With Senate President Dominick Ruggerio’s putting a final period at the end of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s open question about whether there is enough time in this legislative session to review the PawSox stadium proposal, it’s clear legislators haven’t seen enough support for the project for them to stick their necks out on its behalf. And with Governor Gina Raimondo’s refusal to take ownership of the legislation or to offer it a full-throated endorsement, it seems nobody wants to be the one at whom people could point in the years ahead if the project’s costs go up or the revenue estimates prove overly sunny.
On my weekly appearance with John DePetro (Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. on 1540 AM WADK) today, I brought up this part of Scott MacKay’s recent Rhode Island Public Radio column on the issue:
Raimondo doesn’t want to be the governor who lost the PawSox. And she surely doesn’t want to be known as the governor who shepherded another disastrous taxpayer giveaway, a la 38 Studios.
It’s the first section that makes me pause. No doubt, her political opponents would try to weave the loss of the team into a narrative about her poor performance, but will the general public saddle Raimondo, specifically, with this one? Or will they see it as another sign of Rhode Island’s decline and, at most, saddle her with failing to stop it, which is a failure with plenty of blame to go around?
What we’re seeing, here, with both the strange political hot-potato treatment of the deal and the general reluctance of anybody to back it, is the experience of being a state in decline. Rhode Island is like a family whose fortunes have long been deteriorating, but nobody wants to be the one to cancel the social club memberships. There’s always an argument for keeping them up — morale, social networking, the kids’ friends — but the household fundamentals are slipping.
Everybody gets this concept on the way up. When your family can cover its bills easily, maybe then you start thinking about the next steps and the activities that might improve longer-term social standing and opportunity. But on the way down, it’s harder to prioritize. The electric company won’t cut off the power yet, and maybe a few months of slightly smaller grocery bills will cover the country club fees for the year.
Listening to everybody who might be considered to be part of the opinion elite in Rhode Island — politicians, journalists, talk radio hosts, and so on — one gets the impression that they all think a baseball stadium is just something we should do, even if it means a subsidy. But Rhode Island’s decline means there’s no tolerance for the central subsidy: risk.
This is bigger than just 38 Studios. Other recent ventures, like HealthSource RI, are an immediate part of the tale, too. Officials thought they’d get through the initial period of federal funding and either it would be a raging success or they could just fold it into UHIP and nobody would notice. None of that is working anymore.
The question, now, is how much damage our leaders will do trying to avoid the final decision to focus on basics. As I suggested to John, that’s a huge mistake, because being a state that has finally decided to stop trying to be what it is not is a powerful signal that investments of time, money, and families can put one in a position to define (and profit from) a new, better future.
That’s the way to go. If the PawSox can figure out a way to be a part of that, then great. If not, trying to hold on to the team just locks us in to our old way of doing things.