Mass. budget proposal could bring life to casino plan
BOSTON -- As Massachusetts Senate leaders unveiled a $28 billion budget today that relies heavily on new taxes and savings, Republicans pledged to file Gov. Deval Patrick's casino bill as an amendment to the spending plan, saying the state needs new sources of revenues.
The move, which could breathe new life into Patrick's plan, comes a week after the governor told a Brookline Chamber of Commerce audience that his legislation to legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts "may yet come back."
The House earlier this year overwhelmingly defeated the casino measure, essentially killing it for the year, but Republicans say they want to give the Senate, which has supported expanded gaming in the past, a chance to vote on the plan.
"We want to fortify the governor's efforts going forward if he intends to refile the bill in the new year," said Republican Sen. Michael Knapik, R-Westfield. "Plus, we need the money."
The Senate budget raids the state's rainy day fund for nearly $400 million and relies on hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues from a proposed $1-a-pack cigarette tax hike and the closing of so-called business tax loopholes.
-- The Associated Press
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, said the budget plan was fiscally responsible.
"These recommendations are a balanced, fair approach to addressing the most pressing needs of the commonwealth while remaining mindful of the declining economy," Panagiotakos said.
Besides the $400 million from the state's rainy day fund, the budget also relies on $175 million in projected revenues from the cigarette tax, $297 in added revenues from the business loophole closings and another $157 million from tighter enforcement by the Department of Revenue.
He also said the budget includes "tens of millions" in cuts.
One of the biggest question marks in the budget is funding for the state's 2006 landmark health care law. Senate budget writers used an estimate of $869 million to cover the law's subsidized health care program known as Commonwealth Care.
But the administration's own, more current estimates - based on the unexpected success of the program - have added about $200 million to the cost. That's in addition to the $200 million above original estimates for MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program.
Critics say the $400 million in higher-than-expected health care costs on top of the $400 million the plan already draws from the rainy day fund and other, smaller cost increases could force the state to draw as much as $1 billion from the rainy day fund.
"If you look at the structural balance, meaning revenues coming in and spending going out, it's about a billion dollar gap," said Michael Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
Panagiotakos defended using the original Commonwealth Care estimate, pointing out the same estimate was used by the House when it drafted its budget. But he also expressed concern about drawing too much from the rainy day fund, meant to help the state weather fiscal slumps.
"We are going to need that rainy day account if we get into any type of major economic downfall," he said.
Panagiotakos, who also supports casino gambling, said there's nothing stopping Republicans from offering Patrick's bill as an amendment.
He wouldn't say whether he thought the amendment would pass.
"There are going to be a lot of amendments and we are going to take them up one by one," he said.
Asked last week during a Brookline Chamber of Commerce address about whether his casino plan was dead or not, Patrick said: "It may yet come back in the Legislature. I acknowledge it's hard."
Besides pushing the casino amendment, Knapik also said he was concerned with the spiraling cost of the health care law, saying it's siphoning money away from other pressing needs.
He said the Senate should consider restricting parts of the law, designed to mandate health care to virtually all Massachusetts residents.
"We ought to have that debate," he said. "We've got to put the entire discussion of the scope of the law on the table."
Carcieri focuses on immigration order in FAQs, on Fox
Governor Carcieri is scheduled to be on the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News tomorrow night to talk about his executive order cracking down on illegal immigration.
The governor's office issued a news release saying Carcieri will tape a brief interview tomorrow with host Bill O’Reilly. The interview is expected to air at 8 and 11 p.m., according to the governor's office.
The governor's office said the document is designed to answer questions about how the order is carried out. See the document here. The six-page FAQ sheet poses 26 questions followed by answers from the governor's office. The document is also offered in Spanish.
“As people have requested information about the executive order, we determined that a Frequently Asked Questions document might prove informative and helpful in dispelling misconceptions," Carcieri said in a statement. “I expect that the document will be constantly updated as new information becomes available and new questions or concerns come to light.”
