GA to consider FY21 budget in Nov., plan special election for bond initiatives

Updated at 4:15 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2020.

STATE LEADERS issued a joint statement Friday saying that the General Assembly will convene in a special session in November to consider the Fiscal Year 2021 state budget. They also said they will consider a special election for bond initiatives following the session. / PBN FILE PHOTO/ARTISTIC IMAGES
THE R.I. SENATE passed legislation on Thursday mandating equal pay for women and minorities. The legislation now moves to the desk of Gov. Daniel J. McKee for consideration. / PBN FILE PHOTO/ARTISTIC IMAGES

PROVIDENCE – State Democratic leaders on Friday signaled they will delay budget decisions and bond-initiative considerations until November.

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said that the General Assembly will meet in a special session in November to vote on the fiscal 2021 budget, and will hold a special election related to bond initiatives shortly thereafter. The group cited the uncertainty related to national aid for states as a reason to delay the budget discussions.

The state is two months into fiscal 2021, and is currently operating under last year’s budget. Without federal aid, the state will face significant deficits that will most likely lead to cuts in programs and state jobs.

In May, the state revenue and estimating conference ended with a projected deficit of nearly $800 million between the current fiscal year and 2022.

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The state did end the fiscal year ending June 30 with a surplus of $180.4 million, with $120 million of that the result of a transfer from the budget reserve account.

The bond initiatives to be considered could include $270 million in ballot initiatives that Raimondo had requested in her January budget proposal. They included $117.3 million for higher education improvements, $87.5 million for housing and infrastructure, and $64 million in beach, water and environmental improvements.

In a joint statement, the state leaders said, “As we await direction from Washington regarding additional relief for states, Rhode Island’s FY21 budget picture remains uncertain. COVID-19 has caused significant damage to our national and local economies, and it is critical we have a full understanding of the funding available to the state. Likewise, the placement of bond issues on the ballot is directly linked to the overall budget plan.”

In a statement Friday afternoon, the House Republican Caucus condemned the decision to delay budget discussions as cynical.

“Today’s decision to delay tackling our gaping budget hole, rather than doing the hard work now, is an abdication by the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate of their basic responsibilities to the citizens of Rhode Island,” the statement read. “That they are kicking the can down the road until after the November election is a cynical effort to avoid electoral responsibility for the unsustainable state finances they have created over the years.”

“Since April, Republicans have called on the General Assembly to convene and come up with solutions to address the projected $900 million budget gap, and to provide fiscal oversight during the pandemic,” the HRC’s statement continued. “Instead, the extent of our leaders’ action has been to wish upon a federal bailout, and to hold onto federal CARES Act monies that should have been used to upgrade our schools to enable in-person learning, and to help struggling small businesses forced to close. Waiting an additional two months to address this budget hole will only increase the pain Rhode Islanders will face.”

This story has been update to include comment from the House Republican Caucus.

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