Rhode Island’s $9.2 billion fiscal 2018 budget is in no-man’s land after last-minute Senate changes angered House members and triggered a standstill.
By law, the state will avoid a shutdown by operating with last year’s budget until lawmakers adopt a new one and Gov. Gina Raimondo signs it.
“The government will continue without interruption,” Raimondo told reporters Wednesday in Providence.
The standoff, though, doesn’t seem to have an end in sight with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, saying he won’t reconvene the House this summer.
Chaos ensued late last week when the Senate modified the six-year elimination of the car tax that was part of the House-approved bill that Mattiello championed. Days earlier, the Senate finance committee had overwhelmingly passed the House budget.
The Senate amendment would block further increases in reimbursement to towns for lost car-tax revenue if state revenue drops. This appears to be the only major area of disagreement between the chambers. They are controlled by Democrats, and Raimondo is a Democrat.
“I object to an amendment designed to repeal the car tax,” Mattiello said Wednesday.
The budget, if passed, would mark the first time Rhode Island spending plan has exceeded $9 billion.
The House budget also includes free tuition at Rhode Island Community College, a move some legislators hope will cover four-year public universities in the future.
It also provides free bus fares for low-income elderly and disabled persons for two years. It does not include broad-based tax cuts and features general government cuts to help close the gap on the nearly $134 million shortfall caused by lower than expected revenues and overspending.
The proposed budget also includes provisions to raise state minimum wage to $10.10 starting in 2018 and $10.50 in 2019. The bill fully funds the seventh year of the 10-year-phase-in of the state education funding formula, increasing education aid by $46 million.