PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island Senate passed the $9.2 billion state budget on Thursday, ending an impasse with the House of Representatives that lasted over a month, and the governor quickly signed it into law.
Rhode Island has been operating without a new budget since July 1. The stalemate caused uncertainty in local governments as the state government operated at last year’s lower spending levels.
The Senate reconsidered the budget Thursday that had already passed the House and approved it by a vote of 30-5, sending it to the governor. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the budget into law immediately following its passage.
The budget was hung up over a disagreement between the chambers over details of phasing out the car tax. The Senate passed a budget amendment to block further increases in reimbursement to towns for lost car tax revenue if state revenue drops, which it withdrew on Thursday.
Legislative leaders struck a deal to consider car tax legislation separately to monitor the impact of the phase-out. The Senate approved that legislation Thursday. The House is expected to consider it in September.
Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said he wanted to thank Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for coming to a middle ground. He apologized if municipalities were inconvenienced, but said the phase-out was a compelling issue.
“I’m proud of how the Senate handled it and I’m looking forward to moving on,” Ruggerio said.
Sen. Ryan William Pearson, a Cumberland Democrat, said he’s still not sure how the state will come up with more than $220 million annually to reimburse municipalities when the phase-out is fully implemented in 2024. Pearson also praised investments in economic development and said that while it’s not a perfect budget, “We can no longer hold our state hostage.” Senate Republicans voted against the budget.
Mattiello said the budget should’ve been in place on July 1 and he’ll work to put procedures in place to prevent another budget stalemate.
“This is a hiccup that I hope never happens again,” he said.
Mattiello called the car tax regressive and oppressive, and said the state should give the relief to citizens that they’ve been requesting, for a long time. He said he’s “very pleased” the original budget passed.
Both chambers plan to reconvene in September to take up other pieces of legislation that did not get addressed before the end of the session.
Dozens of bills were caught in a legislative limbo amid the dispute, including a proposal to mandate paid time off for workers who call in sick and a bill that would require anyone on a domestic protective order issued by a court to surrender guns. Both of those bills are a priority for legislative leaders.