Carcieri said he is setting up an advisory group to monitor how the order is carried out so there are no "unintended consequences" for immigrants here legally. Possible members' names are being gathered; a final slate will be presented to Carcieri within two weeks. The plan is for the panel to meet for the first time this summer.
Weight restrictions put on Cove Bridge in Portsmouth
Trucks and other vehicles weighing more than 10 tons will be banned from Cove Bridge in Portsmouth after inspection found deterioration in the bridge's concrete beams, the state Department of Transportation announced late this afternoon.
The span, built in 1961, carries Hummock Point Road over a tidal inlet in Portsmouth's Island Park section. The bridge has average daily traffic count of 2,100 vehicles.
Signs will be put in place by end of tomorrow, a DOT news release said. Because of this bridge posting, the DOT will increase inspection frequency.
With the new weight limit, all trucks and school buses will have to seek alternate routes, the DOT release said. Vehicles over 10 tons trying to get to the Island Park Business District should use Exit 2 off of Route 24 to Boyds Lane, the DOT advises. Drivers unsure of a vehicle’s weight should consult their registration, which lists the gross weight.
Vehicles below the weight limit can continue to use the bridge.
Drivers with concerns or questions may call DOT customer services at (401) 222-2450 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Illustration: In federal court, it's the lady with the lamp
When a power failure today interrupted the high-profile corruption trial of two former CVS executives, Journal illustrator Frank Gerardi was on the scene. Despite other high-tech innovations, the federal court in Providence still does not permit cameras in the courtroom. But Gerardi's sketchwork is allowed. Here, he captures the look of frustration on presiding Judge Mary Lisi's face, lit only in part by a small lamp on her bench. It was the same backup light Gerardi used to draw by. The trial is due to resume tomorrow morning -- pending, of course, the return of electricity. As of 4 p.m., a person who answered the phone at the courthouse said power was still out.
Woman accused of 'social host' violation after fatal crash
In the aftermath of a deadly car accident, a West Warwick woman has been accused of violating the state's "social host" law after the police said she permitted under-age drinking in her home by at least 11 people.
The police said the 17-year-old driver of a car involved in the accident and his passenger, 16, had been at a party earlier in the evening at Daudelin's residence. The party allegedly involved “drinking games” and other boisterous activities. Daudelin was at home on the night of the party, the police said.
The news release does not elaborate on Daudelin's alleged role in what police say happened at her residence.
Daudelin was arraigned today and released on $1,000 personal recognizance. A pre-trial date is set for May 28.
Three 16-year-olds and one 17-year-old have been charged with possession of alcohol by a minor.
The police also allege that a 17-year-old employee of a local liquor store obtained some of the alcohol for the party. He "secreted a 30-pack of beer in the rear parking lot, which was later recovered by other juveniles and transported to 42 Spencer St.," the police said.
Mark Malkovich III will stay on as the festival's artistic director and is recommending that his son, Mark Malkovich IV, take over as general director when he leaves following the end of the festival's 40th season.
The elder Malkovich, who is 77, has been running the festival for 33 years. The festival sets classical music in Newport's Gilded Age mansions. This year's season runs July 11-27 and includes 60 performances.
Malkovich says his son is a natural successor. The younger Malkovich has worked with his father on the festival for 23 years.
The festival's board of directors has final approval of Malkovich's successor.
Rally shows support for state's lead paint case / Photo
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
Children hold up a 40-foot banner made by other children as activists gathered today, a day before an appeal of the historic ruling against former makers of lead paint, which has poisoned thousands of the state's youngsters over the years.
PROVIDENCE -- About 50 community activists gathered across from Superior Court shortly after noon today to show support for the state as it defends itself before the state Supreme Court tomorrow morning as three paint companies appeal their 2006 conviction of creating a public nuisance with their lead-based paints in Rhode Island.
Behind them they raised a banner colored with children's hand prints, created to represent 614 children poisoned by lead in Rhode Island in 2007.
