Welcome back to my weekly column. As always, your tips and thoughts are welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org. Let's get to the list.
1. Considering Rhode Island's decades-long struggle for a better economy, a clear path forward would be pretty shocking. Just consider the last week: Rhode Island's unemployment rate ticked down in January, to 9.8 percent, from the revised December figure of 9.9. percent. Governor Lincoln Chafee cites that as good news, along with his five new appointees for the state Economic Development Corporation. Yet the state keeps losing manufacturing and construction jobs, not to mention those provided by one of the largest local for-profit employees, MetLife. The EDC has mostly been without a leader for the last five years. So what will it take to accelerate overall progress? Will private-sector innovators set the pace? Will forthcoming legislation from the House and Senate lend a boost? Or will Rhode Island remain mostly dependent on the national economy?
2. Speaking of innovators, Core Composites in Bristol is a case in point. The company, with roots in the boat-building industry around Newport, makes lightweight composite products for anything that rolls, flies, or floats; its customers include the US military. During a presentation this week for Congressman David Cicilline, Core Composites' president, Richard O'Meara cited composites as a potential growth sector for Rhode Island. O'Meara cited two key needs: 1) a tax climate that will "make the CEO competitive" with counterparts in other states; and, he says, 2) the state needs to make business people feel welcome here.
3. How is that the North Kingstown GOP can attract 250 people for a dinner (this Sunday) and yet the statewide GOP doesn't do anything similar?
4. George Nee's staying power on the EDC board makes us think of this song. The official explanation from the governor: "I felt strongly that anyone who voted in favor of the 38 Studios deal should resign from the EDC Board. Obviously, there was a difference of opinion there between me and George Nee. As time has passed, I have been able to work with George on the Board and have a number of private discussions with him regarding 38 Studios. I believe that George agrees with me that the process was not performed in the proper way and that 38 Studios was a mistake.”
5. Dan Kennedy, my ex-colleague at the Phoenix, is a super-smart media critic. He's got a sneak peak at his forthcoming book, "The Wired City: Re-imagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age."
6. Senator Carl Levin's decision not to seek re-election paves the way for Jack Reed to take the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee, assuming Democrats retain control of the Senate. The 78-year-old Levin explained his decision by saying he wants to focus on other issues, including "the huge loss of corporate tax receipts caused by the shift of U.S. corporate tax revenue to offshore tax havens." On a related note, David Cicilline and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse are staging a news conference in Lincoln Monday to tout legislation that they say would create "an even playing field for Rhode Island manufacturers by eliminating a special tax break for companies that ship jobs overseas."
7. Why was Mitt Romney's "47 percent" remark so harmful to his presidential campaign? As Chris Cillizza notes, a big part of the answer lies in the video footage of the candidate offering his own words. Sure, it still would have been a story even without the video, albeit a far smaller one. Cillizza concludes, "The prevalence of videos cameras on the campaign trail coupled with the ease of posting clips to You Tube and other video-sharing sites means that these sort of moments will grow, not shrink, in coming campaigns. Candidates need to adjust accordingly or face the prospect of adding their names to a list that Romney headlines at the moment."
8. Add Woonsocket City Council President John Ward to those who say that former GOP Governor Don Carcieri and the mostly Democratic General Assembly destabilized cities and towns by slashing local aid. "When you're talking about $11 million of aid out of a budget that's only $100 million, and the education aid was slashed before the formula was created ... that has been an overwhelming burden," Ward said during an RIPR interview this week.
9. On a related note, Ward says he got nowhere fast with legislators when he suggested combining detective functions for local police departments on a state or regional basis. He estimates the idea could save about one-third of the cost for local police departments -- far more in total, he says, than some pitches to combine trash functions in a few communities. It was just one idea for a legislative commission, Ward says, but, "Boy, I got to tell you when you throw them [ideas] out there, there's a lot of eye-rolling."
10. Amid recent debate about the merit of high-stakes testing, the Providence Student Union is staging a "Take the Test" event to spark discussion around the new NECAP requirement, and whether a single test is an effective measure of success. Organizer Aaron Regunberg says elected officials and community leaders will be among those taking part in a shortened version of the test. The event is set for 12:15 pm on Saturday, March 16 at Knight Memorial Library in Providence. (Individual scores will not be released, to avoid embarassing test-takers.)
12. The pride of Fall River, E.J. Dionne Jr., on hopes for a budget agreement in Washington: "There are, believe it or not, grounds for hoping that the so-called sequester, stupid as it is, might open the way to ending our nation’s budget stalemate." Stranger things have happened.