The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to For quick hits all week long, follow @tednesi.

1. I hope all of you have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend. Hopefully everyone can take some time to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, particularly Monday at 3.

2. Four months after Governor Chafee proposed his budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, a roughly $70 million shortfall has opened up in his tax-and-spending plan. The culprits include soaring Medicaid enrollment, weak tax revenue, unbudgeted union raises, and $4.6 million for HealthSource RIRichard Licht, the governor’s right-hand man, says the administration is “looking at lots of options” to close the gap. “We have a $70 million problem – we will solve it, working cooperatively with the General Assembly,” Licht said on this week’s Newsmakers. “I wish we had $70 million to spend; unfortunately, we have $70 million to cut, and we will.” Of course, that $70 million shortfall doesn’t account for the cost of the General Assembly’s own priorities – notably tax cuts and nixing the Sakonnet tolls. A two-step on the corporate tax – dropping the rate to 7% while switching to combined reporting – has momentum and is apparently revenue neutral, so its passage is highly likely. Another Speaker Mattiello priority – restructuring the estate tax to eliminate the “cliff” at $921,655 – will be more challenging but could still find its way into the final document. A solution on tolls remains uncertain. The budget machinations are all taking place against the backdrop of an election year, which has lawmakers hoping to finish the session early without making anybody too mad – especially before the June 25 filing deadline for candidates.

3. If the Chafee administration has had an indispensable man, it’s probably been Richard Licht. He was one of Chafee’s first appointees and has remained one of the governor’s most trusted advisers while others came and went. He’s also a workaholic political survivor with a huge Rolodex, and very much a center of power in his own right. Licht’s looming departure, presuming the Senate approves his nomination as a judge, is a vivid sign that Chafee’s four-year tenure is drawing to a close. Of course Chafee still has seven months to go, and someone has to lead the Department of Administration; through a spokeswoman, the governor told me it’s still “a little too early” to say who will replace Licht.

4. Somewhat surprisingly, Republican Allan Fung will be the first gubernatorial candidate to go on TV – his ad will start airing next week. And sources say Gina Raimondo will go up on TV next week, too. While Fung has just $445,000 available to spend, Raimondo has $3.4 million.

5. Speaking of campaigns, Common Cause Rhode Island’s John Marion passes along this People for the American Way analysis that suggests big donors will now be able to donate up to $118,000 to Rhode Island candidates each year – a nearly 12-fold increase over the current $10,000 limit – in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court McCutcheon decision. Of course, that’s just what they could contribute – it’s still unclear how many donors active in Rhode Island actually want to shell out that much cash to candidates. But it’s worth keeping an eye on the actual impact of the change.

6. So much for the House Oversight Committee issuing subpoenas on 38 Studios under its new chairwoman, Rep. Karen MacBeth. In a statement Friday afternoon, Mattiello confirmed he is opposed to having MacBeth take that step – and since the speaker has to OK issuing subpoenas, that’s the ballgame. Mattiello noted that MacBeth has asked various figures to testify voluntarily, and they’ve refused. “Issuing subpoenas at this point would be fruitless because the same people would continue to decline to offer testimony,” he said, describing the House as “a legislative body, not an investigative body.” Coming fast on the heels of Mattiello’s Thursday announcement that he now supports paying the 38 Studios bonds, it’s clear the new speaker isn’t being swayed by the vocal 38 Studios warriors who backed him over Michael Marcello, whom MacBeth had criticized just last year for failing to issue subpoenas when he had the Oversight gavel.

7. John Henry is selling the Worcester Telegram & Gazette to Halifax Media Group, a Florida company formed just a few years ago. The T&G’s reporter noted this was Halifax’s “first purchase in the Northeast.” It would be interesting to know if Halifax is (or was) also considering a bid for The Providence Journal; a spokeswoman did not respond to an email asking the question. Halifax’s major investors include a firm led by Arkansas billionaire Warren Stephens, who is also CEO of Stephens Inc. – the investment bank that is currently shopping The Journal for A.H. Belo. This week a Gannett spokesman also declined to comment on whether the company wants to buy The Journal, though it seems unlikely considering the company is refocusing on broadcasting now. Another possible bidder, GateHouse Media, didn’t respond to a request for comment on its own interest in the paper.

8. Who knew? Miles Davis recorded a cover of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time.”

9. Rhode Island’s 38 Studios saga got a shout-out from Josh Barro this week in a New York Times Upshot piece about how politicians use debt and pensions to skirt balanced-budget requirements. “This is a good example of how paying in promises instead of in cash can get lawmakers in trouble,” Barro writes. “The 38 Studios deal would have probably looked less appealing to Rhode Island legislators had they needed to put up cash upfront to get someone else to take on the risk of a 38 Studios failure.” On a related point, this 1996 R.I. Supreme Court decision by former Justice Bob Flanders makes some interesting points about the legality of state debt that voters never approved.

