The Rhode Island House broke from tradition Tuesday night by unanimously passing a budget for the next fiscal year during a speedy three-hour session. The spending plan cuts some business taxes while giving Governor Gina Raimondo much of what she wanted.Listen to the sounds of the House budget session.
Budget debates in the House of Representatives traditionally go until the wee hours of the next day. So even veteran lawmakers were surprised when the chamber approved an $8.7 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July first faster than at any time in at least 30 years.
Here’s Warwick Republican Joe Trillo: "I can’t believe we’re going to be getting out of here with the sun up."
Trillo says the credit for breaking with Statehouse tradition goes to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and his leadership team, as well as Governor Raimondo.
"It’s a tribute to your leadership in moving the state forward," Trillo said. "We have taken the best of the governor’s budget, the pro-business articles. We’ve taken some of our own ideas, and we’ve put together a great budget."
Mattiello’s budget initiatives include cutting the $500 corporate minimum tax by $50; eliminating the commercial tax on energy; and significantly cutting taxes on Social Security benefits. The spending plan also includes about 75 percent of Raimondo’s proposed savings in Medicaid, while keeping the state’s version of Obamacare, and funding most of the governor’s tools meant to spark job growth.
Speaker Mattiello rose to what is often called the state’s most powerful political post after winning the fight last year to succeed former speaker Gordon Fox. Mattiello said the unanimous support for the budget shows how the legislature is focused on jobs. He rejected the suggestion that the remarkably fast budget vote reflects his control over the chamber.
"I would not say I have control over the chamber," Mattiello said while speaking with reporters. "I would say that we have a united House that’s committed to work on behalf of the state of Rhode Island and its citizens. I am honored that they elect me to serve as speaker and to lead the chamber, but we’re one body, we work together."
The House certainly seemed like one body when it approved two contentious issues – the state pension settlement and Governor Raimondo’s move to cut Medicaid spending – without a single word of debate.
Yet if the abbreviated budget session was lacking for drama, Republican Representative Patricia Morgan of West Warwick tried her best to light some fireworks. She unsuccessfully tried shifting additional money for the Twin River gambling parlor to Raimondo’s attempts to promote what is known as lean government.
"A majority of states have been using this for years and are already getting those savings," Morgan said. "I don’t know why we would hamper the governor in making sure she could make a difference in Rhode Island.”
Morgan also got shut down when she tried steering money to start an investigation into the state’s losing investment in failed video-game maker 38 Studios. Speaker Mattiello ruled that Morgan’s move was not germane, although the budget does include millions of dollars to continue the process of paying back 38 Studios’ bondholders.
The House budget approves a new tax on non-hotel lodgings like bed and breakfasts. But the spending plan does not include the so-called Taylor Swift tax proposed by Raimondo for vacation homes, or money related to the Pawtucket Red Sox proposal for a ballpark in downtown Providence.
In a statement, Governor Raimondo said, “I am grateful for the hard work of Speaker Mattiello and his leadership team that led to tonight’s unanimous vote. Our focus is on creating jobs and expanding opportunity, and the budget approved by the House is a great start. This is a plan intended to rebuild our schools, attract and grow companies in Rhode Island, make it easier to do business here, and put people back to work. The budget also includes important reforms to Medicaid to improve the quality and coordination of care and achieve significant savings.”
After their speedy session, lawmakers congratulated each other for passing what they call a pro-business budget. Representative Daniel Relly, a Portsmouth Republican, said Governor Raimondo now needs to deliver after the House funded her economic development incentives meant to spark jobs.
"I for one certainly expect a lot out of this," Reilly said. "I don’t know if the fundamentals of our economy will allow for that, but I certainly hope so and I think that all of us hope for the economic growth that we hope will come.”
The state Senate’s Finance Committee, meanwhile, is slated to consider Thursday a version of Raimondo’s proposal to pay for bridge improvements though new tolls on trucks.
Mattiello sais the House is considering the infrastructure plan, but he doesn’t know when it will come up for a vote. The speaker said a special session later this year is“a very good possibility, but it’s not a certainty.”
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to take up the budget passed by the House Wednesday afternoon.
This post has been updated.