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Harwood: cut RIte Care to reduce red ink

April 30, 2010

John Harwood holds the distinction of having Rhode Island’s second-longest run as House speaker (1993-2002), second only to the 23-year reign of Harry Curvin that began in 1941. Harwood has avoided a formal political role since losing office, but he talked politics during a taping this morning of WPRI/WNAC-TV’s Newsmakers. Some of the highlights:

— Harwood attributed the recent House-Senate budget impasse to a lack of communication, although he also downplayed the dispute and said it does not represent a loss in power for Speaker Gordon Fox. Harwood favors resolving the supplemental budget as part of the budget process for the next fiscal year.

— With Massachusetts moving to expand gambling, Harwood says Rhode Island should do the same thing if it doesn’t want to take a hit on state revenue.

— Harwood credited state leaders with doing pretty well with economic development during his speakership. He pointed to the expansion of Amgen, the coming to RI of Fidelity Investments, and the retention of the PawSox, among other examples.

— In terms of budget cuts, he favors targeting social programs — specificially RIte Care, the healthcare program for poor families. Harwood questions whether RIte Care, for all its value, has grown beyond what the state can afford. He also favors cutting social programs, rather than pensions for existing employees, because, he says, pension benefits have already been promised to workers.

— The former speaker, a Pawtucket native, says he isn’t personally troubled by the friendship between Central Falls mayor Charles Moreau and attorney general Patrick Lynch, but he acknowledged such connections often become grist for the media.

— Harwood, a lawyer, says he will not get back into politics, adding he would do so “only if i wanted to punish myself.”

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