10 Biggest Political Issues for 2013
Thursday, January 03, 2013
From the Governor's race to gay marriage to revamping the EDC, 2013 is sure to be another interesting year in Rhode Island politics.
2013 will be a make-or-break year for the state’s pension reform bill, which is currently tied up in court and heading to mediation. General Treasurer Gina Raimondo has said she believes the law will be upheld, but Judge Sarah Taft-Carter has a history of siding with organized labor and the unions believe they will prevail.
The end result will be one of the most important issues for Raimondo, who appears certain to run for Governor in 2014, but it will also be a key indicator for the future of the state’s economy. Look for all sides to sit down and negotiate a settlement that leaves everyone unhappy, but keeps most of the reforms intact.
A same-sex marriage bill will be voted out of the House by the end of this month, but all eyes are on the Senate on this issue. With both Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Judiciary chairman Michael McCaffrey against the law, look for some lawmakers to attempt to punt the issue and ask for the voters to make the call. But House Speaker Gordon Fox and Governor Lincoln Chafee say they are opposed to placing a civil rights question on the ballot, which could leave the House and Senate in a political war all year.
38 Studios Lawsuit
The pension reform lawsuit might be the most important lawsuit of the year, but don’t forget about the state suing former Red Sox star Curt Schilling and more than a dozen others in an attempt to recoup nearly $100 million from the failed 38 Studios deal. Don’t be surprised if even more never before heard information about the deal is revealed as those being sued begin to explain themselves throughout the process. Look for the state to settle with a number of the parties involved in the suit over the course of the year.
Another casualty from the 38 Studios deal could be the state’s Economic Development Corporation, especially since lawmakers are chomping at the bit to make changes at the quasi-public agency. General Assembly members know that proposing sweeping reforms within the EDC is as smart politically as it is policy-wise, which is why it would not be surprising if the EDC is revamped.
The General Assembly tabled talks of helping cities and towns through the Governor’s municipal relief package last year and now it appears as though West Warwick may be the next community on the verge of collapse. While Chafee called for 2012 to be the “year of the cities and towns,” there are still plenty that need help in addressing their massive unfunded pension liabilities. In an off year for elections, that could mean more tax hikes if state lawmakers don’t consider at least some of the legislation Chafee proposed last session.
Rhode Island enters 2013 with the second highest unemployment rate in the country and experts predict the jobless numbers will remain above 9 percent into 2014. With the state developing a reputation for ranking last in so many business rankings, look for lawmakers to consider a number of options, but don’t expect any massive changes, such as lowering the sales tax. One issue lawmakers are likely to support is the restoration of the historic tax credit program, which should help boost job creation (and make several insiders plenty of money at the same time).
The state is on track to finish in the black during the current fiscal year, but a projected $60-plus million deficit for 2014 will almost certainly lead to cuts in several departments across the state. Social programs are always a top target and it helps that lawmakers aren’t up for re-election this year, but it will be interesting to see what Governor Chafee proposed when he releases his budget in two weeks.
While Republicans have called for the elimination of the sales tax, liberal lawmakers are likely to make their case that the state’s top earners should pay more in income taxes again this year. House Speaker Gordon Fox has hinted that he is willing to listen to the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy (similar legislation was proposed by Rep. Maria Cimini in 2012) but it might not have enough support in either chamber. For the third straight year, look for lawmakers to consider broadening the sales tax, but it would be surprising to see sweeping changes in this category.
2013 will likely be a key year for the 195 project as the state begins to hear proposal from developers who want to get their hands on the downtown property. There is still some question as to how valuable the land actually is (not to mention the environmental questions that are still popping up), but state and city officials agree that developing the area is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The colleges and universities could play a key role here as well, especially considering their willingness to help the capital city with $48 million in payments in lieu of taxes over the next 11 years.
All Eyes on 2014
It’s only the first week of 2013, but there is already one candidate running for Governor (Ernest Almonte) and several others (Gina Raimondo, Angel Taveras, Allan Fung, Ken Block) already eyeing the state’s top job. But that isn’t the only statewide office that plenty of politicians will likely make a decision on this year. The Lieutenant Governor’s job will be open (Ralph Mollis and Dan McKee have expressed interest) along with Secretary of State (Ed Pacheco, Catherine Taylor, Terry Hassett, James Doyle and Juan Pichardo could be up for this job). And with Treasurer Raimondo likely running for Governor, look for plenty of interest in her job as well (Mollis and Michael Solomon are considering this office).