Some 71 organizations and attorneys general filed friend of the court briefs in support of the state's position.
Dr. K. Nicholas Tsiongas, president of the Rhode Island Medical Society who as a state legislator authored the state's first lead poisoning prevention act in the early 1990s, said the society's 4,000 members support the state's law suit.
He said lead has been the most "pervasive, insidious and offensive source of environmental poisoning in the history of the United States and of Rhode Island."
Board Chairman Andrew J. Annaldo said the sale to the minors by SNM Liquors proprietor Shawn Merilan shows “willful and wanton disregard of the public safety.”
Annaldo said that if the board didn’t revoke the license, “it would jeopardize public safety.”
Merilan was not present, but on hand was Barrington Police Chief John LaCross. He said that the decision of the board is “sending a very strong and severe message” that liquor stores should not sell to minors, and that he hopes licensees react by making sure that their employees are diligent about screening their customers.
CVS trial: Power won't cooperate; recess until tomorrow
Journal photo / Kris Craig
The federal courthouse, at the north end of Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence, as shown this past January. The gray granite building is celebrating its centennial this year, and has been the site of a February visit from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. See more photos of the building.
The trial will resume tomorrow at 9 a.m. with testimony from defendant John Kramer’s administrative assistant.
Kramer and Carlos Ortiz are accused of bribing former state Sen. John Celona to get preferential treatment for Woonsocket-based drugstore giant CVS at the State House.
The lights went out in the courtroom first went out just after 9:30 a.m. during testimony from Clark Curtis, who worked for lobbyist Joseph W. Walsh on behalf of CVS, the giant drugstore chain based in Woonsocket.
Judge Mary Lisi called for a short recess, eventually putting the trial off until 11 a.m. The power was not steady at 11 a.m., and so the proceedings were moved to the John O. Pastore Complex next door.
Then power returned across the street at the courthouse, and everyone made their way back.
The power went out again at 12:01 p.m.; returned at 12:02 p.m.; and was out again at 12:05 p.m.
Lisi called for a recess until tomorrow morning.
Early this afternoon, National Grid spokesman David Graves said a crew had checked the underground equipment near the courthouse and found no problems. “Everything is fine on our side,” he said. “So it could be a problem within the building, possibly.”
No other buildings in Kennedy Plaza are without power, Graves said. “Our equipment is functioning. We have power to all our cables in the area, and all our customers are up and running except the courthouse,” he said.
So National Grid does not know where the problem is, but “we are working with courthouse personnel and are still trying to figure out what the problem is,” Graves said.
-- projo.com staff writer Brandie M. Jefferson, with reports from Journal staff writer Edward Fitzpatrick
The power outage comes during the centennial of the federal courthouse, a five-story gray granite structure which was built between 1904 and 1908 as the Providence Post Office, Court House and Custom House.
In February, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. came to Providence to kick off the centennial celebration, marking the first time a sitting Supreme Court chief justice had visited Rhode Island on official business in more than two centuries. There were no power outages during Roberts’ visit, and court officials talked about how despite its age, the courthouse had state-of-the-art technology.
Today, in calling the recess, Judge Lisi said, "Members of the jury, since it appears we can’t rely on the electricity staying with us, we are going to break for the day."
"We’ll resume tomorrow at 9 a.m. with power. If, for some reason it's not restored, we may reconvene next door in the Pastore building in Courtroom B.”
After the first power failure, witness Curtis resumed his testimony at 11:28 a.m. He finished at 11:37 a.m.
Afterwards, Kramer’s administrative assistant, Mary Jane McCusker, took the stand.
The power went out for the final time while prosecutor Stephen G. Dambruch was asking McCusker about a May 2000 fundraiser for Celona at the Villa Santini, an Italian restaurant in North Providence. Celona was a Democrat who represented North Providence in the state Senate.
