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Side of The Rhode, Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in RI Politics?

Friday, May 02, 2014


HOT this week: Speaker Nick Matiello

Every Friday, Dan Lawlor breaks down who's rising and who's falling in the world of Rhode Island politics. Check out who made the lists this week.


Nick Mattiello - Thank you, Mr. Speaker! From Operation Clean Government to Common Cause, from Mia Ackerman to Mike Marcello, many people have lobbied to abolish the “Master Lever.” House Judiciary Committee voted - unanimously - to eliminate the confusing ballot line, bringing us in line with the rest of New England. Will the Senate be so kind? EDITOR'S NOTE: Thursday Night the House Approved the legislation to abolish the Master Lever 72-0.

Angel Taveras - “We have taken control of Providence’s finances. Last year we went from budget deficit to budget surplus. We expect to end this year with a balanced budget for the second year in a row,” the Mayor announced in his State of the City. Taveras recalled the work to save the city from bankruptcy, touted an improved commercial property tax rank (we’re now 4th highest instead of first) and positively responded to high school student demands for better busing.

Kate Nagle, Monica White, Tracey Minkin, and Caitlin Gil - The Go Local Team won the 2014 Metcalf Award for Diversity in Media. Leah Williams Metts, Chairwoman of the NAACP Providence Youth Council said, “were it not for GoLocal’s persistence in pursuit of the truth and demand for accountability within the Mayor’s office, the Davey Lopes pool would be permanently closed. Instead, a commission was created to study the issue, and the repair and reopening of the pool remains a distinct possibility for this summer.”

#5 - “Providence, capital of Rhode Island, has emerged from its post-industrial malaise over the past couple of decades to become an excellent destination for food-lovers,” writes Huffington Post. As Go Local reported, the popular site named Providence the 5th best city for pizza, beating out Boston (#7), and just behind New Haven (#3).

State Senator Walter Felag - When operating, the State Preservation Grant program (2003–2007) invested $6 million across 86 sites in 27 cities and towns to revitalize neighborhoods and rehab historic structures. Senator Felag, alongside preservationists Karen Jessup and Val Talmage, called on attendees at the RI Historic Preservation Conference to advocate for Governor Chafee’s proposed cultural arts bond, which would reboot the State Preservation Grants. As Talmage said, “Rhode Island is ready!”

The People’s Pledge - Thank you, Common Cause! John Marion has done great work with the Pell, Raimondo and Taveras gubernatorial campaigns to limit spending by outside groups. As Go Local reported, “under the People’s Pledge, whenever an outside group spends to support or oppose a candidate in the primary by purchasing TV, radio or internet advertisements the candidate that benefits pays a fine equal to the amount of the purchase to a charity.” Speaking of which …

Francis Smith/Smith Hill Community Development Corporation - Francis Smith, recognized as the 2014 Community Honoree at the Providence St. Patrick’s Day Parade, has facilitated the rehabilitation of numerous foreclosed properties into safe, affordable homes. Restoring Smith Hill, a documentary shown on RI PBS, tells the story of his work, through the eyes of his son.

Women’s Center of Rhode Island - The Women’s Center of Rhode Island, established in 1974, is celebrating 40 years of helping women overcome and empower themselves following the trauma of domestic abuse. Today, at its 12th Annual “Women of Excellence” Awards Luncheon at the Providence Marriott, the Center honors Representative Elaine Coderre, City Year’s Jennie Johnston, Edesia’s Navyn Salem, Martha Conn Hultzman, CPA and leader of the Women’s Count Initiative, Attorneys Eliza Vorenberg & Suzanne Harrington-Steppen, and survivor Senami Ahossi for their work for a better state.


Angel Taveras - Not all is well. The Mayor promised, “to upgrade 19 parks in our neighborhoods, along our waterfront and in our downtown,” but the fact is the city has around 100 parks to care for - all neighborhoods need support. Further, as GoLocal reported, “Providence Mayor Angel Taveras awarded his now former director of administration and acting chief of staff, Michael D’Amico, with a $200-an-hour city consulting contract without following the city rules for contracting services.” The city needs to move forward for everyone.

The “Gotta Study Six” Senators Metts, Lombardi, Jabour, Lynch, Goodwin, & Nesselbush - The Senate Judiciary Committee should follow the example of their House colleagues, and allow a full Senate vote on the bill to eliminate the straight party ticket (or master lever). It’s time to vote- not hold for further study.

Providence Streetcar Hullabaloo - Across downcity, signs are posted supporting the Streetcar initiative. A citywide streetcar system, from Wanskuck to Elmwood, would be a glorious investment, but a train line connecting 2.5 miles between Brown and Rhode Island Hospital seems a bit out of touch. Oh, that’s right - the rest of the city doesn’t matter.

Colin Kane/I–195 Commission - There are increasing concerns around the transparency of bids to develop the former I–195 land. Obviously, there should be some flexibility in negotiation, but the public should be able to examine who bid on the land once the final details are settled.

90 - The overdose crisis continues. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, 90 individuals have died from drug overdose this year. To find out more and what you can do, check out this documentary from RI PBS, “No Hero in Heroin.”

Just One Month - “With long-term unemployment a serious problem in recent years, many U.S. workers are not in a position financially to go a month, or even a week, without finding a new job if laid off,” notes Gallup, arguing, “That underscores the economic hardship that unemployment of any length can bring on U.S. families.” As Go Local reported, the overall Rhode Island jobless rate is 8.7%, with approximately 15% unemployment for people of color.


Related Slideshow: RI State Report: More News of the Week - 4/26/14

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Franchise Tax

In an effort to attract new businesses to Rhode Island, Sen. James C. Sheehan released an op-ed this week urging lawmakers to pass legislation—which he introduced—to cut the state’s franchise tax.

