Newport is cleaning up its beaches and cliff walk after the city council voted to ban cigarette smoking in these areas. The ordinance has been given a preliminary approval and it will be up for a second approval June 10. If the council passes it, it will take immediate effect. According to council members, cigarette butts are the leading cause of litter for the beach; they are also the leading cause of second hand smoke.
Hooked and Laddered
Things are getting heated in Providence and tempers are flaring as Mayor Elorza is taking on the fire department. Elorza says the fire department needs to plan for a platoon reduction in order to help close a structural deficit that could reach $20 million by 2020. Elorza said that he hopes to negotiate the changes with the union and that he wouldn’t implement the plan immediately. The problem is Elorza already violated the union’s trust. How? Instead of being upfront and honest with the union about the budgetary issues like Mayor Taveras was, Elorza skirted the issue. He made no mention of his intentions to make changes in his budget proposal, he then meets with union leaders and again, no mention. A day later he calls a press conference announcing his plans to consolidate. Not only does he plan to go from four platoons to three but he plans to shift firefighters schedules from 42 hour weeks to 56 hour weeks.
Elorza should have been honest with the union and worked with the union from the start, but he didn’t and now this problem just got a whole lot bigger then Providence with a bill in the State House that would essentially strip mayors of the ability to make managerial changes, such as shift changes and platoon changes, without going through the collective bargaining process.
Mayor of Mayors
So, once again, Providence may have a major impact on the entire state. IF this bill passes the House -- which is likely, because according to it’s sponsor it has majority support it will then go to the Senate -- it will be headed to the governor’s desk and she will be faced with a major decision; to veto or not to veto. If Raimondo does not veto the bill she will be stepping on the toes of all the mayors across the state, essentially saying that the state has no problem telling them how to run their cities and towns. However, if she doesn’t veto, she will once again be at odds with local firefighters.
Lt. Governor Dan McKee has also come out against the bill. If the bill does pass muster and make it through the assembly Raimondo might be stuck between a rock and a hard place. How’s the song go? “Battlelines are being drawn, Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”
Lame Truck Governor
Meanwhile Raimondo is in another battle. A battle against the commercial trucking industry. Gov. Raimondo, Speaker Mattiello, and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed have announced a new proposal to deal with Rhode Island’s deteriorating bridges. The plan, called Rhode Works, looks at imposing fees on large trucks to help pay for repairs to the states bridges and roads. Currently, Rhode Island ranks last out of the 50 states for the condition of its bridges.
Do not pass Go, it's structurally deficient
Naturally, the trucking industry is up in arms about the new “fee” which is essentially a toll but can’t be called that because of federal regulations. But here is the reality: Rhode Island’s bridges and roads are literally falling apart. It’s becoming an increasing danger to citizens. The originally plan to help pay for repairs was by implementing tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge. After wasting millions in an attempt to implement that plan, new leadership in the house overturned it and the tolls were torn down. Lawmakers didn’t think it was fair to levy the cost of bridge repair largely on the residents of the East Bay. So, a new solution was needed.
The fact of the matter is the state is broke and the money needs to come from somewhere and no matter what someone is going to unhappy. That’s how politics work. It’s unfortunate that an industry will suffer with this plan. New taxes and fees always have the potential to devastate but at the same time there are some benefits.
First, the people in the East Bay are off the hook. Second, if the state can fund bridge repair there will be a boom in the construction industry. Naturally, Raimondo has a lot of friends in the construction trades, since it were those unions that largely helped her get elected. But either way, construction projects benefit everyone, more jobs and more business improves the economy and improving the roads and bridges benefits everyone.
Under the plan Raimondo says that the states bridges will reach 90% structural sufficiency by 2024. Currently there are 150 bridges that are considered deficient and close to 500 more at-risk.
The truckers have a battle against them. This plan will benefit the state, the construction industry, and those in the East Bay desperate to avoid tolls. Meanwhile if they nix the plan only the trucking industry benefits and it is likely that the governor and other elected officials are willing to accept the trucking industry as a casualty in order to meet their means. The truckers will need powerful allies, more powerful then the tiny GOP caucus if they intend to stop this legislation.
The Dunk is junk?
Lastly, I need to mention the quote of the week. Paul MacDonald of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO told WPRI-TV that a report by the House Republican Policy Group criticizing the Convention Center Authority, is “a political piece of junk.” I like the ring to it. A nice way to make a harsh criticism. The Republicans say that the Authority is mismanaging the Dunkin Donuts Center and has accrued millions in debt for a center that is vacant 60% of the time. The Republicans say the Dunk needs more competitive rates and needs to cut its costs. They issued eight recommendations including cutting salaries for the staff. The staff are union employees.
The good news for the AFL-CIO is that their union has a lot more power than the 6-member Republican committee, the bad news is that the study might prompt some questions. But we will see, the governor and the Legislature have a lot on their plates dealing with the Paw Sox issue, the new Rhode Works plan, and the firefighters battle. This might just get swept under the rugs. After all there is only so much our lawmakers can handle, at least that’s the argument, we don’t want to distract from the “real” issues.
All this is good news for us political junkies because it looks like things are starting to heat up politically just in time for summer. The General Assembly usually likes to break before the Fourth of July so we will be seeing a lot of action in the next few weeks.
I’ll see you next week, thanks for reading!