Expect a go-slow approach on RI's $1B+ windfall

Posted 10/27/21

STORY OF THE WEEK: On the surface, there may be consensus about many of the key needs - housing, behavioral health, workforce development, aiding small business and so on - cited in recommendations unveiled last week for spending Rhode Island's more than

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Expect a go-slow approach on RI's $1B+ windfall



On the surface, there may be consensus about many of the key needs – housing, behavioral health, workforce development, aiding small business and so on – cited in recommendations unveiled last week for spending Rhode Island’s more than $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money.

By all accounts, the Rhode Island Foundation, the Economic Progress Institute and RIPEC ran a very public process, with lots of opportunity for Rhode Islanders to share their suggestions on how to use the windfall. And Gov. Dan McKee has offered his plan for spending part of the APRA funds.

But the General Assembly appears in no hurry to give McKee a blank check amid the questions raised by the ILO Group contract. More to the point, Rhode Island and many other states are awash in greenbacks – a situation labeled by The New York Times as a “cash glut.”

In Rhode Island, there was a $13 billion budget in December, a $14 billion budget in July, voter approval of $400 million in ballot questions, $550 million in separate ARPA money headed to cities and towns, additional federal assistance and $9 million in CARES Act dough that needs to be spent by Dec. 31 unless the state wants to lose it. A lot of this has yet to be spent and lawmakers have questions about the use of discretionary funds in the budgets.

Then there’s the uncertain fate of President Biden’s two big spending bills, the infrastructure package and the larger “social infrastructure” legislation, which could steer a boatload more money to states.

While various interest groups are clamoring for their concerns, Rhode Island lawmakers appear poised to take a go-slow approach to spending the federal windfall. That may not be a bad thing given how the legislature has traditionally muddled through persistent deficits with a mixed bag of patches.


As a group of Tracy Breton’s students at Brown University report for The Public’s Radio, the opioid epidemic exacted a harsh toll in Providence during the pandemic: “Over the span of three years, at least 179 people died of an overdose in Providence, according to police reports. Analysis of these records showed that the cluster of deaths around [Sam] Raja’s Wanskuck corner store is not unique. Providence is dotted by hotspots where people die on the same street, or even in the same building, days or weeks apart from the same kinds of drugs. The deaths were clustered in Silver Lake, Hartford, Olneyville and the West End. Here, the epidemic’s devastation is next door, at the bus stop, the local fast food joint. All around. And the bodies just keep coming.” And for nearly a decade, two opioid manufacturers in Rhode Island made billions of doses.


Luis Daniel Muñoz, 36, is making his second run for governor, this time as a Democrat. He’s actively courting grassroots groups and believes that by involving more people in the political process he’ll be able to make a difference in the outcome of the race.

Muñoz was my guest last week on Political Roundtable. We talked about his proposals on health care, jobs and other issues. Asked what he’s accomplished that shows he has the skills and experience to effectively lead the state, Muñoz cited management experience, adding, “There’s more to leadership than just management and I believe that political courage and moving in a way that brings equity to the table, and that brings light to marginalized communities and to working communities that are struggling every day to live in the state is something that we have not had in the governor’s office, and I think it’s time for that.”


I heard Muñoz say during a different interview that he’s a runner, and Helena Foulkes’s Twitter bio identifies her as a runner. So what is the broader overlap between running for public office and running the streets and hills of Rhode Island? We asked each of the six announced or expected Democratic candidates for governor.

Gov. Dan McKee:

“I am not a runner, but I get my exercise on the elliptical. During the pandemic, I’ve taken advantage of the outdoors, taking walks on the Cumberland Monastery Trail and going on multi-mile bike rides on Rhode Island’s bike paths.”

Matt Brown:

Brown said he runs “inconsistently,” for “survival. And the buzz afterwards.” What is your longest run? “4 miles.” Typical length of run? “3 miles.” Best running story? “‘Racing’ my kids when they were 3, 4, 5 years old.” Favorite time to run? “6 pm.” Favorite place to run? “Any dirt path. Not asphalt.” Favorite post-run snack? “Red grapes” What do you think about while running? “Really, very little.”

