Talking Politics

RIPEC sends a strong warning about state spending

By Ian Donnis
Posted 6/6/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: It has been clear for a while that the sugar high of consecutive budget surpluses in Rhode Island – a rare occurrence in a state usually dogged by perennial deficits --

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Talking Politics

RIPEC sends a strong warning about state spending


STORY OF THE WEEK: It has been clear for a while that the sugar high of consecutive budget surpluses in Rhode Island – a rare occurrence in a state usually dogged by perennial deficits --

is headed to a crash. Now, the business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council has put its imprimatur on that view with a report issued just days before a House Finance Committee vote on the spending plan.

In part, RIPEC found that Gov. Dan McKee’s proposed $13.8 billion budget for 2023-24 represents a significant increase over where total spending ($9.5B) and state general revenue ($3.9B) spending were just five years ago. “Policymakers have had a relatively easy time managing expenditures, but the state is now entering a period in which pandemic-related federal funding will be running out and state general revenue growth will be considerably more constrained,” warned RIPEC President/CEO Michael DiBiase. “Policymakers will need to avoid unsustainable spending commitments and be prepared to curtail the level of spending growth.”

Revenue growth is projected to climb through FY28 at 2.5%, one point behind the trendline from 2014-2018 and considerably less than the 6.6% growth from FY19 through FY23. RIPEC’s recommendations on how to respond include bolstering the rainy-day fund, improving the business climate, paying close attention to transportation funding, and focusing on health and human services delivery “since spending demands in this area likely will present the most challenging issue for the FY 2025 budget.” 

CD1: Of the 16 or so Democrats running for the seat vacated by David Cicilline, Don Carlson may have the broadest range of experience. He’s been a trial lawyer, a congressional legislative director, a renewable energy investor, a volunteer EMT, an instructor in leadership and he’s worked on Wall Street. But Carlson’s name-recognition, at least for now, pales in comparison to some of the better-known candidates in CD1. Carlson tells me he will likely start airing TV commercials later this month and he plans on spending close to $1 million during his campaign. Here are some excerpts (edited for length) from my Political Roundtable interview with Carlson, a 62-year-old Jamestown resident.

HOW WILL HE SEPARATE HIMSELF FROM THE PACK: “I think Rhode Island needs a new economic engine. And I think that engine can be offshore wind, and I think that’s right in front of us, implementing a strategy to try to put Rhode Island really at the center of the renewable energy revolution, and especially in offshore wind would be a big part of it, I think that’ll get a lot of attention. And I think people get excited about the idea of really good high-paying, high-skilled jobs created right here in Rhode Island.”

WHAT RI NEEDS TO DO DIFFERENTLY TO CAPITALIZE ON RENEWABLE ENERGY: Policy-wise, I think we need to really understand what resources are available through the new legislation, the Infrastructure Act, the Chips Act and the Inflation Reduction Act at the federal level. That’s where a congressman can really play a key role in figuring out, how do we leverage those dollars? The other thing, I think, is to leverage the power of the private sector. Too often we just say this should be a government solution. And government’s going to solve this problem. I think that we can harness the creativity and the innovative power of the private sector. That is how our system works. And I think it’s really important for Rhode Islanders to understand that there are business opportunities here and it’s okay for people to come in, in a for-profit context, in the private sector, and to develop new businesses that will provide really good, high-paying, long-term, high-skilled jobs for Rhode Island citizens.” 

ROCKY PAST: Lacking the money to hire a Statehouse lobbyist? You can still buy a piece of leftover marble from the stash used by a Worcester firm (!) to construct RI’s Capitol back in the 1890s. The marble was discovered in Providence’s Valley neighborhood, buried beneath the new home of Farm Fresh RI. The nonprofit, which promotes sustainable agriculture, is staging a sale of the rediscovered to benefit its efforts, June 9-11.

HOUSING: Over time, support has shifted the view that it’s better and more cost-effective to provide permanent housing for the unhoused than to respond with shelters and emergency housing. My colleague Olivia Ebertz reports on one local nonprofit, Amos House, which has acquired 375 units through a landlord incentive program, most of them since Albert Schiavone, a landlord and businessman himself, started on the case for Amos House last year. Still, while the initiative is making a difference, it’s a Band-Aid and some say the public sector should remain the main force in addressing homelessness.

HOSPITALS: Attorney General Peter Neronha and the state Health Department, the two agencies that oversee hospital conversions, have found that an initial submission by the Centurion Foundation and Prospect Medical Holdings, for Centurion’s proposed acquisition of ChaterCARE, does not meet the requirements of RI’s Hospital Conversion Act. In a statement this week, the two departments say the application will be reviewed once it is considered complete. ChaterCARE’s best-known holdings are Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence and Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence. Back in 2021, Neronha signed off on the ownership change involving Prospect Medical Holdings only after it agreed to provide $80 million in escrow that the AG called necessary to ensure the future of the two hospitals.

COMING & GOING: Best wishes to Matt Fidel, comms director for U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner, as he heads off to Harvard Law School. Fidel will be succeeded by Hawaiian native James Kwon, most recently a staffer with U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA). 

TAKES OF THE WEEK: various views from a mix of Rhode Islanders

RI Senate GOP Leader JESSICA DE LA CRUZ of North Smithfield: “In the 2021-2022 legislative session, the Senate witnessed a remarkable shift in the Senate Oversight Committee’s approach towards the executive branch and quasi-public agencies. This departure from its previously lackluster performance is a testament to serving the people of Rhode Island better and achieving greater reforms. It may seem unusual for a party with a supermajority to conduct oversight on the executive branch who they’ve largely supported, but it was both proper and just to ensure genuine accountability for all Rhode Islanders. Some may argue that oversight does not bring about significant changes, but I strongly disagree. I attribute saving Zambarano Hospital to the diligent oversight carried out by Senate Oversight. Change comes about by holding those in power accountable for their actions and inactions. Good government can only come from strong and vigorous oversight. I remain hopeful that we will soon witness a return to meaningful oversight hearings even after the legislature adjourns in the next few weeks.”

