TALKING POLITICS by IAN DONNIS

Balancing state budget could hinge on federal relief

Posted 5/21/20

Rhode Island's elected officials face a massive task in balancing Rhode Island's budget while trying to position the state for an economic recovery from the pandemic. "e;Just keeping the lights on, providing basic public services, will itself be a gigantic

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TALKING POLITICS by IAN DONNIS

Balancing state budget could hinge on federal relief

Posted

Rhode Island’s elected officials face a massive task in balancing Rhode Island’s budget while trying to position the state for an economic recovery from the pandemic. “Just keeping the lights on, providing basic public services, will itself be a gigantic challenge in light of the deficit we're facing,” Gov. Gina Raimondo told me in an interview last week. At the same time, she said, Rhode Island has to maintain a focus, in as much as possible, on strategic investments. “[W]e have to find some ways to invest in infrastructure, job training and job creation, however hard that will be,” Raimondo said. (Elected officials also have to remain mindful of the cost/benefit analysis between limiting exposure to the virus versus the adverse effect of limiting economic activity.) No surprise then that the governor compares the current outlook to the limited visibility that comes with dense fog. Buttressing that point, Sharon Reynolds Ferland, the sagacious House fiscal adviser, told House Finance this week that last week’s estimate of an $800 million shortfall in state revenue is wrong. The big question remains the level of federal relief that can be applied to state budgets. Raimondo said legislative leaders and she are hoping for the answer to this become clearer in the weeks ahead.

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Raimondo has maintained a chipper demeanor during her two months of daily briefings, making her something of a folk hero to admirers. You’ve got to play the hand your dealt in life, right? But will the pandemic eviscerate her hopes of putting Rhode Island on a better track for long-term growth? Some economists, like Moody’s Mark Zandi, believe states won’t recover their lost jobs until the mid-2020s. Raimondo concedes that’s a possibility. But, she added, “I don’t think anyone knows. I spend time every day talking to people in business, folks who work at the Fed, policymakers, local business people here, bankers, trying to get a handle on. What is this recession going to look like? It’s clearly horrible now, Great Depression levels of unemployment. The key question is, well, will it look like a U or V? And if it's a U, how long will it be? Some of that will depend on what we do here in Rhode Island.” (Here’s the template for businesses to use in planning their reopening.)

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RI Senate Dominick President Dominick Ruggerio has retained Winning Ways LLC, the firm of veteran campaign operative Edward Cotugno, as a campaign consultant. Bill Fischer, spokesman for Ruggerio’s campaign, said Winning Ways will be paid $3,000 a month. Ruggerio, the longest serving member of the Senate, faces a Democratic primary challenge from Lenny Cioe, a nurse and member of the RI Political Cooperative. Cotugno has worked on a lot of local campaigns. In 2016, he helped engineer the mail ballot effort that put House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello over the top in the face of a close state rep challenge from Republican Steve Frias.

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Gov. Raimondo on whether the state did enough at the outset to focus on nursing homes and those over age 70: “We did everything we knew how to do at every point in time. The federal government was really slow those first couple of weeks. We were begging and pleading for help to get the situation in Rhode Island under control and in our nursing homes. You know, the PPE just wasn't available in the quantities we needed. The testing wasn't even close to what we needed. Put it this way: [could] we [have] done better? Almost certainly. But did we do everything we knew how to do with working as hard as we could, being as creative as we could at every point in time? Yes.”

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The Providence Journal’s decision to eliminate in-house editorials and the job of editorial page editor Ed Achorn (first reported here), has sparked ongoing fallout. One of the sharpest reactions came from former ProJo publisher Howard Sutton, in an opinion piece published in the paper: “The loss of this voice for the people of Rhode Island is a sad chapter in the storied history of The Journal.” At Nieman Lab, Josh Bentonnoted that while some cuts are unavoidable in this day and age, “the Journal abandoning editorials is a scale of retreat that may be unique in the United States: a state’s dominant paper, in its capital city, volunteering to abandon one of its most significant roles.” Gannett, the name for the company merged with GateHouse Media, vows on its website to emerge as a nimble media organization with broad reach. We should remember how the ProJo still has a number of excellent reporters, a point made by Mark Patinkin. Yet amid ongoing cuts in southern New England and elsewhere, Gannett is presiding over a once-unimaginable shrinking of the Journal’s institutional footprint.

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Providence City Council Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan’s Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Sam Bell (D-Providence) will be one of the must-watch legislative races this year. Ryan brings attributes that will likely enable her to make a strong run: she’s well known, she cast a deciding vote on Fane tower, and she figures to enjoy strong support from Senate leadership, considering how Bell has been an outspoken critic. “As majority leader of the Providence City Council, I have a track record of uniting people from diverse backgrounds together behind one goal,” Ryan said in a statement announcing her campaign. “Rhode Island will face a financial crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our community and its neighborhoods deserve to have strong and effective representation during our state’s rebuilding process.” For his part, Bell is among the state’s most outspoken progressives and his unabashed criticism of the status quo shows how he hasn’t become a creature of the Statehouse. “I’m very much looking forward to the race,” Bell told Steve Ahlquist. “I think it’s a good opportunity to have some conversations about policy and I’m hopeful that this race stays focused on policy and does not fall entirely into personal attacks and things like that. I’m really hopeful that we can talk about the policy contrast.”

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Meanwhile, one question about Rhode Island Democrats’ virtual convention at 7 pm on June 15 is whether someone will run for top leadership roles while representing the progressive wing of the party. (Two well-known progs, Sam Bell and Lauren Niedel, tell me they are not running for those posts.) Joseph R. Paolino Jr.is expected to seek re-election as Democratic National committeeman, and party Treasurer Liz Beretta-Perik of Jamestown, an active political contributor, is expected to run for the open seat as Democratic National Committeewoman. (The post is open due to the death earlier this year of Edna O’Neill Mattson.) As far as the virtual nature of the convention, RI Dems said in a statement, “This action allows the 200-plus members of that committee to endorse federal candidates and name their Democratic National Committee man/woman remotely, in the safety of their own homes. The Party will use Zoom technology for the biennial event, while broadcasting it live simultaneously for the media and general public to watch.” More info from the party: “The nominating period for the 2020 RIDP Virtual Convention begins on Friday and runs through Saturday, May 23, at 12 p.m. Candidates for endorsement (US Senate, 1st Congressional District, 2nd Congressional District) and candidates for RIDP offices (DNC Committeeman, DNC Committeewoman) must be nominated by a member of the State Committee. Nominations can be made in writing by emailing a letter to info@ridemocrats.org by Saturday, May 23 at 12 pm.”

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Congrats to Boston Globe reporter Mark Arsenault, ex of the ProJo, who has a deal to write a book, “Poisoned Ink, the story of John Revelstoke Rathom, infamous editor of the Providence Journal, who advised President Wilson, battled a young FDR, and helped lead America into World War I.”

Ian Donnis is the political reporter at Rhode Island’s NPR member station, The Public’s Radio (89.3 FM, online at thepublicsradio.org). For more from The Public’s Radio, visit thepublicsradio.org.

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Ben Dover

ian donnis....New hair cut, same far left clown who came from New Paper...Headline should say "States who have been financially mismanaged for decades want other States to bail them out", including this financial basket case, Rhode Island.

Washington politicians do that and they will end up living like Saddam Hussein, hiding in spider hole afraid to show their face in public.

Monday, May 25