April showers bring …. May revenue estimates? Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As usual, your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.
1) Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has a little less than four years left in his second term at City Hall. But now that he’s pulled the plug on his proposal to shore up Providence’s pension system by monetizing the city’s water supply, Elorza basically concedes he’s given up hope of resolving the pension issue during his time as mayor. He still believes that monetizing the city’s water supply is the key to chipping away at the pension crisis, but Elorza said it’s virtually impossible to build political support while a looming crisis remains off in the future. “It’s hard to make the case that 10 years from now there’s going to be a problem, so we have to do something now,” Elorza said during Political Roundtable on The Public’s Radio this week. “And I think that as time goes by, the problem is going to be more acute and it’s going to seem more and more like an urgent crisis, and that urgent crisis, I think, is going to spur people to action.” Providence has less than 30 percent of the money needed to meet its long-term obligations, so the city has to pour an escalating amount of cash into the pension plan. Elorza said he’s fulfilled his responsibility by drawing attention to the issue; he said some small steps will help solidify the pension in the short term. But as Ken Block notes, Providence’s expected rate of return on the pension is questionable, so the pension plan could be in even worse shape than believed. And like many Rhode Island municipalities, the city also faces massive unfunded obligations for retiree healthcare. The fuse on these time bombs continues to burn.
2) Along with an increasingly grim budget outlook, the fate of the high-profile abortion bill passed by the House in March remains one of the big issues hanging over the rest of the General Assembly session. There’s at least some support in the Senate Judiciary Committee for a more narrow codification of Roe vs. Wade. The big question is whether the House would take up an amended bill. Recent years have revealed intense rivalry at times between the House and Senate, so things could run off the skids — and energize a heightened wave of progressive activism. But House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello went all-in on the House version of the abortion bill, so he would seemingly still want to get an amended bill passed into law. The potential sticking point is whether a bill can get out of Senate Judiciary. And then there’s the view of Planned Parenthood and other groups supporting reproductive rights. In a statement this week, the Rhode Island Coalition For Reproductive Freedom said it was firmly opposed to any amendments in Senate Judiciary. “Therefore,” the coalition said, “the only outcome of amending S 152A is that the bill will die and we will all be back at the State House, and in communities across Rhode Island, in January 2020 to start this process once again.”
3) U.S. Rep. David Cicilline has emerged as part of the Democratic leadership in the U.S. House, with a focus on messaging, so his commentary on the Mueller report is worth noting. Here’s an excerpt from Cicilline’s statement: “This is a damning report on the misconduct of the sitting President of the United States and in the Special Counsel’s own words, ‘does not exonerate the President.’ It details unacceptable, unpatriotic, and unethical conduct and a sustained effort by the President to obstruct the Special Counsel’s investigation. The Mueller Report established without doubt that the Russians, in a sophisticated and effective intelligence campaign, attacked our democracy in the 2016 Presidential campaign. What is even more disturbing in some ways, is that these efforts were embraced and encouraged by candidate, Donald J. Trump. The report concludes that the Trump team was aware and openly supportive of Russian attempts to interfere in the election because ‘the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.’ The Trump campaign benefited from this attack on our democracy and the President has, according to the evidence collected, attempted to impede or interfere with the investigation of these matters. The report lays out multiple instances where the President tried to obstruct the investigation and states ‘our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations.’ ” (For a different perspective, check National Review’s Jonah Goldberg.) You can read the redacted report here.
4) Coming up on May 20 in Newport: Alex Blumberg – CEO of Gimlet Media and the guy responsible for Crimetown, Planet Money, Reply All and other groundbreaking podcasts – will be the headliner for the annual gala of The Public’s Radio. Details here.
5) The Boston Globe appears to have rounded out its RI contingent, with former ProJo political columnist Ed Fitzpatrick signing on to join…