Don Roach: Fung Gains Cranston GOP Endorsement as Block Falters
Saturday, January 11, 2014
As a point, the quotes attributable to Fung and Block are quotes I heard during the meeting and have not been verified by the campaigns. I say that to say I am not a reporter but an opinion writer giving my opinion on what I heard from them.
With that out of the way, the two candidates shared a similar focus on what should be addressed as governor – jobs, education, and government/infrastructure. So let’s see what each said on those topics.
Candidates on the Economy
Block: The way to fix our economy is that we have to lower the cost of doing business. Why does Massachusetts outperform us? They are more competitive than we are. Also, I will find and save a billion dollars in our spending and repurpose that money – give it back to the taxpayers when it makes sense, but most importantly we’re going to identify the savings.
For example, the TDI program in the state costs twice as much as the TDI program in the state of NJ. In RI, even if you are getting a full salary you can get TDI. Why do we pay someone to have a bonus?
Fung: We’ve created over 1,000 jobs over the first four years of my time in office in Cranston. The private sector should be putting people to work and government should be making sure that they create the right environment to succeed. My key goal is that we put people back to work and on Day One of a Fung administration we’re going to put a sign at the state house that says we are open for business.
Also, you saw during my announcement that we need to take a comprehensive look at our tax structure to make it fair and simple for businesses. That’s part of creating a better business environment. On top of that, we need to make sure that we have an educated workforce.
Candidates on Education
Block: We can test in high school all we want and we’ll find we’re not doing a good job educating our children. The cold hard fact is that if you go into 4 th grade without being able to read you will be left behind. There is plenty of academic research that shows we need to focus on K through 3 education.
Fung: I disagree with my opponent, we’ve got to make sure that kids are ready at all levels of their education journey so that by the time they are ready to face the workforce of the future having the skills needed for a manufacturing economy. This state was once the hub of industry and there’s no reason we can’t bring that back. That starts with our workforce and means educating children all the way through.
Candidates on Government/Infrastructure
Fung: Infrastructure is an important part of our state and we must make sure we use our dollars wisely, taking a serious look at where we can put those dollars. In Cranston, we used some of those dollars from the federal government on Rolff Street, Wellington Avenue, and Gansett Avenue. I’ve heard from those business owners that that’s helped those business owners. We need to find alternative sources to fund similar types of programs that are needed in many cities in towns. That’s how we’re going to get people back to work in RI. I’m ready for the task and I know the philosophies that we’ve put in practice in Cranston can work for the state.
Block: The state Properties Committee has been violating the open meetings law. Their job is to review all of the leases, dealing with tremendous dollars in deals for the state. They were filing perhaps one to two meetings. The last time there was a public representative on this board was in 2012. General Treasurer Raimondo chose not to deal with the issue and Governor Chafee didn’t reappoint the people needed to serve as checks and balances on the committee.
The only way we can fix governance in the state is to take power away from the General Assembly. We’re one of only six states where the governor does not have line item veto power. With respect to the master lever, we have a very archaic way of voting and there is hard academic evidence that proves it.
My questions to the candidates
After their opening remarks, candidates took questions from CRCC members and there were plenty of questions. Block was pressed on his $1billion spending savings plan on a number of occasions. His comments – and voters take note – were that he could save about one-third of a billion through better management of the TDI program, another third of a billion via better management of unemployment insurance, about $120 million by taking a look at the Medicaid program, and the remaining $200 million or so would come from ways he was barred from explaining to us. It seems that several years ago, Block performed a study for the state (free of charge said Block) and he is barred from explaining certain parts of that report. I asked Block how could he expect Rhode Island voters to trust him and his $1billion pledge if he could not provide the details of that plan.
Even though this was Fung’s home turf, this was a Republican crowd and Republicans like plans that call for reducing government waste. Still, when challenged with giving a full account of $1billion in savings Block was not able to fully answer the question. This is concerning for one reason and one reason alone – Block is asking the state to entrust him with the responsibility of governing the state and he is unable to provide, even at a high level, figures that total his $1billion savings agenda.
Maybe you all think I’m too much of a Fung guy and I’m being disproportionately hard on Block. But if you tell people you can save $1billion you should have a ready 5 point plan on exactly how you’re going to do that, right? Block didn’t present that to us at the meeting and that was the most disappointing aspect of his comments from my perspective. Were I on the Block team, I’d recommend tightening up the response to that question because it will come time and again, and he’ll need to have better answers than he provided to the CRCC.
I asked Fung about the ticketing situation in Cranston, specifically when did he believe there would be a release of information around the investigation and what is his response to groups, specifically the ACLU, who have called for him to bring in the state police to perform an independent investigation. Fung admitted that he was constrained by what he could say, citing the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights, but that he brought in an independent investigator so that there is no “whitewashing” going on. For me, an independent investigator was enough, although I’m all that excited that weeks after the incident went public we still have no answers. Does this type of investigation take this long to figure out? I’ve never performed an investigation of the kind, but it still feels “too long”.
My opinion on Fung’s answer here is that I understand it, but from a public trust standpoint I believe the right thing to do is bring in the state police. Perception is often reality in politics and given Fung’s historically close relationship with the police department, it makes sense to bring in the state police so that no one can even hint that there was “whitewashing”. Reversing his original position, Fung has decided to ask the state police to perform their own investigation. I think this is the right move as many voters did not seem satisfied with an independent “review” of the internal investigation. The longer this issue lingers, the worst it becomes for Fung. I mean we’re talking about tickets!
Surprise! CRCC supports Fung, unanimously!
As has been reported elsewhere, Fung gained the support of the CRCC unanimously. That’s no shock given the makeup of the CRCC and how much Fung has done in Cranston over the past several years.
Still, I do believe that Block has a number of qualities that have the potential to make him a solid governor. I believe Block’s experience in finding savings would be a valuable resource at the state house and while he can’t or didn’t articulate his $1billion savings plan as well as I believe he should have, his experience in that arena suggests that he’ll seek out and be able to find savings. Will he be able to work with the General Assembly in making those potential savings a reality? That’s another question.
He’s also laser focused on the economy, education, and government. That’s both good and bad. The good - we know where he’ll spend his energy and those are the issues, critical issues, facing our state. The bad - he may not be able to turn his attention to other issues that are also important to the community. He’ll need to find a balance between issues he deems as most important and what the populace want him to address.
There are about eight months between now and the September primary and in my opinion, Block needs to polish his answers to questions he’ll continually face from Republicans and Independents whereas Fung needs as much distance between primary day and this ticket scandal. As Fung continues to discuss his experience as Cranston Mayor that’s his trump card against any of his would-be opponents for governor.
Let the fun begin!
Don can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Don can be followed on Twitter @donroach34. Don is also going to be looking at opportunities to speak with Treasurer Raimondo and Mayor Taveras in the not too distant future.
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