June 18, 2020

Amid complaints on pace, RI General Assembly overwhelmingly passes supplemental budget

 by Ian Donnis, The Publics Radio                    June 18, 2020

On a 60 to 13 vote, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a budget to close out the fiscal year ending June 30, following complaints from both Democrats and Republicans that they lacked adequate time to vet the almost $12 billion spending plan. The Senate passed the budget on a 31-7 vote, meaning it will go to Gov. Gina Raimondo's desk.

House GOP Leader Blake Filippi of New Shoreham urged representatives in joining him in rejecting the budget because, he said, the process was at odds with the ideals embodied in the Statehouse.

“People constructed this marble dome because they believe in you,” Filippi said. “They believe that when you were needed by your state, you would exercise independent judgment and demand time to understand a bill. I beseech you do it, I beseech you do it. And don’t forget what button you push. When you’re gone from this building years from now, remember what push you push.”

He was joined by a handful of progressive Democratic women and other Republicans in condemning the pace of the budget process as deeply flawed. 

Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Barrington) said she was struggling with the sheer volume of budget information released since Monday “that I am on behalf of my constituents expected to digest and come up with a reasonable perspective to vote on.”

The amount of time given to digesting the budget dominated attention during about three hours of debate.

Filippi suggested the usual seven-day waiting period after passage of the budget in House Finance (on Tuesday) should apply to the supplemental spending plan. But House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said his legal advisers told him the waiting period does not apply to a supplemental budget vote.

“The COVID crisis devastated our economy and the lost revenues placed tremendous stress on the current year budget, forcing us to make many tough choices in order to balance our books by June 30," Mattiello said in a statement. "Despite these difficult times, however, we reconfirmed our commitment to education, ensuring local schools have nearly $10 million more in resources than they were expecting.” 

Other representatives, including Reps. Moira Walsh and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, both Providence Democrats, lamented that the budget doesn’t do more to address the concerns of race and justice that have dominated the news in recent weeks.

“Why are we investing in the prison complex,” asked Ranglin-Vassell.

In the end, though, just a handful of Democrats – Cassar, Walsh, and Reps. Teresa Tanzi of South Kingstown and Joseph Almeida and John Lombardi of Providence, joined Republican lawmakers in voting against the budget.

The budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 is expected to be taken up next month, after more clarity on whether additional federal money will be available to help states deal with deficits. Rhode Island faces a fiscal 2021 deficit of roughly $600 million.