 million. And that $48 million really is extra, unallocated money – with the caveat that the state is already facing a deficit of $125 million for next year, so it still isn’t enough to let the state start 2016-17 in the green.

10. CityLab’s Daniel Denvir, a newly minted Providence resident, makes a surprisingly compelling case for why Rhode Island should move to legalize recreational marijuana now. His argument: the train is leaving the station anyway, and the Ocean State could reap the benefits of a first-mover advantage if it goes first. It’s a provocative idea – to force Massachusetts leaders to play catchup the way they are with gambling.

11. Keep an eye on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a looming U.S. Supreme Court case that Slate’s Laura Moser says “could deliver a fatal blow to the financial health of already-imperiled public-employee unions.” Clearly, any decision that significantly shrinks Rhode Island unions’ treasuries could have a major impact on local politics.

12. EcoRI’s Tim Faulkner offers a closer look at the first update to Rhode Island’s official state energy plan since 2002.

13. Check out Bloomberg’s profile of Hasbro’s Mark Boudreaux, who has designed every Star Wars toy released since 1977.

14. Richard Saul Wurman – the TED Talks founder who once called Newport “an intellectual wasteland without any sense of humor” – is trying to sell his mansion there for $11 million.

15. Congrats to Queen Elizabeth, who’ll become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch on Wednesday.

16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Congressman David Cicilline. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – CharterCARE Health Partners CEO Les Schindel. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sunday nights at 6 on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. And you can subscribe to both shows as iTunes podcasts – click here for Executive Suite and click here for Newsmakers. 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

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