The Uprising! July 20, 2018

“There’s actually a great deal we can do at the state level to reduce inequality – things like ensuring access to post-secondary education, increasing the minimum wage, and putting policies in place that allow workers to share more fairly in the wealth they are generating. We need to return bargaining power to Rhode Island workers, and boost public investments in child care, education, health care, and housing.”
Rachel Flum, Economic Progress Institute’s Executive Director

Welcome to the Uprising!

I’m writing this during the Rhode Island Energy, Environment and Oceans Leaders Day, an annual event held by United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island). There are some actual environmentalists in the room, scattered among the corporate lobbyists, National Grid representatives and captured state government agency officials.

1. The Gilded Age is back!

The top 1 percent in Rhode Island earn 18.2 times more than the bottom 99 percent and have seen dramatic increase in their share of income growth in recent decades compared to earlier periods, says Rhode Island’s Economic Progress Institute, based on a new report from EARN entitled The New Gilded Age: Income Inequality in the United States by State, Metropolitan Area, and County.

Key findings for Rhode Island include:

  • The top 1 percent earned 18.2 times more than the bottom 99 percent in Rhode Island. In other New England states, the top 1 percent to bottom 99 percent ratios ranged from 15.4 in Maine to 37.2 in Connecticut (Table 1).
  • The average annual income of the top 1 percent in Rhode Island was $928,204. To be in the top 1 percent in Rhode Island, one would have to earn $346,657 or more.
  • The most unequal county in Rhode Island was Bristol County, with a top 1 percent to bottom 99 percent ratio of 30.2 (Table 2).

2. Manchester Street Power Station

Providence’s iconic Manchester Street Power Station is for sale, according to Bloomberg News. Dominion is asking for $1.5 billion, the price includes another power plant in Pennsylvania. Apparently Dominion is doing everything it can to raise the $8 billion needed to create yet more fracked gas burning power plants.

Part of Dominion’s plan includes asking the Providence City Council Finance Committee on Monday night for a free $150,000.

In 2017, Dominion entered into a TSA that saved the company $4 million. As part of that agreement, Providence was to be be able to negotiate for rights to a small strip of land connecting to Collier Park. The original TSA stated that if Providence and Dominion could not come to an agreement regarding the strip of land connecting to Collier Park, Dominion would owe Providence and additional $300,000.

The purpose of the TSA to be discussed Monday night is to “to memorialize a further modification to the TSA which provides for the following:

  1. a revision to the Tax Stabilization Plan to provide for an additional payment of $150,000.00; and
  2. the removal of the agreements relative to the transfer of the use of Collier Park from Dominion to the City.”

If any person wishes to make public comment before the Providence City Council Finance Committee on Monday July 23, they are asked to sign-in prior to the 5:00 PM meeting start time.  The Chambers will open on or around 4:30 PM and sign ups will begin at the same time.

Constituents who are unable to attend the public hearing can provide written testimony by mail or email to Lori Hagen, City Clerk: lhagen@providenceri.gov or City Clerk, 25 Dorrance Street, Room 311, Providence, RI 02903. (Please note, if you submit written testimony you are not required to appear or read your testimony at the public hearing.)

3a. Invenergy

The Rhode Island Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) is in the midst of hearings to decide the fate of Invenergy’s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the forests off northwest Rhode Island. The low-point of Thursday’s hearing can be seen below.

“And you’d have no problem with your children breathing it?” asked Burrillville attorney Michael McElroy, referring to the pollution that would be generated by Invenergy‘s proposed power plant.

“No,” said Invenergy witness Mark Wiitanen, Senior Project Manager at HDR Engineering.

For context, here’s a minute or two of Wiitanen before that exchange, where McElroy and Wiitanen talk about the pollution the power plant would produce.

3b. Invenergy misleads the public

Invenergy’s July 12 press release saying that “survey work will begin in early August” for the proposed interconnection line is “an obvious effort at misdirection,” says Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer.

“Invenergy is trying to persuade the public that its star-crossed power plant is moving ahead on schedule when it obviously isn’t,” continued Elmer. “What Invenergy needs for the interconnection line is a right-of-way agreement with National Grid, not soil samples. But on January 29, 2018, Invenergy informed the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) that it has no right-of-way agreement with National Grid – not even a draft agreement (and Invenergy has not updated those statements since January). Most developers would have had a right-of-way agreement long ago, and the fact that Invenergy doesn’t shows how seriously behind schedule this project is.”

