Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano of North Providence joined guest host Tim White and myself for a taping this morning of WPRI/WNAC-TV's Newsmakers, steering wide of answering specific questions about Operation Dollar Bill and offering few details about how the General Assembly will help the state to curb its $450 million budget deficit.
Asked by White whether he has been called before a grand jury probing Dollar Bill, Montalbano basically declined to comment. In terms of seeing his name linked to the Dollar Bill probe by the Providence Journal, the legislative leader responded, "I said from the beginning that I am going to defend my integrity to the death." Without getting specific, Montalbano accused the ProJo of engaging in "misreporting."
Although 2007 was a somewhat tough year for Montalbano -- with considerable media attention focusing on Senators Daniel Daponte and Stephen Alves, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, not to mention his own issues with the state Ethics Commission -- there hasn't been so much of a whisper about a challenge to the Senate president when the General Assembly resumes business next Tuesday.
For his part, Montalbano expressed satisfaction that the Ethics Commission did not find a conflict of interest as part of his $12,000 settlement over his previously undisclosed legal work for town of West Warwick. (And as Charlie Bakst previously reported, he still harbors hope of landing a state judgeship.) In response to my question about how long he hopes to remain Senate president, the 19-year senator said for at least one more term. (Speaker William J. Murphy has suggested a self-imposed eight-year term limit for himself.)
Despite Steven Coaty's win in Newport (and that of Frank Ferri in Warwick, who didn't gain the official Democratic imprimatur in his primary), Montalbano says 2008 will not see broad gains in the General Assembly by Republican candidates.
In terms of the state budget deficit, Montalbano said the state should seek to be more efficient. He had some kind words for Governor Carcieri, and in response to a question about strained relations between Carcieri and the Democrat-controlled legislature, he said his door remains open.
The show will be broadcast Sunday, at 5:30 am on Channel 12 and at 10 am on Fox 64.