Happy Saturday. Ted took Friday off to Christmas shop, but he’ll be back next week. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, and follow @danmcgowan and @tednesi on Twitter.
1. While roads and bridges will remain among her top priorities in 2016, Governor Raimondo continues to signal that education will be a significant focus in her second year in office. “We’re not getting the job done in these public schools,” Raimondo said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. She pointed to the state’s woeful PARCC results to suggest “we’ve got a lot of work to do,” but stopped short of offering any detailed ideas for how she plans to get that done. Part of her strategy, no doubt, will be to reform the education funding formula, although it remains unclear if that means tinkering around the margins to calm tensions among traditional public schools and charter schools or taking a deeper look at issues like money for schools with more English language learners or special needs students. You can also expect her to continue to call for more Rhode Islanders to earn their college degree because, as she often points out, 70% of well-paying jobs in the state require a postsecondary degree. “I have to make Rhode Island a place of talent before I can make it place of opportunity,” she said.
2. The Boston Globe reports that General Electric is putting off its decision on where to move its headquarters until January. For her part, Governor Raimondo wouldn’t comment on any conversations she’s had with officials from the company, but she did say she is optimistic about bringing business to Rhode Island. “This year I’ve spent a lot of time talking to companies and things are going to start to come fruition,” she said.
3. The governor also said she isn’t as concerned about the city of Providence as others, even declaring that “the city is not close to bankruptcy.” She’s probably right about that. Yes, Moody’s did cut the city’s financial outlook to negative and the city did end the fiscal year with a $5-million deficit (after the Elorza administration predicted a $27,000 shortfall), but it still has several outs before a receiver steps in. One of those options includes raising the owner-occupied residential property tax rate, a possibility City Council members aren’t ruling out for next year. (Remember, while Providence has the highest car tax in the state and the third-highest commercial rate, there are 19 communities with higher residential rates than the city.) While Raimondo said she believes Providence can stay afloat as long as it controls costs and makes the right decisions, she also said she’s going to keep an eye on the situation. “I talk to the mayor all the time,” she said. “If I decide that it’s going in the wrong direction, I wouldn’t hesitate at that point to take a more active role.”
4. One final note on Governor Raimondo. The governor said she doesn’t want to release possible toll locations until she is more confident legislation will be approved.
5. A dispatch from Ted Nesi: “Congratulations to Margie O’Brien Reed, who is set to be officially named the new host of Capitol TV, the General Assembly’s broadcasting arm, next week. Reed is a former WJAR-TV and Fox 25 reporter who has spent the last three years as a producer at Rhode Island PBS, most notably piloting its long-running ‘Lively Experiment’ weekend show. Reed takes over from the late Dave Barber, who passed away earlier this year, and will likely be looking to take the taxpayer-funded channel in a new direction. She’ll make $70,000, a good bit more than the $40,000-$55,000 range the job was advertised for, though still less than Barber’s final salary.”
6. Another dispatch from Ted Nesi: “The Brookings Institution team working on a high-profile report about Rhode Island’s economic future was in town again this week to speak at Governor Raimondo’s end-of-year summit and hold another round of meetings with local leaders. Bruce Katz and Mark Muro, the two Brookings experts leading the project, told me they expect to release their report in mid-January – not coincidentally, just in time for their recommendations to be incorporated into Raimondo’s 2016-17 budget proposal. Expect lots of new data about the current state of Rhode Island’s economy, paired with legislation-ready recommendations for how to capitalize on the opportunities Brookings uncovers. ‘No one will walk away and say we weren’t specific,’ Katz said. ‘They may disagree with the framework or what we think drives an advanced economy, but the strategies will be spelled out.’ Katz and Muro singled out the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport as an under-appreciated local asset the state could do more to capitalize on. And they emphasized that their proposals won’t be all government-focused, but will also suggest positive actions the private and academic sectors can take on their own.”
7. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Rhode Island Medicaid Director Anya Rader Wallack – who formerly led HealthSource RI – lays out the financial and technological challenges to running state-based health insurance exchanges.
8. One more dispatch from Ted Nesi: “Jim Armstrong, a Rhode Island native who rose from ABC6 anchor to well-respected reporter at Boston’s WBZ-TV, announced on Facebook Friday that he’s leaving the news business to take a job back here in his home state. Armstrong will join Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island as the insurer’s public relations manager in the new year.”
