A Rhode Island legislative committee said yes to 38 Studios debt and no to Sakonnet River Bridge tolls.
The House Finance Committee late Thursday night approved a revised $8.7 billion budget bill that includes a $12.3 million payment on a debt related to former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's collapsed 38 Studios video-game company. Lawmakers said the payment was necessary to protect Rhode Island's bond rating.
Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, visited the three major bond ratings in New York two weeks ago and recommended that Rhode Island pay the debt. State taxpayers are on the hook for roughly $100 million, interest included, stemming from a loan guarantee made in 2010 by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp., backed by the state's moral obligation.
Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's rate Rhode Island AA. Moody's Investors Service assigns an Aa2 rating.
By a 14-2 vote, the committee sent the budget bill to the full House of Representatives for consideration next Thursday.
If passed, the plan would permanently eliminate the toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge on July 1, now set at 10 cents as placeholder for what could have been higher future tolls.
Instead, it includes a 1-cent gas tax effective July 1, 2015, which would be indexed to rise along with inflation every other year, to help fund bridge maintenance and other transportation infrastructure.
The East Bay bridge connects Tiverton and Portsmouth along state Route 24, near the Massachusetts border. The bridge is popular with out-of-state drivers headed for Newport. Residents and local businesses, however, complained about the toll.
The plan would create a new fund for maintenance of roads and bridges and gradually redirect all vehicle-related fees, which now go to the state's general fund, to that fund over five years. The plan involves eventually moving all vehicle-related revenue to the fund, and using the fund to pay for all transportation infrastructure costs.
If approved, the budget would transform the former South Street Power Station in Providence, known commonly as Dynamo House, into a nursing education facility and administrative offices for Brown University. It would also put a $125 million bond referendum on the November ballot for the renovating and expanding the University of Rhode Island's College of Engineering complex.
The committee included a proposal by Gov. Lincoln Chafee for a ballot question to allow $45 million of bonds to fund construction of a garage with retail space at the Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence, but included a recommendation that construction not begin until at least three of the parcels at the adjacent land formerly occupied by the old Route 195 are under a purchase and sales agreement.
Another bond question included in the bill would allow $35 million to build Rhode Island Public Transit Authority hubs at the Garrahy complex and the Amtrak station in Providence. That grant is a $5 million reduction from Chafee's proposal.
Also included is $60 million revenue bond for a runway extension at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick.
The committee included some money Twin River Casino in Lincoln had requested from the state's share of video lottery terminal income, to boost its marketing and combat the effect of increased competition from expansion of gaming in Massachusetts. Twin River had requested $3.6 million more, but the committee granted it $1.1 million.