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Moore: 2018 Race for Governor Heating Up Early

Monday, May 08, 2017


Allan Fung

Saturday was horse racing’s biggest day of the year. Yet in the days preceding it, a form of politics, frequently referred to as “horse race politics” which refer to polls and elections, was also heating up.

We’re still roughly a year-and-a-half away from the 2018 election, but last week gave us some strong indicators of who will be likely battling it out for the state’s top government job.

Two big name Rhode Island politicians--Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and former US Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee both appear to be making the media rounds in an attempt to lay the groundwork for potential gubernatorial bids.

Asked if he is running, Fung did little, if anything, to dispel the notion.

“I’ll have more to say on that later, but I’m taking a very serious look at that race,” Fung said.

One things is for certain, Fung sounds very much like a gubernatorial candidate. He certainly wasn’t shy about criticizing Governor Gina Raimondo during an interview with former Providence Mayor Joe Paolino on ABC’s “In The Arena”.  

“Like many Rhode Islanders, I’m frustrated. Frustrated at, a little bit of the hypocrisy that’s coming out of the Governor’s office,” said Fung.

Tough Critic

“What is really frustrating for me is...just a couple years ago we had to implement the tolls, because we had to fix the roads, because we didn’t have the money to fix the roads. Then all of a sudden, now, miraculously, we’re finding $30-40 million of taxpayer dollars for free education for a lot of our students for college. We still have problems in K-12. We still have school buildings that need repair at that level. And you’re starting new programs?”

Fung also decried the well-documented problems with the technology systems in our state, in particular the problems with the UHIP system that has caused delays in sending out benefits to the needy.

As Paolino pointed out, that certainly sounds like someone who is all revved up and ready to make another run for Governor.

And why shouldn’t he? After all, one could argue, quite convincingly, that if it weren’t for the late Robert Healey’s entrance into the 2014 election, Fung could have best Raimondo.

Furthermore, there aren’t any other GOP names being bandied about for the nomination. Despite the fact that Rhode Island is a heavily Democratic state, we all know voters here aren’t averse to voting for a Republican Governor. Make no mistake: the Republican nomination is valuable.

Chafee's Return?

However, there’s a factor that could muddy the gubernatorial picture moving forward. Lincoln Chafee may very well try a comeback.

The former Governor (and US Senator, Warwick Mayor and Councilman) also sounds an awful lot like a candidate once again. He’s been criticizing Governor Raimondo’s investments in hedge funds from when she was General Treasurer (a move that current General Treasurer Seth Magaziner has partly, and wisely reversed). Chafee has also come out in opposition to the proposed power plant in Burrillville.  

Further, on Golocal Live last week, Chafee criticized Raimondo’s support of giving taxpayer subsidies to private businesses. The practice is done in an attempt to create jobs, but Chafee said that it hasn’t been proven to work.

That form of economic development has been one of Raimondo’s hallmarks, and has lured companies such as General Electric and Wexford Science and Technology to announce that they’re locating offices here in our state.

Muddy Waters

“I’d like to see some subsidies that show that this is a good idea. Because the studies that I’ve seen show that these public subsidies don’t work,” said Chafee.

Given how outspoken Chafee has been as of late, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to hear him formally announce a bid in the future.

The main question becomes, what would he run as? Would Chafee once again opt for a three-way race, which he successfully orchestrated in 2010? Or would he take on Governor Raimondo in a primary and attempt to outflank her from the left.

Either way would be a difficult path for Chafee. But if we’ve learned anything over the last 20 years in Rhode Island politics, it should be that we can never count him out.

In any event, it will be, as usual, very interesting to see how the Rhode Island political landscape shakes out over the next year-and-a-half.

Russell J. Moore has worked on both sides of the desk in Rhode Island media, both for newspapers and on political campaigns. Send him email at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @russmoore713.


Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers in Raimondo’s FY18 Budget Proposal

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Criminal Justice Reform

Per recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, the Governor is proposing nearly $1 million in investments such as the public defender mental health program ($185,000), improved mental health services at the ACI ($410,000), recovery housing ($200,000) and domestic violence intervention, in her FY18 budget. 

