With the fate of the Pawtucket Red Sox looming over the start of the General Assembly's 2018 session, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said stronger public support is the key to winning his backing for the team's $83 million stadium proposal.
Mattiello said he doesn't have a resolute personal viewpoint on the merits of the stadium. "I'm trying to reflect the will of the people, and I have sensed resistance with the public," the speaker told reporters after the opening House session of the new year. "But if that changes, then that would be something that we would absolutely consider."
on Tuesday, January 9, the Senate Finance Committee is slated to consider two PawSox-related bills. (The meeting was pushed back due to impending snow in RI; the General Assembly canceled its Thursday session.) One would authorize the state to enter into a lease and financing agreements for a stadium. The other would permit redevelopment agencies to finance the construction of projects as part of a redevelopment plan.
On Twitter, some PawSox supporters reacted to Mattiello's comments by saying he's overlooking signs of support. "Perhaps he [Mattiello] is not paying attention to the local press, letters to the editor, the Senate, the Treasurer, etc." wrote C. Kelly Smith, a devoted PawSox fan. "I find it odd that he has picked this issue alone to premise his support upon public opinion. Why?"
Worcester has emerged as the main rival to Pawtucket for the PawSox, and the reluctance of the Rhode Island House to back a deal is making the team's exit from Rhode Island more likely, at least in the minds of some local observers.
But Mattiello said, as he has before, that many Rhode Islanders have conveyed opposition to their elected representatives of the inclusion of $45 million in public borrowing as part of the $83 million PawSox proposal.
If stronger support would change his view, Mattiello was asked, how would he get a sense of that support?
"I talk to my barber, which I’ve recently done," he told reporters. "Local diners .... [constituents] all stop us at supermarkets and local establishments. It’s pretty easy to get a sense of where people are. The last sense I’ve gotten is that there is resistance to public funds being expended on this public-private partnership."
The Rhode Island Senate is considered more supportive of the PawSox deal than the House, but Senate President Dominick Ruggerio did not mention the topic during his opening day remarks.
With Rhode Island facing a $260 million deficit between the current and next fiscal year, Mattiello warned of a challenging budgetary year. He expressed hope that Gov. Gina Raimondo's administration is tightening reins on state spending, and repeated his commitment to eliminating the car tax -- a move that will ultimately cost the state more than $220 million each year.
Mattiello said he wants to see more progress in the area of regulatory reform, with the House Oversight Committee taking the lead in reviewing that. "Our state can and must be more friendly to businesses," he said.
The speaker said the House will consider a request by Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (D-Providence) to remove the word "plantations" from the official state name, but said it may be too soon to return that question to voters after it was voted down, by a large margin, in 2010.
Ruggerio called a hike in spending to overhaul outdated school buildings -- a proposal is expected by Raimondo later this month -- an investment in the state's future. He signaled support for a bill meant to maintain mental health services from the Affordable Care Act, and for legislation "that helps close the gender salary pay gap."
Ruggerio struck an upbeat note in his remarks.
"As we enter the New Year, Rhode Island continues to gain momentum," he told senators, according to prepared remarks. "Just five years ago, our state had double-digit unemployment, the highest rate in the nation. Today, the unemployment rate is near 4 percent … and global companies like Infosys and GE are choosing to locate and create jobs here."