Nesi’s Notes: June 8 | WPRI.com

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Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow me on Twitter, Threads and Facebook.

1. The nearly $14 billion state budget bill approved by the R.I. House on Friday evening is making a lot of people happy. School committees managed to reverse Governor McKee’s proposed reduction in K-12 formula aid. Health providers will get the Medicaid rate hikes they’ve been seeking right away, rather than having the increases phased in over several years. State retirees will see their cost-of-living increases resume sooner — in some cases, immediately — than envisioned under the 2011 pension overhaul. All that helps explain why four of the House’s nine Republicans joined House Democrats in voting for the budget bill. Of course, there’s a simple reason Speaker Shekarchi was able to do more than the governor for so many groups: he is spending more money. The House budget spends $272 million more than the state is expected to take in over the next year, using last year’s surplus to make up the difference. And therein lies the problem: last year’s surplus won’t be available again next year, yet all the spending items mentioned above are annual costs that have to be funded every year going forward. As RIPEC CEO Mike DiBiase put it Thursday, the budget “relies on one-time surplus funds to continue to grow state spending at a relatively high rate, as much tighter fiscal times are just ahead.” It’s too soon to know, but McKee could be facing a deficit north of $300 million when he starts putting together the 2025-26 budget this fall. Maybe the economy perks up and boosts revenue, or the state closes out the current budget with a surprisingly large surplus. But if not, the governor — and lawmakers — will face some tougher choices ahead.

2. Of course, the final budget bill never makes everyone happy, and this year is no exception. Arts organizations were particularly upset that the bill allocated no federal COVID relief money to subsidize their operations, instead offering them a $10 billion bond for capital projects (if voters sign off in November). Also on the outside looking in: Citizens Bank, which made a late-session push for a revision of Rhode Island’s bank tax policy in order to align the state with a change Massachusetts is making effective Jan. 1. Supporters had thought it would be a relatively easy sell, since Citizens is simultaneously giving up a decades-old tax break that would roughly cover the cost of the policy change. But the pitch fell flat with rank-and-file lawmakers, and legislative leaders weren’t ready to spend political capital for Citizens on a proposal they themselves felt had arrived too late for full consideration. Even a lobbying effort by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce didn’t sway them. At the same time, though, Speaker Shekarchi was at pains to say he wants to work with Citizens to make sure Rhode Island’s tax climate is competitive with Massachusetts as they decide where to put jobs in the future. “I don’t want to be the speaker who loses Citizens Bank,” Shekarchi said.

3. The tempo has been speeding up on Smith Hill as lawmakers race to the end of this year’s session, with adjournment expected next Thursday. Two of the most high-profile outstanding bills — LEOBOR reform and gun storage — were both approved on Thursday, and are now awaiting Governor McKee’s signature. (Thursday also saw Senate President Ruggerio return to the Senate floor after more than a month out due to health challenges, reinforcing his stated commitment to seeking re-election and another term leading the chamber.) What’s left? The biggest issue to watch is Speaker Shekarchi’s top priority: expanding accessory dwelling units (ADUs). As Nancy Lavin recently detailed, the Senate’s ADU bill is more limited than the House version — expect some horsetrading in the final days as those differences get ironed out. And then of course there’s the possibility an unexpected issue becomes a sticking point in the final days. Remember the year the session collapsed over chicken coops?

4. Something else to watch: what will the Senate do with Governor McKee’s pick to lead the R.I. Department of Corrections, acting director Wayne Salisbury? RIBCO, the correctional officers union, has been mounting a big campaign to derail the nomination, though so far McKee has stood by Salisbury, who has led the department on an acting basis for a year and a half. But the nomination suffered another blow Thursday, when my colleagues Tim White and Eli Sherman revealed that Salisbury had failed to disclose a series of out-of-state trips funded by third parties on his ethics forms. RIBCO has now filed an ethics complaint against Salisbury over the missing disclosures.

5. Remember UHIP? The health IT system that had a famously disastrous rollout during Gina Raimondo’s governorship could cost Rhode Island another $37 million, our Eli Sherman scooped Friday.

6. My colleague Ray Baccari is keeping close tabs on the candidates filing to run in this year’s election. One person who won’t be on the ballot: state Sen. Frank Lombardi, a six-term Cranston Democrat, who just announced his retirement and opened up his District 26 seat. Ray also has details on the races for Cumberland mayor and Warwick City Council.

7. Two remembrances this week. First, condolences to the family and friends of Jason Golditch, senior producer at the General Assembly’s Capitol TV, who died unexpectedly Thursday. Golditch had been with the state broadcast outlet for 36 years, and also worked as a producer and videographer for Brown University athletics. The speaker opened Thursday’s House session with a moment of silence in Golditch’s memory. Condolences as well to the family and friends of Tom Mulligan, who died Monday after a battle with cancer. Mulligan spent over a decade at The Providence Journal before moving on to the Los Angeles Times, and was also the brother of the paper’s longtime D.C. bureau chief, John Mulligan. Another famed Rhode Island journalist, Brian C. Jones, penned a lovely tribute to Tom here.

8. The world’s attention was on the French coast this week, just as it was 80 years ago when Allied troops launched the biggest military operation in world history to free Europe from the Nazis. Among the many dignitaries in Normandy for the commemorations was Rhode Island’s Jack Reed, who has been a student of D-Day since even before he attended West Point. “Had we been repulsed from the beaches, it would have been years before we could have gone ahead and reestablished an invasion of that size,” Reed told me late Friday in an interview from France. “Hitler might have introduced his super-weapons, or somehow stopped the Soviets.” Reed described all the ceremonies as profoundly moving, especially due to the presence of aging D-Day veterans, all at least age 97 and some much older. In fact, Reed said he met two Rhode Islanders among the veterans on hand — both 104 years old. “The real feeling is you are walking on the soil made sacred by the blood of young Americans in dedication to freedom and democracy and the dignity of people everywhere,” Reed said. Reed’s itinerary also included a meeting in Paris with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whom he described as heartened by the renewed supply of American arms under the recent aid bill. “Ironically,” Reed said of Russia’s war against Ukraine, “this has echoes of the ’40s, where we had to win, and not just for ourselves but for a world of democracy and of common sense and common decency.”

9. No one knows precisely how many D-Day veterans are still alive, but their numbers are dwindling fast, with even the youngest among them near the age of 100. Here in Rhode Island, some of the veterans we interviewed on previous anniversaries are now gone — like John Tessitore of West Warwick, who talked to us in 2014 and died two years later at age 95, or Leo Andreoni, who spoke to us in 2019 and died last year at 99. That makes it all the more fortunate, and remarkable, that Woonsocket’s Richard Fazzio is not only still alive at 99 but able to recall what he experienced at Omaha Beach in painful detail. I hope you’ll take a few minutes and watch our interview with Mr. Fazzio — you won’t forget him.

10. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a reporters roundtable breaks down the new state budget. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sunday at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast via Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. See you back here next Saturday.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Threads and Facebook.

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