Talking Politics

Big spending and big relief in a very big budget

By Ian Donnis
Posted 6/14/22

STORY OF THE WEEK: Failure is an orphan, and victory has many fathers, as the saying goes. That helps explain why Gov. Dan McKee gathered with House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President …

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Talking Politics

Big spending and big relief in a very big budget


STORY OF THE WEEK: Failure is an orphan, and victory has many fathers, as the saying goes. That helps explain why Gov. Dan McKee gathered with House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio last week to tout a package of tax relief measures in the revised $13.6 billion state budget.

The spending plan allocates all of an almost $900 million surplus. Tax relief initiatives include an expedited phaseout of the car tax, a one-time child tax credit, and expanded help for the elderly and disabled. At the same time, Shekarchi framed the budget as a way to prepare for rougher fiscal seas, pointing, for example, to how $100 million is going to the state unemployment insurance fund.

Lawmakers made a lengthy list of changes to McKee’s $12.8 billion proposal from January, including not funding the governor’s initiative for municipal learning centers (although the money goes into other education spending).

While having a big surplus is in itself unusual in Rhode Island, some characteristics of the budget process remain unchanged. The three Republicans on House Finance voted against approving the spending plan, with GOP Leader Blake Filippi citing an absence of time to digest the budget. A lengthy floor debate will take place in the House next Thursday.

Asked about how the state budget has grown by billions over time, Shekarchi said, “I understand that. That’s a valid concern. I’m concerned with the growth. But the other alternative is, what do we do? We don’t take advantage of federal money? That to me is kind of short-sighted.”


CAMPAIGN CONSEQUENCES: The phaseout of Rhode Island’s car tax has its roots in Republican Steve Frias’ challenge to then-Speaker Nicholas Mattiello in 2016 for the Cranston rep seat held by the latter. In the heat of the campaign, Mattiello unveiled his plan to wipe out the car tax over multiple years. Frias said this wouldn’t have happened without the then-speaker feeling the heat.

So here we are, six years later, with a legislative race in Rhode Island’s third-largest city being the catalyst for a noteworthy statewide policy change. Mattiello, of course, is now a lawyer-lobbyist after losing his rep seat in 2020 to Republican Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung. Frias offered this observation on Twitter: “If it took me running AND losing to get people $200 million in tax relief, I am glad.”


GUNS: Speaker Shekarchi and President Ruggerio have made clear their support for the legislation to limit magazines at 10 rounds, raise the age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 and ban the open carry of long guns except for hunting.

Gun-rights supporters are angry about the green light for the legislation, which they view as unwarranted infringement on their rights, and it’s unclear if a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision may change things here in R.I.

On the other side, the RI Police Chiefs Association is among those supporting the three bills. “The proposed legislation outlines common sense, reasonable measures that enhance the existing gun laws in Rhode Island and help ensure the safety and wellbeing of all of our residents,” Narragansett Police Chief Sean Corrigan, president of the chiefs’ association.


CD2: Joy Fox is touting her local credentials as she competes in the six-way Democratic primary in Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District. The challenge for Fox and some of her rivals is how the large field could make it easier for General Treasurer Seth Magaziner to win the primary, since he has more name recognition and campaign money. Asked about this, Fox offered a boilerplate answer: she’s focused on her own race. She added during an interview on Political Roundtable: “My strategy is one rooted in the district. It is meeting people on their porches, it is having conversations like this with you, it is getting out and meeting as many people as possible, and demonstrating that there is a real choice in this race. There’s someone who has lived here her whole life and worked to make a difference here her whole life, and I think that will resonate with the voters of the Second District.”

That said, Fox was reluctant to engage with some questions. Asked if Joe Biden is the guy to lead Democrats in 2024, Fox said, “I think that is up to Joe Biden to decide …” Asked why Democrats were not effective in countering the GOP campaign to drive the Supreme Court to the right, she said, “I think I’m looking forward on this issue. We need to send Democrats to Washington.”

Fox also declined to directly address whether it was a mistake for her former boss, Gina Raimondo, to oppose the takeover of Care New England by Partners HealthCare (now known as Mass General Brigham) a few years ago.


GINAWORLD: Speaking of Gina Raimondo, back when she was governor, some progressives considered her too conservative and Republicans called her too liberal. Now, another debate about Raimondo’s political identity is playing out on a bigger stage, amid chatter about her possibly succeeding Brown alum Janet Yellen as U.S. treasury secretary.

Via New York magazine: “The internal tension within the party over how to regard Raimondo was illustrated pointedly in May with the publication of an Insider profile. When the piece was first posted, the headline nodded to Raimondo’s role as the Cabinet secretary chosen to skip Biden’s State of the Union address to ensure the continuity of government if disaster struck the Capitol. ‘Joe Biden’s Designated Survivor,’ it read, as if to underscore his trust in her and possibly her long-term political future.