4. Fane’s Hope Point Tower

To build Jason Fane‘s dream project in Providence, a zoning variance is necessary from the Providence City Council. The Ordinance Committee voted (3-1) to reject the variance for the luxury apartments at Hope Point Tower, and now the full city council must decide whether or not to accept the committee’s recommendation.

Public testimony on the zoning variance broke into two major camps. The unions, who want the project for the jobs it will create, and the neighborhood groups, who oppose it because the building falls way outside the zoning ordinances. The union position was best presented by Rhode Island Painters Union Business Agent Justin Kelley, who wrote an oped where he made the point that,

“Almost every project that will put our members to work is universally opposed by someone. The projects our members work on are the most complex, difficult, large and costly projects in the industry. Given this, someone will be opposed. If the naysayers had their way nothing would be built other than the occasional house.”

Less successful was the messaging of Building Trades President Michael Sabitoni, who asked the crowd gathered in the Providence City Council chambers, “How many parks do you need?” and noted that parks don’t pay taxes.

Lost in the Hope Point Tower debate, like an undeveloped melody in a chaotic concert, was the issue of affordable housing.

5. Vigil for Democracy

“I’m a pretty ordinary person,” said Judi Zimmer, the organizer of the event. “But since November 8, 2016 I’ve been frightened and I’ve been angry and I’m not the only one… Every day, when we think things can’t get any worse, they do. Little by little we’re seeing every principle of our country deliberately eroded.”

Zimmer was speaking at the Vigil for Democracy, where a group of around 30 people gathered in the wake of President Donald Trump‘s remarks, made “over the past several days that have indicated he cares more about appeasing Mr Putin than he does about the very foundations of our country.” Trump maintains that he misspoke at that meeting Putin, but it wasn’t just that incident that disturbed the people gathered outside the Rhode Island State House Wednesday night. Those assembled had deeper concerns about the President.

6. Oscar Vargas

Sabina Matos has made a complaint against her Ward 15 Providence City Council primary challenger Oscar Vargas, claiming he does not live in Providence but in Warwick. At a Providence Board of Canvassers hearing Vargas hit back through his lawyer, Alberto Cardona. Vargas produced documentation and witnesses to back his claim and said he has been separated from his wife for six years.

Claudia Vargas and the two minor Vargas children live in Warwick. Did Vargas or his spouse vote illegally in Providence? Has Vargas made his case and will he be on the primary ballot in September?

We await the Board of Canvasser’s decision.

7. Turn Off 10

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced that aspects of the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed purchase of Tribune Media will be subject to a review process by an administrative law judge, effectively killing the deal.

“Needless to say, we are extremely happy about this decision. It certainly reinforces the fact that public outcry DOES make a difference,” said Dr Patricia Ricci, speaking as a proud member of the Rhode Island ReSisters and Turn Off 10. “It is easy to become extremely discouraged, given the political climate within which we are currently submerged. Many people across the United States repeatedly called and submitted written opposition to the FCC. Despite Ajit Pai’s appointment, our collective voices were heard! We are now further emblazoned to soldier on locally to combat propaganda media.”

8. Signing Parties

Another way a Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) endorsement can help a candidate is attendance at “signing parties” where un-endorsed candidates are not welcome.At these parties, candidates and their supporters sign each other’s signature papers that are required to get on the ballot.

Given the broken nature of the RIDP endorsement process, one might think that these parties would be as open as possible. Not so much.

Warwick Democratic City Committee Chairman Robert Farrell wrote to party members declaring the endorsed candidate only policy, saying, “Sorry to any candidates that have not been endorsed, if you need my help in other matters, I am always available.”

A similarly exclusively endorsed candidate only party was held in Burrillville.

Not all Democratic City and Town Committees are afraid of fair and open democracy. The Portsmouth Town Committee invited all candidates, including Republicans.

“After the elections, there will be some winners and there will be some losers. We will need to, after that election, work together, and engaging in petty, exclusionary activity doesn’t lend itself to having those conversations down the road.

“Not only is our openness philosophically good,” said Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee Chair Leonard Katzman. “It’s also practically good.”

9a. Elections 2018

Endorsements this week have come out from the Political Action Committee of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women (RI NOW PAC), the Young Democrats of Rhode Island Political Action Committee (YDRI PAC) and the Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island PAC.

9b. Michael Earnheart

Candidates do not want to be associated with Michael Earnheart

10. Picture of the week:

Mark Wiitanen

“Breathe deep the gathering gloom…”


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About Steve Ahlquist 528 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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