Courtroom screens were displaying an entry in Kramer’s calendar that said, “May 16, 6 p.m., John Celona, Villa Santini.” And then the lights went out, along with power for the screens.
Earlier, McCusker had testified about how Celona contacted her to try to secure tickets to the Oprah Winfrey Show. “He wanted to take his wife to see the Oprah show,” McCusker said.
So, she said, Kramer told her to contact Lisa Churchville, general manager of Channel 10, the local NBC affiliate, to try to get the tickets.
McCusker had asked Celona when he wanted to go to the show. Screens in the courtroom displayed an e-mail that Celona sent to McCusker on Jan. 3, 2002.
“Thanks M.J. You and Jack and Lisa are the BEST!” Celona wrote. “That last week of January looks like the time.”
Dambruch asked if Celona received the tickets. “Yes,” McCusker said. “He went to the show.”
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter called today for a "transparent and independent" investigation into allegations that the New England Patriots tried to spy on opposing teams, asserting that the practice went on more frequently than has previously been known.
The Pennsylvania Republican, who met with former Patriots' videographer Matt Walsh yesterday, also criticized what he called the National Football League's investigation into the matter.
The NFL's investigation "has not been objective," Specter said.
"If you cheat in the NFL, you can cheat in college, you can cheat in high school, you can cheat on your grade school math test. There's no limit," he said.
Goodell said Walsh affirmed that he does not have, nor did he make, a tape of the St. Louis Rams’ final walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, in 2002.
Speaking to reporters in Washington today, Specter charged among other things that, although Walsh did not tape the St. Louis Rams walkthrough practice, Walsh and several other Patriots' personnel "were present to observe most if not all" of the practice, including running back "Marshall Faulk's unusual positioning as a punt returner."
-- John Mulligan of the Journal Washington bureau
Specter, citing reports by the late journalist David Halberstam, said Patriots' coach Bill Belichick spent much time before that Super Bowl "obsessing about where the Rams would line up Faulk."
Specter, based on an interview with Walsh and other research, also asserted that although Walsh did not tape opposition practices between 2003 and 2005 -- a gap much remarked upon in the sports media -- other Patriots' personnel did tape such sessions during those years.
Specter also criticized the NFL for permitting the Patriots to have representatives on hand during yesterday's NFL questioning of Walsh. Former prosecutor Specter asserted that such a practice ran counter to the principles of objective investigations.
-- Specter criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in stinging terms for what he called the league's "dribbling out" of facts about the so-called Spygate scandal and for destroying the first significant evidence in the case, tapes that the Patriots surrendered last September after the disclosure that they had videotaped New York Jets defensive signals during a game.
Specter also charged that Goodell settled on a penalty against the Patriots before he viewed the videotaped evidence of the rules infraction.
Specter did not specify who should do the investigation, but he did hold out as an example the investigation of steroids use in baseball by former Senator George Mitchell.
Specter, in response to a reporter's question, specifically rebutted the suggestion in some sports news coverage that his interest in "Spygate" is connected to campaign contributions from Comcast or to his interest as a fan of the Philadephlia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Spector said the NFL owners "absolutely" have an interest in seeing the scandal go away, which conflicts with the interests of football fans.
"Erosion control" efforts are under way at its 430-acre Beach Pond Management Area to stabilize the former beach, a DEM news release says, in addition to steps announced in the fall that DEM says will eventually restore vegetation and filter runoff from Route 165 before it hits the pond.
While visitors can still go boating, fishing and hiking, parking has also been pared to about 15 to 20 cars without trailers.
Signs are up on Route 95, Route 3 and Route 165 saying there's no swimming. Signs noting "No Trailers. Parking for Boating, Fishing, Hiking Only" are expected to be posted on site by the weekend.
Parking on the opposite side of Route 165 remains open to vehicles with small boat trailers. The boat launch site in the Connecticut part of the area is also available.
Beach Pond Management Area will not be staffed because of budget limits. But it will be subject to patrols and maintenance, the DEM said.
