Side of the Rhode: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in RI Politics?

Friday, February 14, 2014
Dan Lawlor, GoLocalProv MINDSETTER™

HOT: Providence Mayoral Candidate Jorge Elorza
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.


Dennis Duffy - Duffy, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs with Energy Management, Inc (the developer behind Cape Wind), was recently nominated to the RI Board of Education by Governor Chafee. The Cranston East, URI, and Columbia University Law alum has past experience directing the Special Olympics of Rhode Island. Best of luck as Duffy joins the board tasked with setting education policy and guidelines for the elementary through college levels. What does Duffy think about NECAP?

John Lombardi - Good conversation starter! Lombardi, O'Neill, Canario, Costa, and Giarrusso recently offered a bill for a referendum to extend the term of state legislators to four years, but to limit legislators to twelve years in office in a particular chamber. Is this a step toward better governance and limits on personal power, or a move toward less democracy and more revolving door lobbyists?

Jorge Elorza - "We must make it a priority to find the $1.35 million to fund [bus] passes for the 2,100 students who live between 2 and 3 miles from school. $1.35 million is only 0.2% of the total budget. This is a matter of priorities, not cash," Elorza, a Roger Williams University Law professor and candidate for Mayor, told GoLocal. GoLocal's Kate Nagle documented numerous existing problems with the city's bussing strategy this fall.

Brett Smiley - While gaining criticism from Gubernatorial candidate Ken Block who fears negative effects from any new taxes, Smiley's proposal to have a 10% supplemental sales tax on guns and ammunition to create a permanent funding stream for anti-violence community groups is a new approach to the problem of violence in the city. As Smiley said, "Just like we expect the tobacco industry and those who support it to pay for public health initiatives, the firearms industry and those who prop it up should be paying to keep our streets safe."

#3 - On the plus side, according to OpenTable, Providence is the third most romantic city in the country. Happy Valentine's Day.

Ana Santana/District 9 - Ana Santana, the GOP contender in House District 9, a student at Roger Williams University, has a core group of energetic, young supporters, and will likely be State Representative Anastasia Williams strongest opponent in years (Williams hasn't faced a Republican since 2008). Williams is the Providence Coordinator of First Source in the Planning Department, and has been in office since 1992. Santana promises, "a new face, fresh ideas, and a real representative for the people" - and she has new logo.

East Side Tunnel, Je t'aime - Paris has over 200 Metro Stations- 11 of which have been abandoned since WWII. According to The Atlantic, "Parisian mayoral candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet has a bold plan for these phantom stations." She envisions, among many possibilities, a theater, a restaurant, a night club, or a pool. Could any of these re-designs be inspiration for a rehab of the long abandoned East Side Tunnel (or, for that matter, the decaying Castle and Bomes Theaters?)

Gale Eaton/Board Chair, RI Coalition of Library Advocates (COLA) - " improve the quality of life for all Rhode Islanders by supporting libraries of all kinds," is the goal of COLA. At their annual meeting this past Tuesday, held at the State House, the advocates honored Howard Boksenbaum, recently retired as the Chief Library Officer from the RI Office of Library and Information Services, with their "Sweetheart of the Year" Award in recognition of his years of problem-solving and dedication. Local volunteers such as the Friends of Knight Memorial Library and Friends of West Warwick Public Library also received recognition for their fundraising prowess and community outreach.

NOT: AG Peter Kilmartin

Lincoln Chafee, Gina Raimondo and J Michael Downey - After a year of negotiation,the scheduled Wednesday announcement of the results of court-ordered mediation between the state and the public sector unions over pension changes did not take place. A trial date was set to resolve the issues. However, possibly today, right before the holiday weekend, there will be an announcement. Failure of leadership.

Judge Sarah Taft Carter - Acknowledging today's scheduled announcement may change the situation, why set the trial date for the challenge to the state's pension laws on September 15, one week AFTER the primary elections?

Angel Taveras - The Mayor and Director of Administration Michael D'Amico have moved mountains over the past few years to balance the city's books and prevent bankruptcy, but the challenge for the city's pension system is still enormous. As GoLocal's Stephen Beale reported, the pension system is "only 31.3 percent funded, with an unfunded liability of $831.5 million."

Peter Kilmartin - The Attorney General had some egg on his face when a news station down in Florida identified him as a "Sarasota resident." Furthermore, as GoLocal's Victor Paul Alvarez wrote, "Anyone who touched the state’s involvement with former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s failed video game company will likely have to answer to their challengers and the voters on the campaign trail." 

Job Index- "Two states -- Rhode Island and Connecticut -- have the unwanted distinction of appearing in the bottom tier for job creation every year since 2008." As GoLocal reported, the latest Gallup Job Index ranks Rhode Island as last in the nation for 2013 job growth, replacing Maine, which was the lowest performer in 2012.

