R.I. Senate and House stuck on the budget

ON THE FINAL DAY of the legislative sessions for both the House and the Senate in fiscal 2017, the R.I. General Assembly failed to agree on a state budget. Above left, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, right, Dominick J. Ruggerio.
ON THE FINAL DAY of the legislative sessions for both the House and the Senate in fiscal 2017, the R.I. General Assembly failed to agree on a state budget. Above left, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, right, Dominick J. Ruggerio. / PBN FILE PHOTOS/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVIDENCE – At 7:52 p.m. on Friday the R.I. Senate Twitter account tweeted, “TGIF.” A few hours later the Senate went on summer recess. Why is that news? The Senate never passed the R.I state budget that the House had affirmed, leaving the state without a spending plan for the new fiscal year.

Earlier that day, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello abruptly sent the House of Representatives home early, on the last day of the legislative session, saying that he refused to have the House work late into the night, although that was not the full reason.

The problem is the speaker’s car tax initiative, as reported by WPRI-TV, CBS 12.

It was later revealed that the Senate amended the House budget, adding language that would affect the implementation of Mattiello’s signature car tax phaseout, depending on the health of the state’s financial position. With the Senate’s action, in order for the budget to be enacted, the House would have to vote again. But in one swift move, Mattiello took that option off the table.

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A representative for the Senate confirmed to PBN that the Senate has not yet determined a date to reconvene to attempt to pass a budget.

A representative for Mattiello said of the failure to pass a budget, “The Senate amended it, and the House has not accepted the amendment,” saying that the Senate “needs to live up to their agreement” to support the House’s budget.

The Senate disagrees.

In a statement released on Friday, Ruggerio said, “The Senate repeatedly expressed its concern to Speaker Mattiello regarding the sustainability of the car tax phase out. He chose to disregard the concerns of the members of this chamber, and sent us the budget without any concessions on that issue.”

He also said that, “Speaker Mattiello does not dictate to the Senate which bills we are permitted to amend.”

For now, at least, it seems an amended budget will remain unpassed, as a representative for Mattiello said definitively, “The House is on summer recess.” As a result, according to Rhode Island law, state spending will remain at the same levels as in the fiscal 2017 budget until a new budget is passed.

Before the budget impasse, the Senate and House did manage to pass some bills on Friday:

  • The ban of handheld cell phone use
  • Automatic voter registration
  • A ban on gay conversion therapy for teens
  • A bill requiring insurance coverage for non-opioid pain treatments
  • A grandparents’ visitation rights bill
  • An amendment to a tax lien bill as it pertains to R.I. Housing

These bills will now go to Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s desk for signature or veto.

Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor.