Mattiello calls closed-door caucus of House Dems to talk PawSox

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has called a caucus of House Democrats to take their temperatures on the Pawtucket Red Sox stadium proposal, one day after the proposal cleared the Senate.

Mattiello spokesman Larry Berman said the caucus will take place Thursday at 3 p.m. in the House Lounge, and will be closed to reporters. All but 11 of the House’s 75 members are Democrats, so the vast majority of the chamber’s lawmakers are invited.

“The speaker wants to hear the opinions of his Democratic colleagues on the PawSox’ proposal,” Berman said in an email. “He will still be scheduling a House Finance Committee hearing on the Senate-passed bill, but he wants the members to weigh in with their thoughts.”

The bill that passed the Senate on 26-9 vote Tuesday authorizes state and city taxpayers to cover $38 million of the estimated $83-million cost of a new baseball stadium for the AAA team. Supporters including the bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic Sen. William Conley, have insisted tax revenue in and around the ballpark will more than cover the taxpayer share.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, was the most vocal supporter of the team’s initial 2015 plan for a stadium in Providence, but he has been much cooler on the proposal for a new facility in Pawtucket to replace aging McCoy Stadium. The speaker has not promised to bring the ballpark bill up for a vote in the House once it’s heard in committee.

Mattiello did not sound enthused about taking up the stadium issue Tuesday night when reporters asked him about the House’s next steps.

“When we get it, we’ll take a look at it,” he said. “I know it’s of some concern to some people.”

“Unfortunately, it comes at the exact same time we’re going to be getting a budget,” Mattiello added, referring to the scheduled release of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal Thursday. “And when we get a budget, you know that our fiscal staff and our Finance Committee concentrates on nothing but that for two weeks. But we’re going to have to look at it, and figure out how we juggle.”

Mattiello has floated the possibility of putting the PawSox proposal on the November ballot for a voter referendum, but Senate leaders and Raimondo have opposed the idea.

State Rep. Brian Newberry, a former House Republican leader who opposes the PawSox proposal, is also among those arguing a referendum would be the wrong move.

“We do not put every issue that the Assembly must decide out to a public vote,” Newberry wrote in an email to constituents Monday. “That is why we elected people to make decisions in the first place. There is nothing unusual or unique about this issue that it requires a referendum. It is, in a sense, no different than any other tax and spending issue we deal with every year.”

“We do not have statewide town meetings to approve budgets and there is no reason to start now,” Newberry added.

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