STATE HOUSE – The Rhode Island House of Representatives
voted 59-6 today to approve a pared down state budget for the 2021 fiscal year
that restores funding to cities and towns, uses federal coronavirus relief
funds to aid struggling Rhode Islanders and does not raise taxes or fees.
While it does include seven bond referendums that will be
put before voters in a special election, the plan does not initiate any new
programs, and is intended only to formally establish state spending for the
fiscal year that began July 1, memorialize the planned use of $1.25 billion in
federal coronavirus relief funds which are coming up on a Dec. 30 deadline for
use, stay current on obligations and prevent current programs from expiring.
“This budget is about making sure we take full advantage of
the federal funding available to help take care of Rhode Islanders and get us
through this pandemic. We are just a few weeks away from the start of a new
session in January, and at that time we look forward to a full discussion of
new policies and ideas,” said House Speaker-elect K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist.
23, Warwick). “For now, we need to hold the line and fully support our schools,
our cities and towns, and our existing efforts to help the people of Rhode
Island, and I’m proud of the way we have come together to do exactly that
within the resources we have. With this budget in place, we will be able to
turn our focus to the future, to economic recovery as the vaccine rolls out,
and to helping provide resources as well as hope to the people of Rhode Island
Said House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin L. Abney
(D-Dist. 73, Newport), “Like so many aspects of our daily lives in 2020, this
year’s budget is different than years past, but it differs out of necessity and
with the goal to support the state and its residents as best as possible during
these trying and uncertain times. This ‘skinny budget’ will keep our crucial
services and supports running, it will provide much-needed relief to our cities
and towns, and most importantly, it will help our struggling families and small
businesses during the pandemic. We are going to have plenty of challenges to
confront in next year’s budget, so I am thankful we were able to put together a
document this year that continues to serve the people of Rhode Island without
raising taxes or cutting crucial services to our residents.”
The plan (2020-H 7171A) restores cuts that had been proposed by the
governor, and in some cases temporarily instituted, to municipal aid including
distressed communities and car tax reimbursements, provider rates and social
programs. The bill fully funds state aid to education according to the state
education formula. The committee was also able to avoid proposed fee increases
at the Veterans Home.
That means that in addition to maintaining current law local
aid commitments, an additional $25 million in relief will be heading to cities
and towns, and an additional $40 million to school districts through the
funding formula and ensuring that $80 million was not put in jeopardy by not
enacting a new budget.
The restoration of those cuts – and bridging a $275 million
budget gap that was estimated to be as high as $900 million in June – was made
possible largely through full and creative use the federal coronavirus relief
funding, revenue collections that turned out to be better than they looked earlier
in the year, and lower-than-expected caseload costs.
With the federal funding, the budget provides significant
assistance to Rhode Islanders who are facing increased economic hardship this
year. The budget more than triples support for the Rhode Island Community Food
Bank to $800,000; and includes extra payments to families enrolled in RIWorks;
increased housing, rental and eviction relief assistance; and extra payments to
those who are affected by the current “pause” instituted to contain the spread of
the virus. Lawmakers were able to restore grants to the business incubator
Urban Ventures and the Boys and Girls Club, both of which had faced
Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds were able to be used for
Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and University of Rhode
Island to help them with pandemic-related budget gaps. The bill continues the
Rhode Island Promise program for one more class of students.
The bill provides a six-month extension on a number of RI
Commerce programs that were set to expire. Legislative leaders expect to debate
longer extensions of these programs in the FY 2022 budget.
The bill includes no cuts to state agencies that would
result in staff layoffs at this time, although it does not preclude layoffs the
state colleges and URI may make. The proposal includes $400 million in bonds in
seven ballot questions that will be put before voters in a special election
March 2, to be conducted much like June’s presidential primary, with mail
ballots encouraged but also polling places available in every community.
The bond questions include:
· Question 1
— $107.3 million for higher education, including $57.3 million for a fine arts
center at URI, $38 million for the Clarke Science Building at RIC and $12 million
to renovate CCRI’s campuses.
· Question 2
— $74 million for environment and recreational projects, a total of $10 million
over the governor’s original proposal.
§ $4 million for local recreation projects
§ $3 million for natural and working lands
§ $15 million for clean and drinking water
§ $7 million for municipal resiliency projects
§ $33 million for state beaches, parks and campgrounds
§ $4 million for the proposed park on the former I-195
land in Providence
§ $6 million for Providence River dredging (included
in the 2018 green bond, but funding proved insufficient)
§ $2 million for the Woonasquatucket Greenway
· Question 3
— $65 million for affordable housing, an increase of $40 million over the
original proposal, included in the amendment offered by the governor in July.
· Question 4
— $71.7 million for transportation initiatives
· Question 5
— $15 million for early childhood care and the educational capital fund
· Question 6
— $7 million for arts and cultural infrastructure, including $6 million for the
cultural arts and economy grant program, and $1 million for the state
preservation grants program.
· Question 7
— $60 million for commerce infrastructure, including $20 million for the Port
of Davisville at Quonset and $40 million for industrial site development.
While the Assembly usually passes the state budget in June,
lawmakers put off this year’s budget while awaiting word from Congress about
final federal funding levels. Without additional federal aid next year, House
leaders said they expect to face extremely difficult challenges creating the FY
2022 budget in the coming session.
Including the federal coronavirus funding, the budget totals
$12.75 billion. The budget now goes to the Rhode Island Senate for