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The Disaster Emergency Funding Board unanimously signed off on the borrowing after meeting for about 30 minutes.

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said the current crisis is happening while state cash collections are typically at their lowest.

While the state tries to maintain a minimum balance of $40 million in the general fund, he said, the balance could fall below that as early as Monday and then to zero soon after.

Magaziner said the borrowing allowed by a resolution “will ensure that in this time of crisis the state can continue to serve the public, vital services will continue to be available to those who’ve gotten sick or been laid off, and we will be able to continue paying our health care workers and our first responders, so they can focus on doing their jobs and not have to worry about whether their pay checks will keep coming.”

Critics including the state Republic Party have questioned the constitutionality of the borrowing and argued that the full legislature should consider the matter.

Magaziner said lines of credit are commonly used by businesses and that the state had most recently borrowed money during the Great Recession. He said the borrowing is constitutional since it involves a line of credit, not a tax anticipation note and “does not carry a general obligation pledge.”

The Disaster Emergency Funding Board is composed of the House speaker, the Senate president, and the Finance chairs of the House and the Senate.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said none of the borrowing approved by the board will go toward new spending.

“No new programming, no new authority to spend any additional monies,” Mattiello said. “We’re working off last year’s budget. We’re just dealing with the fact that our revenues are significantly constrained because of the pandemic and our expenses are actually increasing at the same time. So you’ve got the clash of the worst possible set of circumstances.”

More than 50,000 unemployment claims have been filed in Rhode Island in recent weeks, marking the worst unemployment situation in recent history. The state’s ability to collect cash is also hindered by a federal move to delay the income tax deadline into July.

The Disaster Emergency Funding Board met in the state room at the Statehouse.

In a statement after the vote, RI GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki raised three concerns. She said the state will pay a higher interest rate for the borrowing by using the funding board; she said state figures do not account for the impact of $1.25 billion in federal help; and she characterized an emergency loan of credit as a bad fiscal practice.

The DEFB meeting was closed to the public due to the coronavirus, although it was televised and streamed via Capitol TV. The audio broadcast was inaudible for a few points of the meeting.

Gov. Gina Raimondo started the meeting by asking lawmakers to approve the borrowing. She said restrictions imposed on the state’s economy due to COVID-19 have caused a liquidity problem for Rhode Island.

 Rhode Island was facing a budget deficit of roughly $200 million before the coronavirus became a crisis.