Governor signs RI budget after month-long standoff

Photo: Jared Pliner/WPRI-TV

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo signed Rhode Island’s new state budget on Thursday almost immediately after it was passed by the Senate, ending a more than month-long showdown between legislative leaders.

The $9.2-billion tax-and-spending plan passed by a 30-5 vote along party lines, with all five Republicans voting no. The measure includes a $26 million cut in the car tax, a new free-tuition program at CCRI and an increase in the minimum wage, among other policies. It also requires Raimondo to find $25 million in undefined savings across state government.

In a statement after signing the budget into law, Raimondo said:

“This is a Jobs Budget, with a lot in it to help Rhode Islanders. It makes Rhode Island the first state on the East Coast to make community college tuition-free for every high school graduate. It continues our record investments in classrooms across the state, increases the minimum wage and gives homecare and direct care workers a raise. And, it gives every Rhode Islander car tax relief. I will continue to do everything in my power to protect our progress, create more jobs, and give more Rhode Islanders the training and education they need to get the good jobs we’re creating.”

Rhode Island has been without a new state budget since June 30, when House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello abruptly sent House lawmakers home to protest an amendment the Senate wanted to add to the budget regarding the speaker’s car tax phaseout.

After weeks of back and forth, Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio announced they had reached a deal Tuesday following a caucus of Senate Democrats.

“We had an agreement on the budget and there was a hiccup and things happen sometimes so we try to learn going forward,” Mattiello said. “But the budget passed as we originally agreed, I’m very pleased with that, and I’m thankful the Senate came back today and worked on passing that.”

As part of the agreement between the two chambers, the Senate also voted unanimously Thursday to pass a separate bill requiring that the R.I. Department of Revenue’s director study the affordability of the car-tax phaseout each year starting in 2021.

“I’m just glad we can get beyond this and hopefully give the taxpayers some relief on one of the most onerous taxes that we do have in the state,” Ruggerio said following Thursday’s vote.

Both chambers are also scheduled to return to the State House on Sept. 19 to take up other bills that were left in limbo because of the June 30 meltdown over the budget.

In the absence of a new state budget signed into law, Rhode Island state government had been operating under last year’s budget, which contained about $300 million less in spending than the pending budget bill does.