Nesi’s Notes: July 29

The Saturday Morning Post | Quick hits on politics and more in RI

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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. After a month of charges, countercharges, public drama and private diplomacy, Rhode Island may soon have a new state budget. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello appear to have an agreement in principle that would end the stalemate, though the details aren’t being released yet. The expectation is that the Senate will return and pass the original House-approved budget, in exchange for the House agreeing that a few years down the road there will be a reexamination of whether the car tax phaseout is affordable. A caucus of Senate Democrats has been called for Monday afternoon to ensure the votes are there for the compromise – if so, then Mattiello and Ruggerio will presumably inform the public of the terms of their détente. After that the Senate could return within a few days to formally approve the budget, and Governor Raimondo could quickly sign it, perhaps by week’s end. (Her team had already signaled she was otherwise ready to start turning up the heat publicly on the two legislative leaders.) If all goes according to the plan, both chambers will return to Smith Hill in September to handle the unfinished business left over from the end-of-session meltdown, as well as – at least on the Senate side – the PawSox.

2. If lawmakers don’t manage to pass a budget next week, though, Rhode Island could set a modern-day record for delay. State Librarian Megan Hamlin-Black reports that in the last 50 years the latest date a budget has passed was Aug. 7, 1995 – the only time it ever took until August. That was Lincoln Almond’s first year as governor, when negotiations between the new Republican administration and Democratic legislative leaders bogged down over proposed cuts to pensions and local aid. Aug. 7 falls a week from Monday this year, so the current impasse will have to last beyond next week to break that record.

3. Also notable from the state librarian’s research: as recently as 1984, the General Assembly managed to pass a budget on May 9 – astoundingly early by today’s standards, when mid-June passage is seen as notably timely. May passage was actually the norm from 1967 to 1984, with the budget passing before June in all but three of those years. Since then, however, the earliest passage was in 1988 – June 2.

4. Even though she’s yet to sign the budget that would authorize it, Governor Raimondo is publicizing her proposed new program to offer two years of free tuition at CCRI. “I know there are a lot of questions about the Rhode Island Promise scholarship, so I wanted to take a minute to talk to you about it,” Raimondo said Friday in her (new) weekly video address. “First, the most important thing: the scholarship will be available this fall semester.” It’s not the first time the governor has made that assertion, and it’s raised hackles since the legal and spending authority for the program won’t be law until the pending budget passes. Raimondo spokesman David Ortiz on Friday again declined to discuss specifics of how she would fund the program in the absence of a budget, saying there are “administrative options” that can be used if needed. However, he said, “we’re more optimistic that we’re going to get past this budget impasse next week” and therefore there’s “no need to deal in theoreticals.”

5. It’s been more than four months since Peter Neronha and other holdover U.S. attorneys resigned at the Trump administration’s request, and there’s growing chatter about his likely run for Rhode Island attorney general in 2018. My colleague Tim White checked in with Neronha on Friday to see how close he is to making an announcement. “I’ve spent the summer thinking about what’s next and I haven’t completely decided,” Neronha told Tim. “I’m leaning strongly to running in that race, but I haven’t made up my mind.” He noted that he hasn’t taken a private-sector job because he wanted to weigh whether to run for AG. “I’ve met with a lot of people and the feedback I’m getting is encouraging,” he said. Either way, Neronha expects to make a decision by “early fall.”

6. Another potential candidate generating buzz this summer is state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, the Providence progressive, widely seen as a possible challenger to Lt. Gov. Dan McKee in next year’s Democratic primary. Regunberg isn’t going there yet – but he’s leaving the door wide open. “2018 is a long way off, and my primary focus right now is getting paid sick days across the legislative finish line for over 100,000 Rhode Islanders who need it,” Regunberg said Friday. “I am also trying to gather input from community members around our state on how I can be most effective in elevating the issues I’ve always fought for – putting government on the side of working people, taking bold climate action, standing up for reproductive rights. That’s a deliberative conversation I look forward to continuing.”

7. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “When you take a look at who holds the top jobs in city government, one thing that stands out is the rising influence of women both in the Elorza administration and on the City Council. On the mayor’s side, his new chief operating officer (Melissa Malone), chief of staff (Nicole Pollock), chief policy officer (Kate Sabatini), communications director (Emily Crowell) and planning director (Bonnie Nickerson) are all female, a fact Mayor Elorza regularly points to with pride. On the City Council, Democrat Nirva LaFortune appears poised to become the fifth woman to join the 15-member legislative body after the special election in Ward 3 next month. Councilwoman Sabina Matos remains the acting president and chief of staff Cyd McKenna has managed to to keep the focus on policy despite two years of chaos within the council.  Of course, this isn’t the first time women have held a lot of power in City Hall. Under Mayor Joe Paolino in the 1980s, Barbara Cottam was press secretary and Elizabeth Burke Bryant was the city’s policy director. Under Mayor David Cicilline, Deb Brayton, Carol Grant and Alix Ogden all held powerful positions. And Arianne Corrente was among the most talented people on Mayor Angel Taveras’s staff. Long before Matos was elevated to president, the City Council elected Councilwoman Evelyn Fargnoli to the job, and Councilwoman Balbina Young was acting president following Operation Plunder Dome. But there is still one glass ceiling left to be broken: Providence has never elected a female mayor.”

