Five Questions With: Marvin L. Abney

Rep. Marvin L. Abney, D-Newport, has a crucial job at the Statehouse – he leads the committee that is charged with closely examining the $13.8 billion budget proposed by Gov. Daniel J. McKee, holding hearings on each department’s requests. At the end of the monthslong process, Abney and his committee adopt a version of the state budget to be considered by the full House before it heads to the Senate for approval. 

Abney has been chairman of the House Finance Committee since May 2016, first appointed by former House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello.

PBN: What do you see as the biggest fiscal priorities for the state, and you as a lawmaker, this year? 

ABNEY: I personally see stability as the No. 1 priority. Every person can understand how disruptive big changes can be. We need to make sure that state government can employ people, deploy resources and do its job in a stable environment. We also need to make sure our citizens have stability – whether it be housing, jobs or access to education and health care. With the strong potential for an economic downturn, we need to build a budget that is stable and can respond to destabilizing forces.

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PBN: The state again has a large budget surplus and remaining federal COVID-19 relief dollars. What are the benefits, and the challenges, of deciding how to allocate such large sums of money? 

ABNEY: There is no denying these are large sums – the challenge is understanding how much of that is just a one-time thing and should only be used for one-time purposes. The second part of that is helping others understand why one-time money doesn’t lend itself to ongoing tax cuts, benefit increases or whatever your preferred use is. Doing so can affect our budget stability and ability to maintain services.

PBN: You have served in the House for over 10 years. How has the state budget process, and its budget priorities, changed and evolved over that time? 

ABNEY: The process hasn’t changed that much – but the state’s financial position and ability to address priorities certainly has fluctuated. The priorities are always ultimately driven by who the elected officials are – legislative and executive – and what their constituents tell them are important. The decisions made one year can certainly affect what becomes a priority the next year.

PBN: Are there specific budget articles or proposals that the business community should be paying the most attention to? 

ABNEY: I encourage the business community to be engaged in all aspects of public policy because it affects them and their workers and their ultimate success. The ability to attract and retain good workers and for those workers to make a home here is likely as important as any particular tax or fee.

PBN: What are the biggest misconceptions or things the general public might be surprised to know about the budget process? 

ABNEY: They might be surprised to know how much information is available on topics of interest and how much time we spend on the process itself. The House Finance Committee holds dozens of public hearings where so much is covered on every facet of the budget and all ideas the members have put forth in the form of legislation.

We post all of the information and testimony for public consumption; you can come and participate or watch from home live or on demand. It is a very public and accessible process.