State House Politics About to Explode

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello is facing a slew of political challenges

The game is on. The Rhode Island General Assembly is back in session and the issues facing the legislature are stacked like firewood.

But, almost immediately the legislature will be faced with a crush of matters.

Add in a few x-factors: a Governor who polls in the 35 percent range; a budget deficit; a Speaker who won re-election by less than 100 votes; a Senate President and Speaker who ended the last session not on the best terms; polling that shows that most Rhode Islanders think that the state is going in the wrong direction; and that less than a third support the PawSox deal — and, oh yeah, its an election year.

Here is an overview of some of the critical issues:

PawSox — The State Senate is opening the session with the revised PawSox deal under consideration. Senate Finance is holding a hearing on Thursday.

The committee will consider a resolution (2018-S 2001), introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) that would authorize the state to enter into lease and financing agreements in connection with a ballpark.

Many have attacked the revised deal as being a setback for taxpayers and the PawSox owners.

The second resolution to be considered is legislation (2018-S 2002) also introduced by Conley that would permit redevelopment agencies to finance the construction of projects for residential, recreational, commercial, industrial, institutional, public or other purposes contemplated by a redevelopment plan.

Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello is a no-go on this legislation and is likely to send it to the voters to approve.

Budget — Budget, budget, and more budget. While the PawSox get the headlines, it is the budget battles that will determine the future of the state. With a significant $200 plus million hole and the potential for the number to grow, Governor Gina Raimondo who is facing a tough re-election needs to balance looking compassionate to the poorest in the state with being fiscally competent — polling shows that she has vulnerabilities on both fronts.

The bills will be flying this session

Hospital Conversion — Presently, Care New England is in negotiations to be purchased by Partners Healthcare of Boston. Both Lifespan and Prospect are sitting on the sideline waiting to pounce.

The Partners deal raises many concerns as it would, most likely, mean the outsourcing of thousands of jobs to Massachusetts, a blow to the partnership with the Brown Medical School (Partners is affiliated with Harvard Medical School), and the loss of local control.

All of this playing out against a hospital conversion act process that is now being shown to be flawed, as the RI Attorney General failed to protect the interests of pensioners in the 2014 sale of CharterCARE. That deal left the pension fund of St. Joseph Health Services (a component of CharterCARE) orphaned and resulted in its collapse in August of 2017.

The Attorney General Peter Kilmartin approved that deal.

UHIP — The techno-nightmare of the state’s healthcare technology infrastructure continues to leave the state’s most vulnerable without the very basics (food stamps) and now the federal court has named a special master to investigate and take control. Deming Sherman was named by federal court judge Will Smith to take control of the broken system.

Will House Oversight, led by Pat Serpa be forced to develop and push legislation to force resolution? The techno-nightmare is already deep into year two.

Online Gambling — Watch for the emergence of online gambling. It is in place in New Jersey and is being seen as a possible solution to the budget whole. Sources tell GoLocal that Raimondo polled the issue and that the public likes the expansion of gaming over marijuana.

Marijuana — The hope of the Governor and legislative leaders was that by now the data from Massachusetts would be in and RI could follow the game plan. Well, the Commonwealth has been slow in implementing the program. Will Rhode Island be forced to move forward due to budget holes?

Ranglin-Vassel is looking to drop the “plantations” from RI’s official name

Plantations — The effort is on again to eliminate the name “plantations” from the state’s official name. In 2010, Rhode Islanders voted down a proposal to make the name change — overwhelmingly.

The state’s official name,  “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” The name appears in the colony’s 1663 Royal Charter and is also on the state seal and on many official state documents. According to historians, the name refers to the merger of the “Providence Plantations” settlement founded by religious dissident Roger Williams with neighboring towns into a unified government. Not a reference to slavery.