10. Politico’s Burgess Everett reports that Jack Reed’s months-long effort to restore extended unemployment benefits is on life support, despite the continued efforts of both him and his Republican partner, Nevada’s Dean Heller. Yet Everett isn’t burying their attempts quite yet, writing: “Despite the obstacles, no one is counting out Heller and Reed, whose states’ inordinately high jobless rates have kept them singularly focused for five months on reviving unemployment benefits.” Meantime Ben Casselman, writing at the new FiveThirtyEight, reports that cutting off benefits hasn’t actually pushed people into jobs as some had argued it would.

11. I joined Rhode Island PBS for this weekend’s edition of “A Lively Experiment,” along with Steve Klamkin, Wendy Schiller and Maureen Moakley. Watch tonight at 7 p.m. on WSBE Learn (Ch. 36.2), Sunday at noon on WSBE-TV (Ch. 36.1) or online at the RI PBS blog.

12. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: Republican National Committeeman Steven Frias and Committeewoman Carol Mumford, as well as the Rhode Island Young Republicans, all endorsed Allan Fung … the Coventry and Westerly Democratic Town Committees endorsed Ralph Mollis … the Burrillville Democratic Town Committee endorsed Guillaume De Ramel and Seth Magaziner … and the Exeter Democratic Town Committee endorsed Seth Magaziner.

13. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the other items we published this week: HealthSource RI needs an unexpected $4.6 million from the state … former Speaker Bill Murphy confirmed he visited 38 Studios back in 2009 … Gordon Fox’s lawyer kept fighting Fox’s 38 Studios subpoena … a 38 Studios insiders urged his colleagues not to disclose its under-capitalization … a judge reprimanded lawyers for their 38 Studios disclosures … SEIU Local 580 voted down a new state contractMike Solomon said he won’t serve on the PEDP board if elected mayor … and a Providence city employee is buying up Buddy Cianci websites.

14. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Richard Licht, director of the R.I. Department of Administration and Superior Court judge nominee. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Andera CEO Charlie Kroll. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

30 thoughts on “The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI

  1. Saw Al Fung’s ad on YouTube . It’s about jobs, and Al hit a home run. Keep banging away on jobs, and the economy.

    Al vs Angel a Classic-al battle.

    Hollywood could not make up a better script

  2. No further confirmation of Block’s polling accuracy than Fung going on TV so early for a Republican primary.

    • It’s a positive ad, and Memorial Day. Sounds like the campaign is finally waking up and being aggressive. Finally!

      • Agreed. I doubt anyone could turn around a quality ad like that so quickly. Seems well planned out to go up and define yourself. Good job. Feeling much better about the campaign already.

    • Going on early?

      The Fung campaign motto is not better late then never, it’s the early bird gets the worm.

  3. Fung campaign goes up on TV early because their own poll which the Mayor said never happened shows them behind. Now that the Cranston Police scandal has put the Mayor right in the middle and the taxpayers of Cranston are stuck with a $523,000 tab because of it, expect those numbers to slide even more. The Mayor admitted he doesn’t micro manage and was shocked by the figure. Just what Rhode Island doesn’t need in the Governor’s seat. A Mayor who is unaware of what is happening in his own departments. Of course I don’t believe he was unaware, it just looks better for him politically to say that than he knew and let it happen. The Cranston Police scandal is Mayor Fung’s 38 Studios and it isn’t going away no matter how many commercials he runs.

    • Rhonda, in Republican circles everyone knows it’s just Ken Block’s campaign manager Jeff Britt trolling around the CPD digging up dirt. The jobs, jobs, jobs and economic turn around Cranston has had trumps any dirty politics. Parker Gavigan already admitted that the math he presented was wrong. So Mayor Fung you keep getting up after every blow. Real Republicans are firmly behind you!

  4. His campaign ad claims he created 1000 jobs. He didn’t create anything, those jobs were created by entrepreneurs. As a business owner I am insulted that he takes credit for the jobs created. The commercial and tangibles tax rates in Cranston are sky high. Taco had an existing business and expanded because their company was doing well. The added jobs had nothing to do with Cranston or the Mayor. Mayor Fung sounds like President Obama when he said “You didn’t build this.”