But before long, the headline was changed to more directly address Raimondo’s immediate political standing. It began by quoting her: ‘I Talk to CEOs Constantly,’ it read. ‘Gina Raimondo Is Corporate America’s Best Friend in the White House.’ ” Separately, Axios reports that Raimondo – who brushed off questions about landing in DC when she was governor – views the treasury secretary talk as a distraction.


MEDIA: Speaking of Axios, the media startup known for its streamlined approach to presenting the news, is launching a newsletter up the road in Boston.


JANUARY 6: With the start of televised hearings on the events of January 6, here’s reaction from U.S. Sen. Jack Reed to the initial presentation: “It reinforced the reasons I voted to convict Mr. Trump in his second impeachment trial before the United States Senate. Free and fair elections are central to our democracy. And telling the truth and presenting facts are central to combatting lies and phony, distorted conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, too many Republican-elected office holders have chosen Trump over the truth about the 2020 election and our democracy. The facts presented by this bipartisan panel were overwhelming. In fact, some of the most damning testimony and evidence came directly from those close to Mr. Trump, including his own family members. This was the opening hearing in a multi-step process.  We’ve got to continue to examine the facts, follow the evidence, and put the good of the country, future elections, and peaceful transfers of power above the partisan, political fray.”


LG LAND: Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and her two Democratic rivals, Rep. Deb Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) and Sen. Cynthia Mendes (D-East Providence), were closely grouped together in a recent WPRI poll, with a very big group of undecideds. With just about three months until the primary, each candidate is looking for every advantage.

Matos has gained a significant endorsement in the form of former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who is slated to be the special guest during a campaign event for her this week. This is also noteworthy since Taveras is a high-profile supporter of Nellie Gorbea, considered the top rival at this moment to Matos’ ally, Gov. Dan McKee.

In a statement, Taveras said, “Sabina is a public servant in the truest and best sense of the word.  As mayor, I saw firsthand her fierce advocacy for her constituents. I admired Sabina because her focus was always on her community and the residents across the rest of our City.  Now, I am very proud to see her as our lieutenant governor and excited about her new perspective and new focus on the office. I believe Rhode Islanders are lucky to have Sabina as lieutenant governor. She has been successful in public service because her focus is always on results and not on who gets the credit. I know that if she is given a full four-year term, Sabina will continue to deliver for Rhode Island’s seniors, small business owners, veterans, and students.”


COMING & GOING: Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Barrington), a passionate advocate for the needy, announced this week she will not seek re-election after two terms. “I am grateful to have had the honor and privilege to represent the constituents of Barrington and Riverside in the General Assembly since 2019, she said in a statement. “However, the demanding legislative schedule does not leave me able to fully honor my commitments to the House, along with my commitments to my career and my family. My two terms have provided me deep experience in the challenges involved in shaping government and policy to serve the wide-ranging needs of our diverse population. I have been inspired by the many thoughtful and hard-working people inside and outside of the State House who come together in our lively experiment to meet those challenges and keep our state moving forward.

“When my current term is complete at the end of this year, I will miss the daily collaboration with my legislative colleagues and the many advocates and members of the public alongside whom I’ve worked these four years. Be assured that I will remain a strong voice advocating for my community as well as for justice and equity in Rhode Island.”

Cassar made a short-lived run for speaker last year. She also championed Pay For Success, program to counter homelessness that became part of the FY22 budget. Regarding a potential successor, Cassar told me, “Since the candidacy declaration period is in a few weeks, I felt it was necessary to let my district know to provide time for candidates to get in the race. I have heard of a few prospective candidates and I know that District 66 has plenty of talented and engaged folks who would make good legislators. I don't believe it's good democracy for me, as the incumbent, to identify or anoint a successor; it's up to the community to put forward candidates. I know that's not aligned with Rhode Island tradition, but that's the way I see it.”


KICKER: ‘Trilobite’ might conjure thoughts of the wacky story of how Joe Trillo “inadvertently” hit a young Nick Mattiello back in the 1970s. In fact, the General Assembly has approved naming trilobite as the official state fossil. Via news release: “The legislation (2022-H 7908, 2022-S 2497), which now heads to the governor’s desk, is the brainchild of Narragansett High School student Gary Jennison, who has been mentored by Senator DiMario.

Jennison had long wanted to address Rhode Island’s woeful status as one of only four states that lack an official state fossil, so he made the designation his senior project, and worked with Senator DiMario to research and develop the legislation.

During hearings on the bill, he provided fascinating testimony to legislators about the life and times of trilobites. Trilobites were marine creatures, although some appear to have ventured onto land, and looked something like a horseshoe crab, minus the tail. They ranged in size from less than 3 mm to over one foot. ‘About half a billion years ago the trilobites emerged and they’re basically the precursor to nearly all arthropods on the planet today,’ Jennison told the House Special Legislation Committee during a hearing on the bill, adding that they had many of the adaptations that would become common in the animal kingdom, such as photosensitive patches of cells that were a forerunner of eyes to outer plates that functioned as exoskeletons.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit

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