On a 59-6 party-line vote, the Rhode Island House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a $12.7 billion budget for the fiscal year that began last July 1, during a rare lame duck session away from the Statehouse.

Gathering in a socially distanced way at Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Republicans criticized the spending and made unsuccessful attempts to reorient some of it.

Whip Mike Chippendale (R-Foster) said the state has not done enough to support small businesses that are struggling due to the pandemic.

“They’re starving just to get by and regrettably despite what we’re hearing, there has been very little response from this administration to those small business needs,” Chippendale said. “One needs only, if they’re a representative, to open their emails, and see what their constituents are sending to them.”

An amendment by House Minority Leader Blake Filippi that would have given the state small business council – controlled by Lt. Gov. Dan McKee – control of federal COVID aid to Rhode Island was soundly defeated.

Representatives also debated efforts to hire more workers at the state's child welfare agency, the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Democrats said the agency has more than 40 vacancies, while Republicans said more funding is needed to bolster DCYF.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello defended the spending plan as a balanced attempt to deal with the hardship caused by the pandemic.

The budget includes $400 million in proposed borrowing that will be decided by voters in a special election, tentatively planned for March, for such needs as higher education, housing and transportation.

The budget relies heavily on federal aid while introducing no new programs and no new taxes or fees. It boosts municipal aid, continues the car tax phaseout, and maintains current educational aid.

The spending plan is slated for Senate consideration on Friday.

Mattiello lost his state rep re-election case last month and did not preside over the budget session. Instead, he sat among other representatives, as Deputy Speaker Charlene Lima (D-Cranston) led the discussion.

Rep. Joe Shekarchi (D-Warwick) last month lined up the backing to succeed Mattiello and is expected to formally win election as speaker in the new General Assembly session start next month.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org