    • Good morning Block campaign. hahahahahaha. I guess that businesses are just flocking to Cranston and not Warwick or Pawtucket or Lincoln because they like the food then? The mayor created the business climate. Take your insult and shove it. Taco didn’t expand at first because they were unsure of the business climate. I know, I’m friends with John’s wife. He loves the mayor and expanded only after meeting with him. We’re not drinking the Block kool-aid. Great job Mayor Fung!

      • Dear Business owner:

        Clearly not stopping hundreds of new businesses from opening under his reign. How many ribbon cuttings does he go to each week? I used to live in Cranston but left during the laffey years. Then we had high taxes with no services. Now Mayor Fung has had no tax increase for three years while stabilizing the pensions, forgiving millions in school dept debt, restoring middle school sports, and getting music now back in the schools. I’m thinking about moving back!

  5. Ted just you tubed that Miles Davis version. Great way to start off a Saturday.

    To add to the Fung-Block debate. No ads don’t get created that quickly. That had to be well planned. Also, it seems as Fung racks up the endorsements and national accolades, the Block camp gets more desperate with trying to dig up stupid police rancor. As an attorney for the past 15 years in RI, let me tell you, the police departments are infamous for playground fights and these little stories the Block camp is obviously trying to put out are nothing in comparison to other departments. There’s a lot of egos in these departments- Mr. Block you would be great in one – & it gets childish. Want this to never happen to any police department or attempt to taint any mayor running for higher office ever again? Take away LEABOR. That thing is a joke to anyone in the private sector. And no, the mayor should not micro-manage a police department. That’s why you hire chiefs. To run things. These Block statements like Fung should’ve been visiting the department daily are a joke and shows just how stupid the man is about running government.

    • None of this matters. Block isn’t even seeking the party endorsement. Chairman Smiley told all of us that Jeff had called and they aren’t even going to try. I don’t think he’s convinced a single town to support him yet.

      • This isn’t surprising. The last thing this fraud cares about is the Republican Party. He’ll be the next Chaffee flip flopping liberal for sure. I fully believe he’d re establish the moderate party if he ever won. He is an ego maniac and was very easily bothered when he visited our town committee. Ted you even reported this week he wouldn’t attend the Young Republicans? If he’s intimidated by them, there’s no hope for him versus the GA.

  6. One thing you have to be concerned over is when a candidate peaks to early. Take Gina, two years ago nobody could have come close to beating her, now look at the baggage she has to deal with. Mayor Fung is watching Ken Block peak to early.

    Al understands the difference between the 5k and the 10k race.

  7. Of course Miles recorded that tune. It was customary for jazz artists to record pop tunes that had nice melodies which had provided a good framework for their improvisational interpretations. At first these recordings were an attempt to gain mainstream acceptance of jazz performers but grew into genuine classics -check out Miles’ version of the Disney tune “someday my prince will come.” The longing tone in that piece reminds me of the despair that permeates RI politics

  8. Block claims to be up by 9%, the mystery poll that Fung lied about not doing, has Block up by 13%. It’s time for the tv commercials.

    • And I see Jeff Britt is on the boards today. Make something up and see if it sticks. Just like your campaign made up that website about Fung’s wife. You are all repugnant trolls & everyone sees through it.

      • Dee I’m almost certain mayor Fung is single not married so no clue what ur talking about please explain … where is this web site sounds stupid

      • It is stupid and repugnant. Just like the Block campaign. It’s in Facebook. Called Buffy Fung. Some days it is hidden, some days it isn’t. They just hate her especially Mike and Steve.

  9. Can some one please point out where ken block as said anything publicly about Cranston police issue! This guy is in the media a lot and I can’t find him saying anything about Allen fung and Cranston police debacle . Frankly it seems like he has been sitting on the side lines on the issue . Maybe smart maybe a gentleman , maybe doesn’t think he needs to do anything with it . Not sure . But I can find tons of press releases he has done on line on his web site and Media stories.. I can’t find him doing anything on. This. If the fung camp thinks block has made a big issue of it and I can’t find it anywhere …. I see block talking issues , hit me up with a link if u find it I couldn’t . Thanks Fred

  10. Wow got a really negative mailer from fung today at my house… I was kind of torn between fung and block. I like what block has been saying . Have always thought mayor fung was a good man. This mailer was the decider for me. Nothing in it but attack on block . Neg neg neg. shame mayor fung . Be yourself stop listening to who ever is having u change who u are into a negative campaign. I talked to my neighbor and we both made a small donation to block from his web sight. He had always been leaning block.

  11. I talked to my neighbor and we both made a small donation to block from his web sight. He had always been leaning block.

    I’m sure you talked this over while you were trimming your hedges….


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