Welcome to another edition of my new weekly column. I’m enjoying writing it, and I really appreciate all the advice and feedback I’ve gotten so far. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com and I may include them. Let’s jump in.
1. For all the talk about labor unions’ power in Rhode Island, their influence over political leaders is still trumped by the might of another formidable institution: Wall Street. When Rhode Island’s leaders are faced with a choice between investors and public-sector union members, they consistently side with the former. The bondholders law, which explicitly protects creditors over pensioners, is one example of that; the suspension of democracy in Central Falls is another. Lincoln Chafee, Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo and others have all cited the need to appease the rating agencies and keep interest rates down in defending their proposals. More evidence for what former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman (a Raimondo donor) meant when he called financial markets “a global supra-government. They oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes…. [L]eaving aside unusable nuclear weapons, they have become the most powerful force on earth.”
2. Central Falls is broke, Woonsocket is falling apart, Providence is struggling, unemployment is nearly 11%, and on Tuesday this release landed in my inbox: “Senate approves ban on youth tanning.” The only other state that presently has such a ban is California – which is, as it happens, another hotspot for municipal bankruptcies. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for lawmakers.
3. Is it possible Lincoln Chafee and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian aren’t seeing eye to eye as often these days? The pair have long been political kindred spirits, and Avedisian was an enthusiastic supporter of Chafee’s 2010 campaign. But Avedisian also served on Raimondo’s transition team and sided with her over Chafee last fall during the fight over locally run pension plans. Meanwhile, Chafee has forged a close partnership with Taveras, Avedisian’s capital-city counterpart. Avedisian was on hand when Chafee rolled out the big municipal-relief bill on Thursday, but he stood at the edge of the group and didn’t offer any remarks, unlike Taveras, Allan Fung and others.
4. Did you know Rhode Island is the only state in the nation where it’s illegal to pay your employees every other week? So reports the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, which this year is trying for the umpteenth time to get state law changed to allow biweekly pay. Oddly enough, the state government that set the law doesn’t follow it – the rule only applies to the private sector, and state workers aren’t paid weekly.
5. From a business perspective, the most worrying part of The Providence Journal’s 2011 results wasn’t the sixth year of falling revenue - unfortunately, that’s almost a given in the print industry these days. Rather, as Ken Doctor pointed out, it was the 11% decline in the paper’s digital revenue compared with 2010. The newspaper industry as a whole, by contrast, reported a 6.8% increase in digital sales last year. That may be part of management’s calculus at The Journal with the new website – if digital revenue is actually shrinking for them while it grows for other papers, it may make sense for them to just stick with print.
6. Speaking of the Projo, what happened with that Doonesbury cartoon? It’s sister paper, the Dallas Morning News – ground zero for the cartoon’s controversial subject matter – ran the strips along with an article on them.
7. A bit of uninformed speculation: If President Obama wins a second term, could there be a spot in his administration for campaign co-chair Lincoln Chafee? Knowing the governor’s passion for infrastructure, I could easily imagine him being tapped to replace Ray LaHood – who, like Chafee, was a Republican member of Congress – as transportation secretary. It would give Chafee a graceful way to bow out in Rhode Island and give Democrats a clear shot at the governor’s office in 2014. There’s a precedent, too, since Obama initially tapped a sitting governor and multiplesenators for his cabinet.
10. Those who assume Gina Raimondo will definitely run for governor in 2014 may be getting a little ahead of themselves – and her. There’s no doubt she’ll seriously consider it – she’s in a strong position to run, plenty of people are counseling her to do so, and President Obama’s career proves it’s smart to strike while the iron’s hot. But Raimondo is also a mom with two young kids – and anyone who’s spoken with the treasurer knows how important her family is to her. It won’t be an easy decision either way.
12. The thermometer at T.F. Green hit 72 degrees on Monday, setting a new record, and Tony Petrarca says next week is going to be unseasonably warm, too. But is this winter-that-wasn’t making the economy look artificially healthy? Bloomberg’s Matthew Philipsthinks so: “Chances are it’s unusually warm where you live. This is causing some analysts, even bullish ones, to start casting a more skeptical eye on all this sunny economic data. They say the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had this winter is making the numbers look better than they are, and is actually stealing economic activity from the spring.”
13. This week on “Newsmakers” – a provocative political roundtable with Ed Fitzpatrick, Joe Fleming, Arlene Violet, Tim and me. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. See you back here next Saturday morning.