House Finance Committee to consider 2019 state budget

THE HOUSE APPROVED A $9.6 BILLION fiscal 2019 budget on Friday. / PBN FILE PHOTO/NICOLE DOTZENROD
THE HOUSE APPROVED A $9.6 BILLION fiscal 2019 budget on Friday. / PBN FILE PHOTO/NICOLE DOTZENROD

PROVIDENCE – A key legislative committee on Friday is expected to take up revisions to the fiscal year 2019 state budget proposal released earlier this year by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo. The big issues include some of the same difficult budget choices made by the General Assembly last year, as well as new revenue initiatives.

The House Finance Committee, led by Rep. Marvin L. Abney, D-Newport, has scheduled a meeting and vote on the budget at 5:30 p.m. Friday. A Thursday meeting was previously scheduled but later cancelled.

The $9.4 billion budget, released in mid-January, includes new spending proposals, as well as continuing cuts to human and health services programs. Although state revenue estimates have since picked up steam, adding tens of millions to the potential spending side, it is unclear how legislators will respond.

Just this week, the state’s Executive Office of Health & Human Services was embroiled in controversy after state officials revealed that a state attorney had failed to file a timely appeal of a decision related to Medicaid reimbursement payments to nursing homes, potentially leaving the state liable for cumulative payments in the tens of millions of dollars.

- Advertisement -

Other issues that will be considered in the House budget:

  • Medical marijuana. The governor’s proposal would greatly expand the number of regulated compassion centers, or medical-marijuana distribution centers, from three to 15, and could allow card holders from neighboring states to purchase the product in Rhode Island. The estimated budget gain is $5 million, according to the governor’s budget.
  • Sports betting at Twin River and Tiverton casinos. The proposed budget anticipated the legalization of sports gambling, and has proposed to collect $23.5 million in the first year of the activity, assuming an October startup. The Tiverton casino, now expected to open in September, and the Twin River Casino in Lincoln will be the initial locations for the activity.
  • More cuts in state Medicaid expenses and managed care organizations. The governor proposed an $18 million cut to state Medicaid expenses and $14 million less for hospital support, intended to encourage more outpatient services. But hospital and health services providers have fought against this vigorously, saying it will harm care of the state’s most fragile residents.
  • New sales taxes on software services, for cloud services such as TurboTax, Office 365 and Salesforce, could net nearly $5 million in the initial year of adoption.
  • Significant investment in school buildings, at both the the K-12 and the higher education levels. In addition to a $250 million bond for K-12 renovations, providing a match for local communities that consolidate or renovate facilities, the state is considering $45 million for new facilities at the state-supported universities. The University of Rhode Island could get a new Ocean Innovation Center building, to accommodate a $125 million National Science Foundation federal research vessel and other vessels at the Narragansett Bay campus.
  • Expansion of economic-development proposals, including a Manufacturing Site Readiness program intended to provide an inventory in the state of pad-ready sites for large economic-development projects.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.