A "dilapidated building" that once housed offices and concessions has been taken down and portable bathrooms are no longer available.
-- projo.com staff writer Michael P. McKinney
The Beach Pond Management Area is stocked with trout in the spring and fall; last fall, Connecticut officials added salmon. Anglers might also catch largemouth bass, pickerel, perch, catfish, smallmouth bass, or walleye.
Hikers can use the miles of marked trails within the state's 14,000-acre, largely forested, Arcadia Management Area, of which the Beach Pond area is a part.
Lead-paint appeals before court, and on Web, tomorrow
PROVIDENCE -- For the first time, the public tomorrow may view live video on the Internet of arguments in a state Supreme Court case.
A Webcast of arguments being made for the historic lead-paint case at the Licht Judicial Complex can be viewed by going to www.courts.ri.gov. Click on the link at the lower left of the Web page.
The court is giving lawyers about 3½ hours, starting at 9 a.m. tomorrow, to argue over appeals in one of the biggest cases in the state’s history, the state lawsuit that prompted a jury to find that three corporations created a public nuisance when they sold toxic, lead-based paint in Rhode Island several generations ago.
Chief Justice Frank J. Williams decided to allow the Webcast because of strong interest across the country from lawyers, legal publications, brokers and investment companies, according to courts spokesman Craig N. Berke.
Business interests think the case is a bad precedent that could lead to more costly litigation over other products. Local government officials and health-care advocates believe it’s a worthwhile effort to hold the companies liable for all the damage their paints have done to generations of children who have inadvertently ingested lead paint dust and suffered nervous system damage.
Since the three companies — Sherwin Williams Co., Millennium Holdings and NL Industries — were found by a six-person jury on Feb. 22, 2006, to have created a public nuisance by selling their paints, the state has estimated that the companies may have to spend between $1.37 billion and $3.74 billion to clean up the paints at thousands of homes in Rhode Island.
At the courthouse itself, public seating for the arguments will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, starting at 8:30 a.m. A conference room equipped with a video screen will be available for overflow seating, if necessary.
PROVIDENCE -- Two different accounts of the events that led to 3-year-old Thomas "T.J." Wright's death were presented in closing arguments this morning by defense and prosecution lawyers at the trial of a woman charged with killing the child because he made a mess.
Defense attorney Gerard H. Donley pointed the finger at Katherine Bunnell's former boyfriend, Gilbert Delestre, who has also been charged with murder and murder conspiracy in the child's death but is still awaiting trial.
Donley said that Delestre beat "T.J." to death after Bunnell left their Woonsocket to take their babysitter home.
Delestre and Bunnell had been out earlier that night. "T.J." was Bunnell's nephew, placed in the care of Bunnell and Delestre when Bunnell's sister went to prison.
Prosecutor Stacey P. Veroni countered that Bunnell, 24, charged with murder and murder conspiracy, set the stage for the fatal beating when she and Delestre arrived home around 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 30, 2004, and found a mess on the living room floor.
" 'What the (expletive) happened to my house? What the (expletive) did you do to my house?' " Veroni screamed, repeating what the babysitter said Bunnell yelled at the child.
"She escalated the violence that began in that home," Veroni said of Bunnell. "She set it off and stepped it up."
Closing arguments were delivered on the seventh day of Bunnell's murder trial before Judge Gilbert V. Indeglia in Providence County Superior Court.
The case is expected to go the jury today after instruction on the law by the judge.
Specter calls for independent investigation of Spygate
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is speaking now in Washington, D.C. He has already called for an independent review of the Spygate matter, something along the lines of the Mitchell investigation into steroids in baseball. He says the NFL's investigation of the matter has "strained credulity" in certain respects, including the presence yesterday of a Patriots lawyer during the interview by Commissioner Roger Goodell of Matt Walsh. Specter says he has never heard of an investigation during which a lawyer for the subject of the investigation was present during the questioning of witnesses.
