What about the mental health of RI government?

One way of looking at Governor Dan McKee’s decision to hold off on implementing his predecessor’s plans for the state-run Zambarano psychiatric hospital is as a battle of union interests.  Raimondo’s plan to spend $65 million (initial asking price) for a new facility would have made construction unions happy, whereas McKee’s move serves the service unions, like the SEIU.

In 2013, then–Dept. of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) Director Craig Stenning told Suzanne Bates on The Ocean State Current that “there is no way to mitigate [high overtime costs] unless we renegotiate the way the call system works” — i.e., the union contract.  In our series of reports, Bates and I found that, for example, shift leaders could simultaneously get paid overtime twice for the same hours if they covered for others while working.  That’s why nurse’s pay could approach a quarter-million dollars per year, and it’s going to be a very, very difficult knot to unravel in RI, not the least because it could spread to new questions about every labor contract in the state.

On the other side of the ledger is a real opportunity for McKee to make use of his managerial competence, which would be a major differentiator for him against a field of more-progressive opponents in the 2022 Democrat primary for governor.  Even uber-unionist Bob Walsh of the National Education Association (NEA) of Rhode Island has told the Providence Journal’s Patrick Anderson that the question in that election will be whether there is “a compelling reason to change.”

Of course, Walsh means that as a not-so-subtle threat: that the pro-charter-school McKee has to avoid making his union find that compelling reason.

More telling, though, might be Anderson’s next interviewee, the relatively conservative Democrat Joseph Paolino who inadvertently articulates the core disfunction of Rhode Island politics and government.  He says, “All [McKee’s] got to do is just do a good job.”  But at the same time: “Just do your job and don’t do anything political.”

The problem is that doing a good job would be a bold political move in Rhode Island.  I mean… the state government’s Film and Television Office appears to be marketing Zambarano as a great place for a horror movie.  Only in a politically pathological state could it be a risk to fix such glaring affronts.

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