PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed the proposed $8.67 billion state budget Wednesday, less than 24 hours after House lawmakers gave it their stamp of approval in record time.
In years past, the budget process has been a notoriously contentious process. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is well aware of that fact, having been there for battles that spilled into the early-morning hours.
This year, the budget was passed by the House before the sun even set. Mattiello said he wasn’t surprised at how quickly it won lawmakers’ approval, since it had a lot of support going in.
“I’m very pleased with how the House came together. We all supported each other,” he told Eyewitness News on Wednesday. “I’m collaborating with my members, I’m listening to them, addressing their concerns.”
However, what doesn’t make it into the budget can be as important as what did get in. Some high-profile provisions were left on the cutting room floor, such as the so-called “Taylor Swift tax” on million-dollar second homes, and two controversial proposals that lawmakers will address in the future: truck tolls and the potential PawSox move.
Gov. Gina Raimondo announced a plan last month to fund sweeping infrastructure repairs by levying tolls on large commercial trucks. The proposal was immediately met with criticism, and was ultimately left out of the budget due to lack of information and concerns over the impact it might have on local businesses, according to Mattiello.
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio introduced the toll proposal as a standalone bill on Tuesday, and Raimondo’s administration unveiled the revised version of the plan Wednesday. The new plan includes tax credits and rebates to lessen the burden on local trucks, and adds $120 million by refinancing the state’s debt.
Mattiello said he’s only started to look at the revised toll legislation, and believes it may do enough to offset the pinch that will be felt by local trucking companies. But he wasn’t ready to say yes or no without more discussion as of Wednesday.
“I’m working with the governor, I’m working with the Senate right now on this plan,” Mattiello said. “When and if we move forward on it, it will be the right thing for the citizens.”
Mattiello expects the annual General Assembly session will end by the middle of next week. He said lawmakers may be able to tackle the toll plan by then, but it’s looking more like a special session will be held to handle that as well as the PawSox proposal.
“I’m not going to count out that things could get done, pieces could fall into place quickly, but right now, quite frankly, I expect that it’ll be a fall session or a late summer session because it’s an important initiative that we have to address,” he explained.
In February, the new owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox announced their intention to move the team to Providence by constructing a waterfront stadium. Their initial proposal sought $120 million from the state over 30 years to subsidize the project, as well as getting the former I-195 land tax-free.
That plan was also met with significant criticism early on, and talks have gone quiet as of late, which Mattiello said is due to lawmakers concentrating on the budget. He doesn’t expect the PawSox issue will be addressed before the end of the current session.
“After we recess, we will put some time into the PawSox,” he said. “When we have an appropriate plan – and I expect we will have something for public consumption, let the public air it out, and if they are in favor of it, I am hoping we can do something they are in favor of – then we will ultimately put that to a vote, probably in the fall session.”
Mattiello agreed that a lot of the criticism from the public over the PawSox proposal relates to the hangover from the failed 38 Studios deal, but refused to draw an analogy between the two.
“38 Studios was a Hail Mary pass, a gamble that didn’t work out,” he said. “Whatever the deal that is proposed for the PawSox will be well thought out, will be fully aired to the public, which is not what happened to 38 Studios. They will know the terms of it and they will be fixed in set terms.”
The full Senate is expected to approve the new state budget this week.