8. Is Providence still Crimetown? Dan McGowan reports.

9. Election integrity is getting more attention than ever nationally and locally, between President Trump’s controversial commission and Ken Block’s new report on voters registered at ineligible addresses, as well as reports about Russian meddling last year. In Block’s case, a key finding was that 225 Rhode Island voters in the 2016 election were registered at addresses that aren’t allowed. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea says those cases are being examined by the Board of Elections and local canvassers, who will decide what if any remedy is necessary. But she is adamant that there is no reason to question the results of Rhode Island elections. “I am completely confident of that,” she said on this week’s Newsmakers. Gorbea cited the fact that Rhode Island, unlike some states, recently bought voting machines with four layers of security and paper ballots. “Some of the issues talked about at a national level are very specific to other states where they have only touchscreen, for example, machines,” she said. “That would be a real disaster, in my opinion.”

10. Secretary Gorbea also said a report she commissioned on the effects of Rhode Island’s voter ID law will be completed “over the next year or so.”

11. It’s a testament to just how low-key U.S. Sen. Jack Reed’s public persona is that getting caught using a four-letter word (and not even the worst one!) caused such a stir this week. As Sam Howard quipped on Twitter, an alternative headline for the story could have been, “Former Paratrooper Curses.” Reed’s political operation didn’t try to capitalize on the national attention with a fundraising email as some would, preferring to let the episode die out after a news cycle.

12. The future of No. 2 hospital group Care New England continues to be one of the big Rhode Island stories of the year. Due diligence on its takeover deal with Partners HealthCare is now continuing into a fourth month, but both companies insist that’s not a sign either side’s commitment is wavering. Then on Thursday came the news that Women & Infants President Mark Marcantano was stepping down immediately, leaving no permanent appointee in either of the top two jobs at CNE’s flagship hospital. As one health care expert noted to me, though, Care New England could be clearing the decks so Partners can put its own people in place.

13. Sean Spicer is making the rounds in New York for his next act.

14. Local GOP fundraiser Russ Taub reports South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson is scheduled to be in Rhode Island for a dinner fundraiser on Aug. 10. (You may remember when Wilson yelled “You lie!” at President Obama during the 2009 State of the Union.)

15. How’s this for a small world? Last month Puerto Rico held a non-binding referendum on whether the territory should become a state. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea was there visiting family, and as a former government employee in the commonwealth found herself drafted to serve as an election observer – only to discover that another Rhode Islander, former R.I. Republican Party Chairman Giovanni Cicione, was serving in the same role. Cicione quipped at the news conference after the vote, “I’m not allowed to say anything negative in comparison to the Rhode Island voting system … because our secretary of state is standing next to me.” They were among roughly a dozen observers who watched over the election, Gorbea said.

16. The name Peter Dennehy will be familiar to State House veterans – he served in state government for more than 33 years, finishing his career as a deputy chief legal counsel. Now Dennehy has switched from serving on staff to having one – last fall he won a four-year term on the Barrington Town Council, elected by 22 votes. “In June 2016 the Barrington Republican Party was looking for candidates for three Town Council positions and I had the time and interest to run,” Dennehy told me in an email. “I ran a low-budget campaign and relied on walking the town, often accompanied by neighbors.” Barrington’s council usually meets on the first Monday night of the month, and each member serves as a liaison to four or five boards or committees. “For our labors, each council member is compensated $500 a year,” Dennehy reports. He added: “I have read with interest what is going on with the General Assembly. Having done so, I am very glad to have the opportunity to serve as a legislator for the town of Barrington.”

17. Seth MacFarlane of “Family Guy” fame recently donated $1.25 million to RISD, his alma mater, to establish a new endowed scholarship fund. “Once the first MacFarlane Scholar – a current undergraduate or graduate student in need – is identified this spring, a full-tuition scholarship will kick in for the 2017/18 academic year and assist that student through graduation,” RISD reported earlier this year in its alumni magazine. “Studying at RISD was one of the best decisions I have made,” MacFarlane told the magazine.

18. Millennials are set to pass baby boomers as the largest generation of American eligible voters next year. Ron Brownstein looks at what that means for politics.

19. What does the death of reading mean for society?

20. Sprudge offers a coffee lover’s guide to Providence.

21. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. This week on Executive SuiteBruce Lane, president of the R.I. Association of Realtors; Fred Magnanimi, founder of Luca + Danni. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sundays at 6 p.m. 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. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

An earlier version of this article listed Congressman Wilson’s state incorrectly.

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