Consultant LIANA CASSAR, a former state rep from Barrington: “As Pride Month kicks off this week, we’re seeing rainbows everywhere. The public awareness and embracing of LGBTQIA rights and experiences is heartwarming, especially in light of the anti-trans legislation and rhetoric that is creating a dangerous and hostile environment for many people, disregarding the basic principles of a democratic society. While RI has managed to avoid succumbing to the wave of hateful and harmful anti-trans legislation, that’s not enough to assure that LGBTQIA people have safety and economic stability. Research shows that LGBTQIA people, especially people of color, face stigma and discrimination that contributes to higher rates of poverty and higher rates of homelessness than their straight and cisgender counterparts.

“This Pride Month, let’s celebrate Pride while also making a commitment to addressing the barriers facing our LGBTQIA neighbors, family members and friends, especially our trans youth, so that we can create the conditions for thriving and assure them that RI is not only a safe place for them to live, but a community that will help them thrive, starting with safe and stable housing.”

ROBERT A. WALSH JR., former executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island: “Occasionally, I ponder how I would approach some of the significant votes in Congress. This week, of course, the big vote, and the last significant vote of outgoing Congressman David Cicilline, was on the debt ceiling. I often describe myself in presidential politics as a ‘fall in love in the primary, fall in line in the general election’ Democrat. In many ways that same logic applies to votes of this significance. Fight hard for the best legislation possible and then recognize the greater good (or the lesser of two evils.)

“I suspect I would very much have wanted to vote ‘no’ but out of respect for the rest of our small delegation and the work and negotiating skill of President Biden, I likely would’ve voted ‘yes.’ To be fair, I don’t know if that answer would’ve been the same when I ran for Congress half a lifetime ago. And, of course, congratulations to David Cicilline for a lifetime of public service as he embarks on his new adventure.”

CORTNEY NICOLATO, president/CEO of the United Way of Rhode Island: “Without innovation, there is no change, and to create positive, transformative change requires listening and learning, and taking inventory of our own actions and systems. Less than 30 months ago, United Way said we would commit $100 million over five years to build racial equity in Rhode Island and we have not strayed. With our latest $10 million in community investments, contributions toward that goal top $70 million. But how these resources are dispersed and, as a result, what they allow for can be the real game-changer for our state. Overhauling our grants program removed barriers to funding and enables our nonprofits the flexibility to be more innovative with their mission-driven work, which will lead to the progress, movement, and impact Rhode Island needs.

“Nonprofits are businesses for social good and yet have had to live by a scarcity mentality born from restrictions placed by funders and others. The time is now to be bold and innovative. This is how to create real change, and this is what we’ll continue to do for the greater good of our state. Join us.”

JASON ROIAS, campaign manager in CD1 for state Sen. Ana Quezada: “In Providence, the sexiest label a political candidate can apply to oneself is being a ‘product of Providence Public Schools.’ As graduation season quickly approaches, when students are eager to change the trajectory of their families’ lives, I feel it’s appropriate to delve deeper into the crown jewel of PPSD: Classical High School. A drum that I have been beating even before I graduated from Hope HS is the equity around the entrance exam. The exam administered by Classical poses a sink or swim challenge for our 12/13-year-olds transitioning from middle school, serving either as a moment of opportunity or inequality. Classical stands apart from other schools by offering Latin, a robust Advanced Placement (AP) program, and an exciting travel program known as ‘Classical Travels!’ However, even if a student passes the entrance exam, his or her enrollment at Classical is not guaranteed. This means that despite their qualifications, some students may still not have the opportunity to walk through those purple doors in September.

“So, what’s my beef? It’s time for the school board to seriously consider removing the entrance exam requirement at Classical High School or to establish a gifted program in each high school for academically inclined students (like the one at Nathanael Greene Middle School) This change would engender greater equity, inclusivity, and diversity within our educational system, ensuring that every student has a fair opportunity to excel and succeed.”

WORKING: A growing number of states, including Massachusetts, are contemplating proposals to institute a four-day work week. Supporters say pilot efforts have demonstrated positive results, including making it easier for some employers to attract workers. Still, the 40-hour work week is deeply ingrained in American culture, so it’s unlikely to fade away quickly. 

THE LONG RUN: According to MIT Technology Review, Rhode Island is getting some consideration as a longevity state: “a state that prioritizes doing something about aging.” The story reports that Nathan Cheng, who leads the Longevity Biotech Fellowship and spoke at a recent conference in Montenegro, “has his sights set on Rhode Island. It’s close to Boston, a well-established biotech hub. And it has a small population. If enough people who believed in his moral philosophy moved there, they could have enough voting power to influence mayoral and state elections, he said. ‘Five to ten thousand people — that’s all we need,’ he told the attendees.” 

KICKER: Technologists have for years kicked around the concept known as “the Singularity” – the time when artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence, with potentially disastrous results for the flesh-and-blood crowd. Now, with the rapid growth of AI, these dystopian thoughts are not just the stuff of sci-fi movies. Some scoff at the worst-case scenario, pointing to how AI might be most widely used to imitate art or for personalized shopping. There’s an upside, too, with significant potential in medical research, for example. For now, the Air Force is saying someone misspoke while describing how, during a test, an AI-enabled drone attacked its human operator.  

Ian Donnis can be reached at

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.