As it stands, state lawmakers will need to wipe out a deficit of about $200 million ahead of the July 1 start of the next fiscal year. That will be a top issue when the General Assembly begins its new session next month.

Ruggerio says the long-term deficit threatens to crowd out other forms of spending.

“We really have to address the way government is structured right now,” he told The Public’s Radio during a year-end interview. “We have a structural deficit every single year. We have to address that because we’ll keep having it. I’m concerned about some of the programs – if we have to funnel more of the money into the deficit, that’s less money that we’re going to be using on some of these local programs that we think are very important.”

State law requires the next year’s budget to be balanced at the end of each legislative session. The structural deficit is due to a longer term imbalance between spending and state revenue.

The last time lawmakers did not face a fresh deficit was during the administration of Gov. Lincoln Almond, who left office in 2003.

In related news, Ruggerio said he’s opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana in 2020 – a concept that has glimmers of support from Gov. Gina Raimondo.

“From what I see with the medical marijuana program, I am not happy how that was rolled out,” he said, “and I’m not happy with the way it’s operating right now. I think there’s a lot of illicit product on the black market. No one has a handle on how many plants are in the state. I don’t think enforcement is what it should be. I just think that we have to straighten the medical marijuana situation out before we even move forward on legalization.”

Ruggerio, a Providence Democrat, said the RI Senate’s top priority in 2020 will be on trying to improve public education.

In other news, Ruggerio said he’s encouraged Twin River and IGT Global Solutions – which are locked in a bitter fight over the future of gambling services in Rhode Island – to talk with each other, but that there are no imminent signs of a compromise or solution.

The gambling issue will be a top topic during the start of the 2020 legislative session. The House, at minimum, is expected to favor going out to bid for the future of gambling services in the state.

Meanwhile, Ruggerio said if re-elected in 2020, he plans to seek another term as Senate president in 2021.