Nesi’s Notes: Aug. 5

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. It took a month longer than usual, but Rhode Island finally has a new state budget. (It was officially enacted on Aug. 3, so 1995 remains the record-holder for longest budget delay of the last 50 years.) For all the attention the legislative stalemate got throughout July, the final budget is exactly the same as the one the House passed way back on June 22 – a win for Speaker Mattiello, who was determined not to give up the House’s historic primacy on the budget. “I knew we had to do something relatively soon,” Senate President Ruggerio said Thursday. “I didn’t want to put the cities and towns in the situation that they were talking about. … I don’t think it could have gone on much longer.” As a consolation prize, the Senate will get a mandated annual report on whether the car-tax phaseout is affordable – but not until 2021, when $116 million of the $221-million phaseout will already be locked in. It’s too early, though, to say the Senate got next to nothing for its efforts. First off, both chambers are returning to the State House on Sept. 19 – keep an eye on which bills move, and whose priorities they are. The PawSox bill, a Senate priority much more than a House one, is still on the table. And this year’s blowup could affect the terms of engagement for next year’s budget negotiations. “I think there probably should be a new normal,” Senate Finance Committee Secretary Ryan Pearson said this week. We’ll see.

2. Speaker Mattiello gave a hint about what to expect from the Sept. 19 day of legislating during an interview Thursday with WPRO’s Dan Yorke. “There’s some important bills that I think both sides want to pass,” Mattiello told him. “The domestic-violence bill, there’s a lot of interest in the sick-leave bill – so there’s bills that are important to a lot of people that we’re going to address.” He added, “I think what you’re going to find is that the sick-leave bill – I believe right now – [will be passed] as the House proposed and negotiated, and the domestic-violence bill will be passed as the Senate last voted and negotiated. So it’ll probably be split down the middle. The last product of both chambers was probably the best of the items on both bills.” Another to watch: Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey’s long-sought package of criminal-justice reform bills.

3. It’s possible Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio might both have retired by the time the first of those car-tax affordability reports comes out. It would arrive after the November 2020 election, following Mattiello’s seventh session as speaker and Ruggerio’s third as president (should they run and win new terms in 2018). Mattiello has said before he sees himself staying in the job for a while, and specific to the car-tax phaseout, he said in June, “I’m going to stick around long enough that it gets accomplished.” Ruggerio hasn’t said much about how long he wants to wield the gavel, but 2020 would be his 40th year in the General Assembly.

4. The documents released by RIC this week regarding Frank Montanaro’s free-tuition arrangement make clear his deal was not standard practice: it took multiple threats of union grievances for him to keep the benefit, and the college’s leaders made sure to state in one of their settlements with him that they still didn’t think he should be getting it. Speaker Mattiello continues to argue the fault there is with RIC for not fighting Montanaro harder, rather than with Montanaro for pressing the college for the benefit. “I didn’t say it shouldn’t have been taken – it shouldn’t have been given,” Mattiello emphasized to Dan Yorke, adding, “The administration really has to roll up their sleeves and look at this and study this and make sure it doesn’t happen in cases like this.” Higher-ed chief Brenda Dann Messier has ordered such a study, due next month, but RIC has already made clear Montanaro’s treatment was unique. Republican Chairman Brandon Bell, meanwhile, is keeping the focus squarely on Montanaro and Mattiello, accusing them both of making multiple “misleading” misstatements as the scandal has unfolded. Bell added, “The R.I. Republican Party will be informing the voters of Mattiello’s district in the near future about Montanaro’s scam and how Mattiello has misled the voters about it and is allowing Montanaro to get away with it.”

5. Governor Raimondo and AG Kilmartin, who’ve had a bit of a tense relationship lately, are scheduled to be side by side Monday for a ceremonial signing of various bills targeting the opioid crisis. The announcement of their joint appearance is a reminder of the pair’s biggest disagreement – whether to open up the 38 Studios grand jury records. Rep. Charlene Lima passed a bill in June to release the material, and Raimondo has pledged to sign it over the objections of Kilmartin, who already got a court order to block it. Lima’s bill has yet to reach the governor’s desk, however: as of Friday, the House still hadn’t taken the formal step of transmitting it to Raimondo for her signature. Spokesman Larry Berman reports legislative leaders are waiting until Sept. 19 so the Senate version can also get passed and transmitted.

6. Governor Raimondo will face various challenges in her 2018 re-election race, but money probably won’t be one of them. Raimondo’s campaign disclosed this week she has now stockpiled $2.67 million for her run, even after spending $100,000 in the last quarter. (Expenses included lots of plane tickets – including $903 on Cape Air in June – and $7,000 with Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie.) Raimondo allies are confident her financial edge – which is only set to grow – will provide a crucial advantage next year, even if her approval rating is middling. The Republican Governors Association, meanwhile, took the opportunity to criticize Raimondo for failing to refund donations from a Boston law firm that’s currently under investigation over campaign contributions. Asked for a response, Raimondo fundraiser Kate Ramstad said her campaign team “will assess whether further action is needed pending the conclusion of the legal process.”

