However short-lived, feelings of hope and optimism ring in the New Year. The gym is full of people determined to lose weight while politicians and baseball players are getting set for a long season. As the calendar changes, the Rhode Island General Assembly will reconvene on January 7th with plenty on its plate for 2014. While spring training games are a little more fun to preview, here’s a quick look at what lies ahead on Smith Hill in 2014.
38 Studios. While the issue for taxpayers and some politicians has been “to pay or not to pay” the bonds associated with the state’s failed investment in the video game company, another issue that needs to be addressed is the investigation of what went wrong in the first place. While the calls for an investigation have been coming primarily from Dawson Hodgson (State Senator and candidate for Attorney General), they are certainly harder to ignore as various news outlets beat the drum for an investigation. And why wouldn’t we want to investigate? The scandal has forced changes at the Economic Development Corporation and jeopardized any future public-private investment partnerships. The 38 Studios vote is a great vote for opponents to use on the campaign trail and it would seem that airing the dirty laundry now would be better than having it stink up the house all year.
Tolls. For those of us who regularly use the Sakonnet River bridge, the fancy decorative lights are as annoying to see as the sign noting the 10-cent toll. Folks from our area have done a good job in keeping up the pressure on the toll issue and most of our legislators have been fairly vocal in their opposition. It is likely that Governor Chafee (whose administration proposed the original Sakonnet River Bridge toll at $4.00) will once again include the toll in his budget when he transmits it to the General Assembly. As a lame duck he has nothing to lose and very little to leverage, so whatever solution that will be hammered out is likely to come out of the General Assembly, not the Governor’s Office, so expect our local legislators to have a key role this session in figuring this one out.
Health Care Reform. While the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange is up and running and appears to be functioning better than the federal system, funding to operate the Exchange will run out at the end of 2014, and the state will be responsible for its operating expenses. The General Assembly will have to decide this year how to pay for the cost of the Exchange moving forward – thought to be about $25 million each year. This is not a small nut, even in our enormous state budget and we should all be prepared to discuss how this federal mandate will be paid for in 2015 with some kind of per policy fee a most likely scenario.
As we turn the page on the calendar and make our plans for 2014, it’s amazing how much it seems just like the old year. New year, same issues, same struggles. However, by the end of the year, we’re guaranteed some new leadership in the State House and hopefully some of these issues that have been hanging over our heads for a year will be resolved. In the meantime, I’d better get to the gym.