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1. Well, we’ve just about closed the books on 2017, and Monday begins a brand-new year. What does 2018 have in store for Rhode Island politics and business? Lacking a crystal ball – or much confidence in my forecasting powers – I’m going to skip the predictions and instead offer some questions whose answers we’ll likely be discussing next year. … How many candidates wind up running for governor on the September and November ballots, and who will they be? Who wins? Does the winner get a majority? … How hard-fought will other races be? … Will the pace of Rhode Island job and income growth pick up, slow down or remain the same? … How will the governor and lawmakers close the budget deficit? … How many General Assembly incumbents will face primary challengers? How many will retire? … Will President Trump’s job approval rise, fall or stay the same? … Will the state turn the corner on fixing UHIP, or will significant problems continue? … Will the House act on the PawSox stadium bill? Will Worcester (or another community) come up with an enticing alternative for the team? … Will Partners wind up buying Care New England? Will CVS wind up buying Aetna? … What unexpected events will take us by surprise on the local, national and international scenes? … The answers to some of these questions won’t be known for many months, but one thing’s for sure: it’s Rhode Island, so things are sure to stay interesting.
2. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner isn’t certain that Governor Raimondo will include in her budget a proposed $500 million in borrowing for school repairs, as suggested by the task force he helped lead. But he sounds confident something along those lines will be in the final document next month. “We’ll see what the governor puts in her budget,” Magaziner said Thursday on RIPR’s Political Roundtable (where I filled in as a panelist this week). “She, in all of our conversations, has been very open with the fact that she understands that we need to do something big to fix our schools, that we can’t let this problem continue to get worse every year, because the longer we wait the more these buildings are going to deteriorate and the more expensive [it will be] to fix them in the long run.”
3. Rhode Island’s estimated pension shortfall is up about 15% under the more conservative accounting assumptions the state adopted in May.
4. Sunday is the year-end deadline for campaign contributions. It’s a particularly important date in Rhode Island, because the $1,000 limit here is annual rather than over the course of an election cycle. That means a donor can give a candidate up to $4,000 over a four-year term, but only if he or she makes a $1,000 donation in each of the four years. (Put another way, a candidate could raise $2,000 from a contributor this Sunday and Monday – but only if the first $1,000 comes in Sunday and the second $1,000 comes in Monday.) Rhode Island’s announced gubernatorial candidates were sending a steady stream of fundraising emails in recent days to take advantage of the deadline. “I need your help before the year ends. New candidates for governor are threatening to turn our work around,” wrote Gina Raimondo. “With your backing, we will continue our quest of electing a strong and experienced leader for Rhode Island,” declared Allan Fung. “I will appoint a team of investigators reporting to me to identify and eliminate waste and corruption in state government,” promised Joe Trillo (whose email also trained its fire entirely on the Democratic incumbent, not his former GOP rivals). No emails at press time from Patricia Morgan, but did she give an upbeat interview to the website Big League Politics.
5. Speaker Mattiello and Mayor Fung were spotted Thursday evening having dinner at the Chapel Grille restaurant in their shared hometown of Cranston. So what were the Democratic Assembly leader and the Republican gubernatorial hopeful discussing? “As a representative from Cranston, Speaker Mattiello meets with Mayor Fung before every legislative session to review and coordinate budget and legislative priorities for the city,” Mattiello spokesman Larry Berman said. “He will meet with him again before the budget is enacted, and they work together throughout the session to focus on issues that are important to their city.” Fung spokesman Mark Schieldrop also said the legislative agenda was the focus. “The mayor and speaker meet frequently to talk about Cranston issues heading into new legislative sessions, including issues in the speaker’s district, Cranston and the state as a whole,” he said. Chapel View, a Carpionato Group development, is a favorite of both men – Mattiello has held Democratic caucuses and other functions at Chapel Grille, while Fung held his recent kickoff in another part of the complex.
6. Nearly a year after President Trump took office, the White House has yet to put forward nominees for Rhode Island’s vacant U.S. attorney and federal judge posts. There hasn’t been much news on the topic since a dust-up between the administration and Senators Reed and Whitehouse over the summer, and spokespersons for the two senators said this week there was nothing new to report. “Nothing’s happening,” R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell agreed Friday.
7. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “With the General Assembly back in session next week, it won’t be long before Providence officials begin making their case for state leaders to approve two big-ticket items: a bill that will allow the city to monetize its water supply, and more school aid. When it comes to water, Mayor Elorza has repeatedly said he believes the sale or lease of the water system is Providence’s best chance to solve its long-term pension problems. Last year he asked lawmakers to create a regional water authority that would have the power to buy or lease local water systems, but Speaker Mattiello killed the bill before it even got to a hearing. The prospects of that kind of bill passing in an election year also appear grim, but Elorza will at least need to do a better job laying the groundwork for it this year. School money seems like a safer ask, but it’s hard to imagine Providence getting an extra $14 million from the state the way it did in the current fiscal year. This was also the last year of Providence getting a big increase in funding through the phase-in of the state education funding formula, which means even if the state gives the city more money, it probably won’t be as much as it has seen in recent years. The good news is Providence is managing its short-term finances relatively well, so even if the state doesn’t come through next year, the city will survive. As long as there aren’t cuts.”
8. On what was otherwise a slow news week, Care New England kept things interesting. Rhode Island’s No. 2 hospital group made headlines Tuesday (disclosing a $6-million-plus loss for October and November), Wednesday (a one-month extension of its exclusive merger talks with Partners), and Thursday (a final OK to functionally close Memorial Hospital). Dr. James Fanale, who officially becomes CNE’s interim CEO on Monday, has expressed optimism that the system will be on a healthier footing next year as Memorial winds down operations.
9. The world’s most profitable company, Apple, turned to Rhode Island for help selling its most important product.
10. The Rhode Island minimum wage rises to $10.10 an hour on Monday, a 5.2% increase from the current rate of $9.60, which has been in place since January 2016. The Economic Policy Institute, which supports minimum-wage increases, estimates about 30,000 Rhode Island workers will get an immediate raise because they currently make less than the new $10.10 minimum. (For comparison purposes, the minimum wage is $11 in Massachusetts and $10.10 in Connecticut.) This will be the state’s fifth minimum wage increase since 2013, for a 30% increase over that period, from a starting point of $7.40. Lawmakers have already scheduled a sixth increase at the start of 2019, to $10.50.
11. Former state Rep. Dan Reilly, a Republican who retired in 2016, has dipped his toe back into the legislative waters – as the volunteer legislative-affairs director for the Rhode Island Coalition of Entrepreneurs, or RICE. The group, spotlighted recently by the website Rhode Island Inno, “is focused on representing the startup community in RI, companies that haven’t raised a lot (or anything in some cases), and are really setting the stage for the next big companies of tomorrow,” Reilly said in an email. “Great group, quite big and growing.” He added that people might be surprised “at the number of bootstrapped and angel/seed funded companies in Rhode Island.” Pat Sabatino, founder and CEO of the Providence tech firm Datarista, is leading the new organization.
13. Monday isn’t just New Year’s Day. It’s also an important date in Rhode Island history – the 83rd anniversary of the “Bloodless Revolution,” when Democrats ended decades of Republican domination of state politics. It’s quite a tale – check out my 2013 piece looking back at that fateful day on Smith Hill.
14. Rest in peace, Tom Morgan.
16. A 79-year study reveals “the biggest secret to success and happiness.”
17. Happy New Year to one and all!
18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – R.I. Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall. This week on Executive Suite – Rena Nathanson, founder, Bananagrams. 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.