7. House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan says she’s gotten a good response to the letter she sent last month seeking input on whether she should run for governor, and is “leaning towards doing it.” She said she’ll decide in the fall. “You know, a lot of it is about now making sure I have the resources to run a good race – the governor has $3 million; you can’t run a race with $200,000 against $3 million,” she said. “I’m working on it.” Morgan currently has $8,000 on hand, while Cranston Mayor Allan Fung leads the GOP field by a wide margin, with $180,000. “I think as you saw in the recent filings, a lot of people are supporting me, particularly those that are in-state,” Fung said. “I’m focused just on the fundraising aspect at this point, and we’re going to make sure we have all the necessary I’s dotted and T’s crossed as we proceed further.” He refused to be drawn out on timing. Former Rep. Joe Trillo has $5,000 on hand but the personal resources to self-fund at least part of a campaign; he tells me he will likely make a formal announcement at the end of the year.

8. Believe it or not, members of Rhode Island’s chattering class are already swapping theories about the race for governor – the 2022 race for governor. With the Democratic nomination locked up for Gina Raimondo next year, at least in the eyes of establishment candidates, that’s the next time there’ll be an open primary for the job. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea are both seen as likely candidates if they can win re-election, and if he’s elected attorney general next year, Peter Neronha would also be encouraged to run. Congressman Jim Langevin has flirted with the idea, too. (Don’t forget, 2022 is the year Rhode Island is expected to lose one of its two congressional seats.) Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza will be term-limited from running for mayor again, assuming he’s re-elected; would he look at it? Lt. Gov. Dan McKee – or Aaron Regunberg, if he succeeds in his expected 2018 primary challenge against McKee – could also be on the list.

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9. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “With Mayor Elorza’s war chest already approaching $500,000, will anyone step up to challenge his re-election bid next year? Let’s just say the list of potential opponents was much longer a year ago than it is today. With former City Council President Michael Solomon starting his new job with Elorza on Monday and former Mayor Joe Paolino repeatedly saying he will not be a candidate, the big-name folks with the money to self-fund a campaign appear to be out of the picture. Others who might like to be mayor someday – Rep. Aaron Regunberg, acting City Council President Sabina Matos, Councilmen John Igliozzi and David Salvatore, School Board President Nick Hemond, former School Board President Keith Oliveira, and gubernatorial chief of staff Brett Smiley – all seem unlikely to take a shot against Elorza now. Those who closely monitor city politics are also pitching No. 3 Senate Democrat Maryellen Goodwin, Rep. Ray Hull, Rep. John Lombardi, activist Kobi Dennis and former school Superintendent Robert de Robbio, but none of them have publicly said they intend to run for mayor. There’s good reason to hesitate: the power of incumbency is real. No sitting Providence mayor has lost a re-election bid since Joe Doorley in 1974 to Buddy Cianci, and with Elorza term-limited in 2022, ambitious up-and-comers may think it’s better to wait for the open seat. On the other hand, there’s a reason folks keep asking who is going to run. The mayor has struggled to build relationships with political insiders and isn’t adored in any part of the city, which leads the chattering class to believe he’s vulnerable. But with taxes not going up and $45 million in infrastructure improvements on the horizon, beating Elorza would appear to be an uphill battle.”

10. Speaker Mattiello had a beautiful day Tuesday for the third annual Speaker’s Scramble, his yearly charitable golf tournament, held at the Valley Country Club in West Warwick this year. The 128 players who participated raised about $20,000 for the Women & Infants Hospital Development Foundation. (Previous tourneys benefited Hasbro Children’s Hospital and the Rhode Island Special Olympics.) House Judiciary Chairman Cale Keable wins for best shorts.

11. Unfortunately, Women & Infants could use that money: Care New England just posted a nine-month operating loss of $46 million, though the company says the red ink is easing.

12. Congressman Langevin and a colleague attended DefCon, the world’s largest hacker convention, last week in Las Vegas. The Parallax reports it’s the first time sitting congressmen have ever attended the gathering.

13. Gilbane is one of the most storied names in Rhode Island business, founded by immigrants who fled the Irish famine, and still owned by the same family. CEO Mike McKelvy took the top job last year, becoming the first non-Gilbane to run the company. So far, so good: McKelvy said Gilbane posted record sales in 2015 and 2016, and is on track to do so again in 2017. Whether it’s a Trump effect or not, McKelvy said he’s definitely seen an upswing in corporate spending on big projects in recent months. “That may or may not have anything to do with the presidential election – it may just be that it’s time for a change,” he said on this week’s Executive Suite. “But definitely our clients are not holding back. We see a positive momentum on the client side in investment – people are planning to spend money this year – and some markets that have been historically dormant, like industrial, are starting to come back.” Gilbane recently recommitted to keeping its base in Rhode Island, investing $10 million to renovate its Providence headquarters.

14. My colleague Diana Pinzon answers a question I’ve wondered about, too: where did Rhode Island’s 1st and 5th Division District Courts go?

15. What would a 4.5% Massachusetts sales tax mean for Rhode Island?

16. State governments should stop giving businesses $75-million loans.

17. Judge Caprio goes viral with a feature on DailyMail.com.

18. An important read on what newsrooms need to do for working moms.

19. Don’t miss this Atlantic piece: “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”

20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – “Crimetown” creators Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pointer. This week on Executive Suite – Gilbane Building Co. President and CEO Michael McKelvy. 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