9. I thought there would be more to report from this week’s arbitration hearing between the city of Providence and its firefighters’ union, but arbitrator Lawrence T. Holden Jr. went back on his word and forced me to leave the meeting. All we know now is that the two sides are trying to decide whether to consolidate a slew of grievances filed by firefighters into one case or allow them to continue independently. (The sides are expected to make that decision before the end of the year.) Either way, the stakes are high. Earlier this year, internal auditor Matt Clarkin submitted a memo to the City Council outlining three possible outcomes: If firefighters are retroactively awarded time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked in excess of an average of 42 hours, Clarkin projected the cost for the city would be about $9.6 million in the current fiscal year. If firefighters are simply paid straight time for all hours worked, the city would owe about $6.7 million, according to Clarkin. If an arbitrator awarded a 10% pay increase – up from the 8% Mayor Elorza gave them Aug. 2 – the cost would be about $586,000. Bottom line: “Somebody is going to have a big win and somebody is going to have a big loss,” Carly Iafrate, one of the state’s most well-respected labor attorneys, told me this week. Of course, it’s entirely possible none of the scenarios Clarkin explored will be the end result. Iafrate said it’s possible that the arbitrator will ask the two sides to attempt to reach a settlement in order to avoid making a final decision himself. Iafrate said the process could take up to six months – and that’s before any possible appeals.
10. So what do we know about arbitrator Lawrence T. Holden Jr.? The Boston-based attorney holds degrees from Dartmouth, Boston University and Harvard Law and has been involved in several high-profile cases over the course of his 45-year career. One of the most interesting involves the National Hockey League. In 2000, Holden ruled that Ottawa Senators superstar Aleksei Yashin would be required to play for the team for one year after he sat out the previous season due to a contract dispute. The NHL terminated its agreement with Holden later that year. Holden has also been involved with arbitration hearings in Major League Baseball, the city of Boston and the state of Connecticut.
11. Speaking of Providence legal battles, the city scored a victory this week when a judge agreed to dismiss former Mayor Joseph Paolino’s lawsuit over a tax-stabilization agreement. Paolino filed his suit in February after Nortek Inc. left a property he owned for 500 Exchange St., whose owner benefits from a generous tax break from the city. The former mayor argued that the deal was unfair.
12. Sen. James Sheehan says he’ll be back with another ethics bill in the 2016 legislative session. In a letter sent Friday to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sheehan said his new proposal strikes a balance between 2014 legislation that was approved in the Senate and died in the House and a 2015 bill that went nowhere. Sheehan said his legislation adds more clarity to the speech in debate immunity policy for lawmakers, preserves a provision that entitles those found guilty of an ethics violation to a trial by jury if the violation is criminal in nature, and keeps the state Ethics Commission at nine members.
13. RIC President Nancy Carriuolo isn’t the only local higher-education leader who headed for the exits this month. Divina Grossman, chancellor of UMass Dartmouth since 2012, is also leaving her post – even more quickly than Carriuolo. The New Bedford Standard-Times’ Jack Spillane has an inside look at what’s going on at UMass Dartmouth.
14. With the special election for the Senate District 11 seat just over two weeks ago, Democrats are ramping up their efforts to elect primary winner James Seveney to the seat previously held by Republican Chris Ottiano. Seveney snagged another endorsement this week when the Rhode Island Young Democrats backed his bid. He’s facing GOP nominee John Pagliarini Jr., who has the backing of Portsmouth resident John Robitaille. The election is Jan. 5.
15. Former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras is coming back to the capital city … to teach. Taveras, a Democrat who served one term as mayor and now works as an attorney at Greenberg Traurig LLP, will teach a course called “Leadership in the City and Beyond” during the spring semester at Providence College, according to Steven Maurano, a spokesman for the school. Maurano said Taveras will “blend classics on leadership theory and practice with biographies, and teach the course around 11 traits he has identified as essential for public leaders.”
16. Congratulations to Providence Journal vice president and editorial pages editor Ed Achorn, who reports on Facebook that his book, “The Summer of Beer and Whiskey,” has been optioned for a movie. He said that could mean the book will be turned into a series or film.
17. An Atlantic series serves up the backstories behind famous Christmas songs.
18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Gov. Gina Raimondo. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Buck Harris, vice president of Community Investment Corporation; Mike Murphy, president and CEO of Dryvit Systems. 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.