"Under existing tax structure, all Rhode Island businesses face a minimum $500 per year business corporations (franchise) tax,” said Sheehan. “This year, I have introduced legislation that would suspend the imposition of the annual franchise tax of $500 for a period of three years from the date a business incorporates with the Secretary of State.”

“The legislation is intended to help small, start-up businesses in our state, the kind that we have been trying to attract through the various reforms and initiatives that have been enacted into law the past few years. If we are putting out the welcome mat to new companies, the last thing those firms need is to find a bill tucked under it, charging them $500 just so they can open their doors and stay open every year. That’s money a new company could better use to build their business,” added Sheehan. 

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Push to Protect Jobs 

With a United Healthcare proposal in front of the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) that would cut 52 northern Rhode Island physicians and Landmark Medical Center from its provider network, Rep. Stephen M. Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket) voiced strong opposition to the plan last week and reached out to his colleagues in the General Assembly for support.

While negotiations are still ongoing between Prime Healthcare and United Healthcare insurance company for Medicaid and commercial contracts (a deal has already been reached with Prime in respect to the insurer’s Medicare program),  Casey said United is threatening to destroy years of hard work that would put the success of Prime’s newly-acquired Landmark Medical Center and the medical community in northern Rhode Island in serious jeopardy.

“Simply put, Landmark should be reimbursed on the same financial scale as other Rhode Islandhospitals,” Casey said. “If United Healthcare decides to drop it from its network, that will not only cause a severe rupture in access to medical treatment for northern Rhode Islanders, but it could also reverse years of hard work exuded by countless factions of people to get the hospital back on track after it fell into receivership. Landmark has not had an increase in payments from United since 2010, and of all the hospitals in the state, United pays Landmark the lowest amount. There is clearly a need here to pay the hospital enough to keep it profitable. This is not the old Landmark, and United needs to understand that.”

Casey has reached out to other state lawmakers and asked them to call, email and write to DOH Director Michael Fine last week on behalf of the hospital and affected physicians.

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Agricultural Grants

Earlier this week, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) joined officials from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the Rhode Island State Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Farm Fresh Rhode Island to celebrate Earth Day and announce new efforts to promote, research, and market Rhode Island agriculture. Reed announced a series of federal grants coming to Rhode Island to improve nutrition in schools and help increase demand and consumption of local, nutritious, and sustainable Rhode Island-grown food.

“There’s a lot people can do to protect the planet, like recycling and conserving energy.  And another smart way to help Rhode Island’s environment and the economy is to buy local and support your local farms and farmers markets. Because supporting sustainable agriculture here in Rhode Island also supports a healthy economy,” said Reed.  

This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making a $255,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant available to DEM and to food and other specialty crop growers for a variety of projects.  Specialty crops make up the bulk of what we eat -- all of our fruits and vegetables -- as well as things like nursery crops.  Past recipients of these federal grants include: Farm Fresh Rhode Island; the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island; Beanhouses Inc.; and the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension.

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Advocacy Group Critiques Pell

Rhode Island Taxpayers, an advocacy group that recently endorsed Ken Block for Governor, has questioned the seriousness of proposals put forth on Wednesday by Democratic Candidate Clay Pell. 

“Taxpayers and all voters need to be skeptical about a candidate claiming he is capable of bringing positive reforms to education when his campaign is being managed by the largest state teachers’ union,” said R.I. Taxpayers spokesperson Monique Chartier. “Innovation ideas for school districts and union management don’t normally go hand in hand.” Among the education related ideas put forth by Pell was the creation of a new state internship program at high schools, as well as a broad proposal to give more RI students exposure to careers in the defense industry.

The group is also skeptical about Pell’s proposal to direct more state taxpayer funds for start-up financing to new businesses when efforts such as business loan programs of the state Commerce Corporation, and the state’s Betaspring financing program for technology businesses already exist.

“Redundant proposals for more taxpayer financed business incentive programs for new businesses need to be viewed skeptically by taxpayers,” Chartier added. “A better business climate with an overall lower tax rate for existing businesses needs to occur before advocating for additional taxpayer funding for unproven new business enterprises.”

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Renewable Energy Grants

On Wednesday, Governor Lincoln Chafee announced The Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) has awarded $1.16 million in grants to support energy efficiency and renewable energy projects at local public and private schools throughout the state.

"By participating in regional initiatives such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, our state is able to benefit from projects that provide Rhode Island students with a 'living laboratory' to learn about clean energy and environmental protection," Chafee said.

East Greenwich, Chariho Regional, and Lincoln school districts were funded for energy efficiency investments totaling $538,000. These investments included energy-efficient lighting upgrades, replacement of boilers, and installation of controls for heating systems and fans. These projects will provide substantial energy reductions and cost savings for the schools. Chariho estimates that they will save approximately $14,000 annually and reduce their electricity use by 30 percent.

Rocky Hill School (East Greenwich), Community Preparatory School (Providence), Meeting Street School (Providence), and West Warwick High School were awarded a total of $622,250 in grants to install a total of 613 kW of solar capacity – solar photovoltaic systems ranging in size from 33 kW to 235 kW. West Warwick High School will use its grant to install systems on both its field house and ice rink – for a total annual energy bill savings of $31,000.

These awards were funded through Rhode Island's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is the nation's first market-based system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI puts a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power sector in participating states and sells tradable allowances at auction. Rhode Island uses our portion of the proceeds from the auctions to support energy efficiency measures and programs as well as projects focused on renewable energy, grid modernization, and innovation.


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