Nesi’s Notes: Jan. 13

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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. Next week is a big one for Governor Raimondo: she will deliver her State of the State speech on Tuesday night and then release her proposed 2018-19 state budget on Thursday. Governors always use the State of the State to promote their policies and defend their records, but the task is especially crucial in an election year, when the address gives an incumbent the opportunity to speak to voters directly and at length. Yet the first-term Democrat won’t have much wiggle room to offer splashy new proposals, because she’s faced with a two-year deficit of roughly $260 million that her budget plan will need to close. How she goes about balancing the books – and how controversial her suggestions are – will play a key role in shaping debates at the State House over the coming weeks and months. One thing that’s a sure bet for the speech and the budget: a major commitment to spending on school construction, likely based on last month’s recommendations from the Magaziner-Wagner task force. “I plan to present a bold plan to the legislature to make a once-in-a-generation investment in rebuilding our schools,” Raimondo told reporters this week, as winter weather closed multiple local schools. The details and dollar amount on the schools plan will be debated, but there appears to be significant support in the General Assembly for prioritizing the issue.

2. The last time a Rhode Island governor delivered a State of the State in a re-election campaign year was 2006, when Don Carcieri was finishing his first term. So what issues were top of mind then? A Projo article at the time summarizes: “Carcieri promised to reduce the state’s middle-management ranks, ‘reform’ its ‘massive’ welfare system and seek new constitutional caps on year-to-year increases in state and local spending. Bemoaning the below-par performance of the state’s urban schools, he proposed a longer school day for students, a longer school year for teachers, and combining Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket into a ‘single metropolitan school district.'” In hindsight 2006 can seem like a high point for Rhode Island before the Great Recession began to take its toll the following year. But even then, Rhode Islanders weren’t feeling particularly optimistic: a Brown poll in mid-2006 found only 42% of Rhode Island voters thought the state was headed in the right direction at the time.

3. The Brown University-Prospect Medical bid for Care New England is a major development in the state’s health care debate. While CNE quickly dismissed the idea and reaffirmed its commitment to a merger with Boston giant Partners HealthCare, Brown President Christina Paxson made clear the announcement was aimed in part at catching the attention of Rhode Island leaders and residents. “I think it’s important for people to understand the risks that come with an organization like Partners that’s out-of-state coming into Rhode Island, and I think it’s important for people in Rhode Island to understand that there are alternatives,” Paxson told reporters. Other than Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who quickly praised the idea, state leaders generally greeted the Brown-Prospect announcement cautiously. “I’m looking forward to learning more about this Brown proposal,” Congressman David Cicilline said on Friday’s Newsmakers. “But I think she’s raised some very serious issues that are of real concern, and I think this is kind of an interesting idea of Brown playing a role in preserving this important health-care delivery system. So I want to learn more about it. I think it’s an exciting idea.”

4. Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio are battling again.

5. The legislative fundraising season kicks off Wednesday evening with Speaker Mattiello’s annual reception, which will take place at the Marriott on Orms Street. After the speaker comes Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Jan. 25 at the Renaissance’s Public Kitchen & Bar), House Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi (Feb. 1 at the Warwick Crowne Plaza), and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (Feb. 8, also at the Crowne Plaza).

6. Pawtucket voters will go to the polls Feb. 27 and April 3 for the special election to fill Jamie Doyle’s Senate seat following his resignation this week. The potentially large field of candidates will be known in one week, with a Jan. 19 deadline for them to file to run.

7. Striking stat: Walt Buteau reports DCYF has lost about 20% of its funding over the last decade once you adjust for inflation.

8. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “If state leaders needed a better reason to invest in school repairs across the state than the $2.2 billion in problems that have already been identified, the busted pipes and heat problems at several suburban schools this week probably put things over the top. But while Governor Raimondo will likely use part of her State of the State to pitch a bond initiative to begin addressing school infrastructure challenges, it will be worth seeing whether the General Assembly has the appetite to do even more than placing a question on the November ballot. Remember, the generational investment a state task force recommended last month is not an all-at-once proposal. It assumes $250 million will be borrowed this year and again in 2022 and suggests the state should continue spending at least $80 million a year to reimburse cities and towns for various projects. One possible other option would be expanding the state’s annual reimbursement closer to $100 million while incentivizing municipalities to move quickly to fix the worst problems. There’s also the question about whether Rhode Island should follow Massachusetts’ lead and actually commit a percentage of tax revenue to school repairs. (The argument against this is Rhode Island doesn’t have as many revenue sources as Massachusetts.) It’s difficult to imagine the ballot question will generate much opposition. But nothing else is a guarantee.”

9. National Grid’s announcement that it would lower its rate increase because of the new tax law wound up triggering a partisan war of words.

10. Pat Sabatino and Dan Reilly, two leaders of the recently formed Rhode Island Coalition of Entrepreneurs, are my guests on this week’s Executive Suite. The group, which has roughly 40 members and continues to grow, seeks to bring together high-growth local startups. So what’s the biggest challenge faced by its members? An old perennial: access to capital.

11. American Bankers Association President and CEO Robert Nichols, one of the nation’s most influential lobbyists, will be in Rhode Island on March 22 to speak at the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting at Quidnessett Country Club. More info here.

12. Senator Whitehouse was reportedly spotted Monday night at a screening of “The Post” hosted by 20th Century Fox at National Geographic’s headquarters.

13. Southern New England is not, apparently, much of a college football mecca. Sports Business Daily reports the Providence TV market posted the lowest rating among major metro areas for the Alabama/Georgia title game on Monday night, a 9.9. (The rating in Birmingham? 57.6!)

14. Two interesting events coming up Thursday at Providence College. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s youngest daughter, Bernice King, will give the keynote address at PC’s MLK Symposium, part of a week-long series of events at the school honoring the slain civil-rights leader. And if you’re looking to reflect on President Trump’s first year in office, RIPR’s Ian Donnis will moderate a public forum at 7 p.m. at PC’s Slavin Center featuring reflections from Brandon BellJoe CammaranoGabriela DomenzainDevin Driscoll and Lisa Pelosi. More information here.

15. CommonWealth Magazine on the 25th anniversary of K-12 reform in Massachusetts, an oft-discussed topic down here in Rhode Island.

16. The 1968 book that tried to predict life in 2018.

17. Andrew Rawnsley on the enduring legend of Winston Churchill.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Congressman David Cicilline. This week on Executive SuitePat Sabatino and Dan Reilly of the Rhode Island Coalition of Entrepreneurs. 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 is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook