Welcome to another edition of my weekend column. Keep sending your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com.
1. If Don Carcieri, Keith Stokes and Gordon Fox really wanted to make Providence a thriving hub for video game production as they said in 2010, why did they choose 38 Studios rather than one of the many other game firms that are already established and operating in Boston, California and elsewhere? Joystiq’s Alexander Sliwinski made that point on Newsmakers last week, and it’s an important one. “This is not about Curt Schilling,” the EDC’s deputy director declared in 2010. But that’s hard to believe. If state leaders’ top priority was economic development – rather than photo-ops with a former Red Sox pitcher – they’d have done something like a a $75 million Race to the Top for the video game industry. John Robitaille argued the state’s poor business climate leaves Republicans like Carcieri with no choice but to pick winners; if that’s the case, it’s vital for Rhode Island to ensure the winners it picks don’t turn out to be losers.
2. Bankruptcy documents are always an interesting X-ray of a company, filled with minor details that paint a picture of the place. 38 Studios is no exception. The company owes the Providence Bruins $160 for tickets bought last December to benefit breast cancer survivors. It hired Shred-It in Providence and Baltimore, as The Providence Journal and The Boston Globe noted. A guy named Jeffrey is owed $12, according to the AP’s Erika Niedowski. The vending machine company is owed $193, says NECN’s Peter Howe.
3. Meanwhile, there’s the $8.1 billion state budget for 2012-13 the House passed at 3:30 a.m. Friday. So much for fireworks – despite reporters’ hopes, the only notable change from the House Finance Committee’s blueprint was the elimination of sales taxes on car washes. House Minority Leader Brian Newberry fought a losing fight to eliminate $960,000 in revenue from new taxi taxes, which he proposed paying for by slashing the controversial legislative grants program. He failed on a 28-41 vote (Rep. Morgan’s yea isn’t online). Newberry says it’s taxi drivers who’ll suffer, because riders will give smaller tips to offset they tax. “Taxi cab drivers have a dangerous and difficult job,” Newberry told me. “They work long hours and are an example of the very kind of working class people the Democratic Party claims it represents. Yet when faced with the option of eliminating this proposed tax in exchange for cutting 40% of the infamous legislative grant budget … 41 Democrats voted to benefit themselves rather than protect the people they claim to stand up for.”
4. Newberry also notes that despite rumors of division in his tiny caucus, all nine House Republicans voted as a bloc against the budget, as did their former associate Rep. Dan Gordon. The five Democratic no votes were cast by dissident lawmakers Roberto DaSilva of East Providence, Spencer Dickinson of South Kingstown, Scott Guthrie of Coventry, Charlene Lima and Peter Palumbo, both of Cranston.
5. One of those House Republicans – state Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt of North Kingstown – is pouring cold water on rumors that he’s retiring after this session. “I don’t know why that keeps popping up,” Ehrhardt told me this week, noting he just made an $8,000 personal loan to his campaign in March. “The bumper sticker’s out on my car. I do expect to file for reelection.”
6. Amid all the bad headlines about 38 Studios, a homegrown Rhode Island company keeps plugging along – the jewelry-maker Alex + Ani is taking over the café storefront that used to be The Edge in Wayland Square and turning it into a new place called Teas and Javas. They’ll be opening one up by their headquarters at Chapel View in Cranston, too.
8. Slate’s Matt Yglesias offered a thoughtful take on the pension debate this week: “Municipalities operate with a much broader and more regressive tax base than the federal government so [taxing the rich] is not open to them. Consequently, a bad economy leads to reduced spending on all kinds of things. Including pensions. Which is bad for the workers whose pensions get cut and naturally unions will fight back. And to a deeply political person that may look like a controversy about the decades-long decline of American labor unions and the macro structure of American politics, but to a normal person it’s just a question about paying more taxes or less.” Read the whole thing.
10. Engage Rhode Island, the deep-pocketed advocacy group that helped Gina Raimondo push through the pension overhaul last November, made some news this week. Collette Vacations CFO John Galvin replaced Nortek’s Ed Cooney as the group’s chairman, saying EngageRI “is committed to being a positive voice in the policy discussions around pension reform.” Separately, the public affairs team at Duffy & Shanley won big for its EngageRI campaign at the Publicity Club of New England’s annual Bell Ringer Awards, taking home a Gold Bell Ringer and placing as a finalist for the best-in-show “Platinum Super Bell.” Makes you wonder, could EngageRI play the same role for a Governor Raimondo as the Committee to Save New York plays for Governor Cuomo?
11. I tip my cap to the dedicated reporters who covered all or most of the all-night House budget debate: RIPR’s Ian Donnis, the AP’s Dave Klepper, The Providence Journal’s State House scribes (Phil Marcelo,Randy Edgar and Kathy Gregg) and photog Connie Grosch, The Pawtucket Times’ Jim Baron, WPRO’s Liz Burke, the Current’s Justin Katz and RIFuture’s Dave Pepin. Hats off as well to the many State House aides stuck there all night. No sympathy for state lawmakers, though, since they’re the ones who set the schedule.
12. This week on “Newsmakers” – R.I. Department of Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly on what went wrong at 38 Studios and the municipal crisis. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. See you back here next Saturday morning.