Helena Foulkes:

“I have been running religiously since high school. I’ve run a few marathons, most recently New York in 2008. I ran the Blessing of the Fleet race in July 2021, the first race since 2019 and it was a great sense of community. I started running more after my fourth child was born. I’m definitely not a morning person, but if I got up really early I could run in the dark before my husband and kids were up. This became my alone time and a chance to feel spiritual and breathe deep. These days my longest run is generally 5 miles. Typically. I run 4 miles about 4 days a week. I’m 57 so I’m a lot slower than I used to be.” Favorite time to run? “Morning – otherwise I won’t do it.” Favorite place to run? “Narragansett along the wall and then around town.” Favorite post-run snack? “A banana.” What do you think about while running? “I try to clear my mind and be grateful.”

Nellie Gorbea:

“I ran as part of the cross-country team in high school and have been an on-again off-again runner ever since. Running shoes are still my primary athletic shoe. My 10th grade English teacher, Mr. D’Lima, was the cross-country team coach and encouraged me to sign up. I have gone back to running at different times in my life because I love the mental stamina it requires as well as the feeling of pushing yourself consistently physically. I am not a distance runner and prefer shorter runs like 5ks. My favorite length is about a mile, but I do enjoy walking longer distances.” Best running story? “Sometimes on tough campaign or work days, I think back on my cross-country days and the importance of putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.” Favorite time to run? “Early morning is my favorite time for exercising – before anything can interrupt the day. Because I ran during high school in Puerto Rico, I actually love running on sweat-dripping days when it is hot and humid.” Favorite place to run? “Around my neighborhood.” Favorite post-run snack? “Water.” What do you think about while running? “Keep going – if you keep going, you'll get there sooner.”

Seth Magaziner:

“My love for running started in high school. I became captain of my cross-country team, averaged 50 miles per week, my longest race was a half marathon and I could run a mile in under five minutes. These days I usually do 3-5 miles a couple times a week whenever I can fit in the time. Rain or shine, I prefer to run with no music so I can keep a clear head. My favorite memory was winning my age group at a 5K race at Snug Harbor, South Kingstown when I was in high school. The prize was a gift certificate to a local restaurant I then used to take my family out for lunch to celebrate.”

Luis Daniel Muñoz:

“I am a runner, and it’s been over two years since I have taken a day off from running. Running frees my spirit. It creates a mindful space to reflect on the past, to embrace the beauty of nature and neighborhoods, and to prepare and visualize the battles ahead.” What is your longest run? “28 miles, and it wasn’t associated with a race. I started a run and I lost track of time, but there was a lot to think through on that day. I’ve challenged myself to complete 100-mile weeks a few times. On an average week (i.e., not including a 100-mile week, or longer runs), I run 7 miles a day.” Best running story? “I started a run at 2:30am, and over the course of 4 hours, I had momentary encounters with two coyotes, and a fox. In the spring, I plan on running from the Narragansett Indian Tribe Reservation to Central Falls, so I’m starting to train for that day.” Favorite time to run? “Early morning, when the roads are clear, and the birds are just starting to wake up. I enjoy running on the streets, and I especially enjoy running across cities. The changing scenario speaks to our great diversity, and highlights the work we still have left to do.” Favorite post-run snack? “Nitro coffee with oat milk, and homemade granola.” What do you think about while running? “I think about my life, family, and our society. I think about how I can grow, and how I can help others. I think about the future, and what things I will do on that particular day, and how that will translate into the future for my daughter, and all children.”


Luis Daniel Muñoz’s campaign for governor is another test case in whether a candidate who raises and spends far less than his rivals can compete on a more or less equal footing. The high-water mark for that came in 2014, when Robert “Cool Moose” Healey got 21.4 percent of the vote for governor while barely spending any money. Then again, the since-departed Healey was a well-known cult figure in Rhode Island with a gift for messaging and who had made many previous runs for various offices. More typical is the experience of someone like former Cranston City Councilor Kevin McAllister, who thought Rhode Island’s small scale might give him a boost in the four-way Democratic primary when the CD2 seat was open in 2000. He finished fourth.


Brian Daniels, who has served in recent years as executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, is signing on as director of the state Office of Management and Budget. Daniels previously worked in OMB and was policy director during Lincoln Chafee’s tenure as governor.

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

politics, Donnis


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