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English Language Learners

Under the heading of “promoting 3rd grade reading,” Raimondo proposed adding $2.5 million to make English Language Learning (ELL) K-12 funding permanent.  The Governor’s office points out that RI is one of four states that doesn’t have permanent funding.

The suggestion was one made by the Funding Formula Working Group in January 2016, who said that “in the event that Rhode Island chooses to make an additional investment in ELLs, the funding should be calculated to be responsive to the number of ELLs in the system and based on reliable data, and include reasonable restrictions to ensure that the money is used to benefit ELLs — and promote the appropriate exiting of ELL students from services.”

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Car Owners - and Drivers

Governor Raimondo wants to reduce assessed motor vehicle values by 30% - a change that would reduce total car tax bills by about $58 million in calendar year 2018. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, however, has indicated that he might want to go further in its repeal.  

In her budget proposal, Raimondo also put forth adding 8 staffers to the the Department of Motor Vehicles to "address wait times."

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T.F. Green

The “Air Services Development Fund” would get an influx of $500,000 to “provide incentives to airlines interested in launching new routes or increasing service to T.F. Green Airport.” The Commerce Corporation set the criteria at the end of 2016 for how to grant money through the new (at the time $1.5 million fund).

Also getting a shot in the arm is the I-195 development fund, which would receive $10.1 million from debt-service savings to “resupply” the Fund to “catalyze development & attract anchor employers.”

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Minimum Wage Increase

An increase in the state minimum wage is part of Raimondo’s proposal, which would see it go from $9.60 an hour to $10.50 an hour.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort in 2016 to bring it up to $10.10 — it was June 2015 that she signed legislation into law that last raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage, from $9 to 9.60.  

The state's minimum hourly wage has gone up from $6.75 in January 2004 to $7.75 in 2013, $8 in 2014, and $9 on Jan. 1, 2015.  Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business however have historically been against such measures, citing a hamper on job creation.  

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Cigarette Tax

Like the minimum wage, Raimondo is looking for an increase - in this instance, the cigarette tax, and revenue to state coffers.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort to go from a tax of $3.75 to $4 last year. Now she is looking for an increase to $4.25 per pack, which the administration says would equate to $8.7 million in general revenue — and go in part towards outdoor recreation and smoking cessation programs.  

The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups have historically been against such an increase, saying it will hurt small businesses - i.e. convenience stores. And clearly, if you’re a smoker, you’re likely to place this squarely in the loser category instead. 

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As often happens in the state budget, winner one year, loser the next. As GoLocal reported in 2016, “the Rhode Island Hospital Association immediately lauded the budget following its introduction, and addressed that while it is facing some reductions, that it "applauds" this years budget after landing on the "loser" list last year.”

This year, it falls back on the loser list, with a Medicaid rate freeze to hospitals, nursing homes, providers, and payers — at FY 2017 levels, with a 1% rate cut come January 1, 2018. 

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Online Shoppers

The taxman cometh — maybe.  Raimondo proposed an “Internet Sales Tax Initiative” — which would purportedly equate to $34.7 million in revenues.

"Online sales and the fact that online sellers do not collect sales tax has created a structural problem for Rhode Island's budget — our sales taxes have been flat," said Director of Administration Michael DiBiase, of the tax that Amazon collects in 33 states, but not Rhode Island. "We think mostly due to online sales, we’re able to capture the growth. The revenue number is $35 million dollars — it improves our structural deficit problem. It’s an important fiscal development."

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Long Term Care Funding

The Governor’s proposal recommends “redesigning the nature” of the State’s Integrated Care Initiative, by transferring long-term stay nursing home members from Neighborhood Health to Medicaid Fee-for-Service and repurposing a portion of the anticipated savings (from reduced administrative payments to Neighborhood Health) for “enhanced services in the community.” “The investments in home- and community-based care will help achieve the goal of rebalancing the long-term care system," states the Administration. 

Cutting that program is tagged at saving $12.2 million; cuts and “restructuring” at Health and Human Services is slated to save $46.3 million. 


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