Rhode Island Tip Sheet: National exposure for RI penches
STATE OF THE STATE: Rhode Island’s unfunded pension problem got national exposure last night during a broadcast of PBS NewsHour. So did state Treasurer Gina Raimondo. She said, “Today, Rhode Island has a $5 billion unfunded liability, which is the highest unfunded liability per capita of any state in the country. In 1998, our budget was paying $145 million into the pension. This year, we will be $335 million. And five years from now, it will double again.” Particularly attention-getting was an exchange in which Raimondo said average pension recipients could face “haircuts” of 20, 30, or 4o percent.
GINA TIMES TWO: During a taping this morning of WPRI/WNAC-TV’s Newsmakers, Raimondo backtracked from her recent view that current pension recipients are not not legally shielded from potential pension cuts. Speaking today, Raimondo called that an unsettled area of law . . . . In response to a question from WPRI’s Ted Nesi, the treasurer said Rhode Island’s unfunded pension liability for state retirees could be as high as $10 billion . . . . Raimondo says she plans to take “a leadership role” with other state officials, including Governor Lincoln Chafee, in addressing the situation . . . . Asked about Chafee’s campaign notion of extending a one percent property tax to currently exempt items, or a possible broadening and flattening of the sales tax, she told me, “I’d love to see solutions that don’t involve raising taxes.”
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN: Mitch Nichols, an Arizona-based tourism consultant hired by the state Economic Development Corporation, yesterday told the EDC that RI is losing market share on tourism. He says that’s because the state is getting out-marketed by states like Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, and since Rhode Island lacks a unified catch-all message in promoting itself as a destination. Nichols says RI could more than triple a $1 million investment in tourism promotion with the increased tax revenue that would result. He also called for creating a tourism advisory council to better coordinate efforts. EDC board member Daniel Sullivan, CEO of Collette Vacations, wasn’t convinced. Sullivan says part of the problem is too many “little fiefdoms” — the state’s panoply of tourism efforts — that get in the way of offering a unified message.
CHAFEE’S JOB FOCUS: EDC vice-chairwoman Helena Foulkes offerered a brief presentation on Governor Chafee’s five focus areas for economic development: Providence’s “Knowledge District”; the intermodal transit area near T.F. Green Airport, a.k.a “the Station District”; Tourism (see above); 4) “Main Street districts” in cities and towns; and making it easier to do business in the state. The EDC has tentative plans for an April meeting to realign its focus on Chafee’s economic priorities . . . . Chafee is slated to travel to DC this weekend for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.
SENATE 2012: State Republican chairman Gio Cicione, who guested on this week’s WRNI Political Roundtable, says he’s no longer a potential Senate candidate against Sheldon Whitehouse. “I’m one Powerball ticket away from running,” Cicione quipped. “It just has to be the right ticket. So, no, I’m not considering it.” He calls Scott Avedisian‘s numbers in this week’s Public Policy Polling survey “spectacular.” And former Governor Don Caricieri has ” got the resources and the experience, winning in a Blue State; he could do it,” Cicione says . . . Alan Hassenfeld, making similar comments to those after an OSPRI news conference last month, remains on the fence.
THE JOKE’S ON YOU: The Daily Beast’s greatest political pranks.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: David Scharfenberg has an excellent overview in this week’s Phoenix of the fight for and against same-sex marriage.
STATEWIDE COALITION: The Rhode Island Statewide Coalition holds its winter meeting tomorrow (Saturday) at the Radisson Airport Hotel, starting at 9 am. “The growing debt burden of public sector union pension plans” will be a focus.
FOLLIES: See you at the Venus tonight. I’m still predicting Gina as the Mystery Guest.
BIRTHDAY: David Preston, Greg Pare.
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