Goodell said Walsh affirmed that he does not have, nor did he make, a tape of the St. Louis Rams’ final walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, in 2002.
Specter has helped keep the Spygate situation alive with comments critical of the league’s handling of the situation. Many have said, however, that his ties to Philadelphia-based Comcast, which is locked in a battle with the NFL over rights to the NFL Network, is driving him. Also, the Pats have had success in recent years over the league’s two Pennsylvania-based teams, the Eagles and the Steelers.
Specter was initially scheduled to hold a press conference yesterday.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Aging Committee, is scheduled to attend a hearing this morning on Alzheimer’s disease, during which former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is expected to speak publicly for the first time about her husband’s struggles with the disease, according to the senator's office.
Witnesses are expected to provide an update on research and treatments, issues on early-onset diagnoses and the need for a comprehensive strategy as more Americans are diagnosed with the disease, according to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.
The disease currently affects 5 million Americans, according to a committee press release.
National Grid has been called about a power failure at the U.S. District Courthouse in Providence that has delayed the trial of two former CVS executives accused of bribing former state Sen. John Celona.
David DiMarzio, clerk of the court, said the source of the problem is apparently outside the building. He said the courthouse also had a power failure, stemming from a problem outside the building, about a week-and-a-half ago, and that National Grid had been called to fix it.
Judge Mary Lisi has ordered a recess in the trial of the executives, John R. "Jack" Kramer and Carlos Ortiz, until 11 a.m. Meanwhile, jurors are staying with court court security officers either in the jury assembly area or the deliberation room, DiMarzio said.
A group of homeless and former homeless people will be joined by advocates this morning when they place shoes at the foot of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce to represent people who have been hurt by cuts in social services.
The Boston Herald has issued an apology for its publication of a Feb. 2 story that stated a member of the New England Patriots video staff had videotaped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. The story cited an anonymous source.
Here is the text of the apology:
On Feb. 2, 2008, the Boston Herald reported that a member of the New England Patriots' video staff taped the St. Louis Rams’ walkthrough on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI. While the Boston Herald based its Feb. 2, 2008, report on sources that it believed to be credible, we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed.
Prior to the publication of its Feb. 2, 2008, article, the Boston Herald neither possessed nor viewed a tape of the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, nor did we speak to anyone who had. We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification.
The Boston Herald regrets the damage done to the team by publication of the allegation, and sincerely apologizes to its readers and to the New England Patriots’ owners, players, employees and fans for our error.
A lobbyist who worked for a former Warwick mayor is expected to take the stand today in the trial of two former CVS executives accused of bribing a former state senator.
In court yesterday, Vice President of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce Paul DeRoche testified about his dealings with the former senator, John Celona, and with the two CVS executives, Carlos Ortiz and John “Jack” Kramer.
And State House lobbyist Joseph W. Walsh, who represented CVS from 1998 to 2004, testified about his work lobbying, legislation and his dealings with Celona.
Walsh testified that Celona had repeatedly sought a meeting with Tom Ryan, chief executive officer of CVS. Walsh testified that he eventually arranged a meeting between Celona, Kramer and Ortiz.
Clark Curtis, a lobbyist who worked for Walsh, is expected to take the witness stand today at 9:00 a.m. in U.S. District Court.
Bunnell trial: Closing arguments expected, then to jury
PROVIDENCE -- Lawyers are expected to make their closing arguments today in the trial of a woman facing murder charges after the beating death of her 3-year-old nephew who had been in her care.
On the witness stand yesterday, Katherine Bunnell, 24, denied allegations made by a babysitter that she had dropped the child, Thomas “T.J.” Wright, on the floor or brutally beat him.
Bunnell’s former boyfriend, Gilbert Delestre, 27, was also called as a witness, but refused to answer questions, claiming his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Delestre also faces murder charges in the child’s death.
The trial is set to resume today in Superior Court with closing arguments. The jury is expected to begin deliberations later in the day.