City Planning Commission - The city is allowing exceptions to the zoning code for the construction of a Family Dollar and McDonald's near Olneyville Square. Once the precedent of ignoring the zoning code for corporate retailers is set in Olneyville, what is to stop changes in Smith Hill, Valley or Wanskuck? More corporate chains and fewer local owners do not make a stronger economy (and, as the empty shell that was the Smith Hill Tim Hortons demonstrates, not a sure growth strategy either).

Fred P. Gralinski/Chairperson, Central Coventry Fire District - Home to numerous historic villages like Phenix and Harris, the financially troubled Central Coventry Fire District has been ordered liquidated by May. Judge Brian Stern has ordered that all assets- historic buildings, trucks - can be sold to pay creditors.

  • Guns and ammunition tax

    Sen. Gayle Goldin and Rep. Maria Cimini introduced legislation on Thursday to institute a 10-percent tax on the sale of guns and ammunition that would raise revenue for anti-violence organizations.

    The bill was submitted on behalf of Providence mayoral candidate Brett Smiley, who proposed the tax as part of his “Safest City Plan,” which looks to fight crime and violence in Providence. Smiley estimated it would raise about $2 million annually and likened the idea to the way the tobacco industry is required to pay for public health initiatives

    The legislation, which would proportionately divide the revenue among all Rhode Island police departments for distribution to the organizations of the their choice, is meant to provide a dedicated funding stream to organizations that support anti-violence programs, while establishing a connection between them and local police.

    “With more than 100 shootings in Providence last year alone, gun violence continues to be a major problem in our city and throughout the state. Yet the many organizations committed to reducing gun violence are consistently underfunded,” said Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence). “We know that engaging communities, law enforcement, mental health providers, schools departments, employers, and parents can lead us to a safer society. And safer societies lead to healthier communities, where entrepreneurs start businesses, children play in neighborhood parks, and people walking home from work don’t have to look over their shoulders.”

  • Increased funding for community senior programs

    Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi has introduced legislation to establish a program of basic community senior services grants to equitably fund community senior centers and other local programs, based on the municipality’s population of non-institutionalized persons 65 and older. The funding would begin at $5 per senior and gradually increasing to $10 per senior by 2020. The formula replaces the current method of distribution of grants, which are basically historically allocated amounts not tied to numbers of older persons in the communities.

    “It is in the state’s best interest, and that of our elderly population, that we promote and support local programs providing services to senior citizens, such as community senior centers,” said Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick). “These agencies provide outstanding services to our seniors, running meals programs, providing nutritional and health information, and generally helping older Rhode Islanders remain self-sufficient and able to stay in their own homes in their own communities.”

    If approved, the budget appropriation for the grant program this year would increase by about $400,000, more than doubling the figure contained in the current budget. Under the formula, several communities, such as Providence, Cranston, Warwick, Pawtucket and Bristol, would actually receive additional funding.

    Rhode Island Statewide Planning population projections estimate that the number of older persons in Rhode Island will increase by 46 percent between now and 2025.

    To read the bill in its entirety, go here.

  • Vehicle excise tax change

    Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence) has filed a bill that would change the system used to assess used motor vehicles when determining state motor vehicle excise taxes to one based on the average trade-in price, rather than the retail price.

    “When we eliminated the reimbursement aid program for the motor vehicle taxes in 2010, we saw a lot more of our less affluent Rhode Islanders paying excise taxes,” Pichardo said. “If we’re going to make people pay this tax, we need to make sure it’s fair for everyone. To me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to base these taxes on retail values if you would receive less for a trade-in. Feedback from my constituents has also led me to believe that one month is not enough time to appeal an issue with a tax statement. Obviously, I think it’s important to point out that this bill would provide some taxpayer relief in the process, but ultimately, we’re also building a more equitable system.”

    Pichardo’s bill (2014-S 2148), if enacted, would also extend the appeal period from 30 to 45 days. The law would take effect on Jan. 3, 2015.

  • Proposal to lower corporate income tax

    State Representative Joseph Trillo (R-Warwick) has filed legislation to reduce the RI corporate income tax rate from its current 9% rate to 7%.          

    The 7% rate would place RI in a tie with New York, whose corporate tax rate ranks #25 among U.S. states.

    The proposal is the third “Getting To 25” initiative designed to bring Rhode Island back into the mainstream on key measures.

    Trillo’s legislation is identical to a reduction proposed by the Governor Lincoln Chafee, except that the Chafee plan is contingent on Congress passing a national sales tax on Internet transactions.

    “I hold no expectation that reducing the corporate tax rate alone is going to solve Rhode Island’s economic problems. But as one of a number of small steps that make this state more attractive to companies who bring the jobs and the spending and the additional tax revenue, this is important,” Trillo said.

    “I am not alone in believing this is important, he added. “One Democratic Senator has filed a similar proposal in the Senate. Neither of these bills waits for Congress to act, or expect revenue from a law still to be enacted. He believes, as I do, that we must start to take bolder action on the economic front, and this is a good place to start.

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