House leaders brief colleagues on new tax and spending plan

(Brian Yocono/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — House leaders on Thursday briefed the full House on the proposed budget they’ll vote on next week.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Finance Chair Marvin Abney explained and defended the major points of the plan that was voted out of the House Finance committee around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Mattiello said the “theme” of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget is to not implement new taxes. The plan doesn’t increase any broad-based taxes, and includes just one significant fee increase: a $25 tag on marijuana plants, which is down significantly from the number Gov. Gina Raimondo proposed.

Rep. Abney said the fee was lowered after a number of medical marijuana patients expressed it wasn’t fair to charge them for being sick.

Gov. Raimondo also proposed raising the cigarette tax by 25 cents, but the House version of the budget doesn’t do that.

“We’re trying not to increase any taxes or fees just to increase our general revenues,” Mattiello said. “And that would hurt the convenience stores, and potentially shift some business into Massachusetts and make us less competitive.”

Mattiello and Abney also defended the big cuts made to community service grants. The controversial program that funded Ray Gallison’s nonprofit got a major overhaul, after criticism that it lacked transparency.

25 organizations made the cut in the budget, with about 200 groups getting cut. Many of those groups will have the option to apply to new pools of money through state agencies, but the overall program was cut from $11.6 million to about $6 million.

“It wasn’t easy,” Rep. Abney said of deciding which groups to cut. “We sucked it up and made some tough decisions.”

“I think the public has said they don’t want the community service grant program,” Speaker Mattiello said in response to questions about why certain groups were cut. “You can’t have it both ways. If you get rid of the program, some of these grants have to just go.”

Mattiello explained the decision not to raise the minimum wage, saying the state has raised the wage every year for the past four years, and businesses need time to absorb those increases. The governor had proposed raising the wage to $10.10 an hour.

Since the budget was revealed earlier this week, one particular item has been getting a lot of praise – the plan to cut beach parking fees in half.

Speaker Mattiello said Thursday he expects the state to refund those who already bought their season pass this year.

The House is scheduled to vote on the budget next Wednesday.

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