“It’s the holiday season,” as the song goes, and what’s December in Rhode Island without another Statehouse-tree related controversy? Mull that over along with my Friday column. Your thoughts and tips are welcome, as always at idonnis [at] ripr [dot] org.
1. The good news for state lawmakers returning to Smith Hill in January is that closing a projected $130 million for the next fiscal year should be relatively easy. But there’s some double-sided bad news, too: a failure to solve the fiscal cliff will have a “cataclysmic” effect in Rhode Island, says Governor Lincoln Chafee, in part since the state is still coping with the loss of hundreds of millions in federal stimulus money. Chafee says his administration has started talks about how to deal with a worst-case scenario, although he’s hoping for the best. Meanwhile, as the ProJo noted earlier this week, Rhode Island faces big deficits going forward — almost 400 million by 2017. So one question facing returning lawmakers is whether they’ll be able to muster long-term thinking on the state budget.
2. Get your battle gear on. The next hearing in the challenge to last year’s landmark pension overhaul is set for next Friday, December 7, a.k.a., a day that will live in infamy. Judge Sarah Taft-Carter is due to consider a state motion to dismiss the challenge by a series of unions.
3, Former Central Falls police chief Joseph Moran might be a longshot in Central Falls’ December 11 mayoral election, but he made himself available for tough questions this week on WPRI/WNAC-TV’s Newsmakers. Watch it here. Host Tim White says CF frontrunner James Diossa was the only candidate this year to decline a request to be on Newsmakers’ series of debates.
4. It won’t be the same without ProJo photographer Connie Grosch when the General Assembly resumes legislative activity in January. But ProJo Statehouse chief Katherine Gregg has taken up some of the slack in the interim, as part of a fast integration of Twitter into her impressive skill set. Gregg has been snapping away of late, tweeting pix of Statehouse fix-ups, new aides, and of course, the tree.
5. Ericka Atwell, whose GOP challenge to Representative Patricia Serpa fizzled in 2008 after a YouTube video showed her partying out of bounds, is now working as Paula Abdul‘s personal assistant, according to Atwell’s LinkedIn page.
6. Camille’s, one of the great old-school restaurants on Federal Hill, will be the scene Sunday of an annual holiday party for state reps. House spokesman Larry Berman says Speaker Gordon Fox‘s campaign fund is footing the bill, with no taxpayer dollars. We’re glad Camille’s is still with us, although we preferred the velvet brocades and pictures of Roman antiquities in the lounge, in an earlier incarnation.
7. RI Future’s Bob Plain has emerged as Rhode Island’s leading exemplar of gonzo journalism, and his recent 48 hours on the streets of Providence is case in point. Plain mixed contemporary technology with his unconventional approaches to tell a series of stories about being homeless in Rhode Island’s capital. Btw, Plain joins us on the back half this week of Newsmakers.
8. Is it just me, or has talking at the movies become a lot more frequent than in the past? It happens to be a top pet peeve for your humble blogger, and I don’t seem to be alone.
9. The popularity of Twitter has led to a bloom of a thousand mini-auteurs. One is PourMeCoffee, who has been dubbed among the best political satirists in the land of 140 characters. But because Twitter can also be a platform for deep thoughts, PMC also highlighted how the US military is wrestling with prosecuting troops who commit suicide.
10. Chafee might be a maddening figure to his critics, and even other Rhode Islanders. I mean, who announces a Statehouse tree-lighting with less than 30 minutes of advance notice and then goes on Bill O’Reilly to blab about it before a national audience? The gov stubbornly insists on his own slow long-term approach to economic development when many others are clamoring for stronger leadership. But give Chafee this: he stubbornly remains his own man, something that brought a bit of appreciation from Bishop Thomas Tobin (who praised Chafee on WPRO for following his convictions, even while rapping him). And while a possible exit strategy courtesy of President Obama can’t be ruled out, many underestimate Chafee’s chances of once again winning a four-way gubernatorial race.
11. Chafee used this explanation in picking William Parsons, a veteran of the EDC to lead the checkered agency: “Bill’s extensive knowledge, experience, and relationships, combined with the EDC’s new focus on serving existing Rhode Island businesses, will help the agency enter a new era without having to start from square one.” Such words notwithstanding, the onus will remain on Parsons to show he can lead the EDC in a better direction.
12. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, a native of Fall River, says DC Democrats and liberals need to pay homage to the effectiveness of Grover Norquist by drawing some of their own red lines. When it comes to resolving the fiscal cliff, Dionne writes, “Outside pressure from both sides is essential for a balanced deal.”
14. An editor will work with the Jerusalem bureau chief for the august New York Times on her social media entries.