The Rhode Island House passed the $8.7-billion budget early Friday morning after a lengthy and contentious floor debate. The majority of arguments were about allocating a little over $12 million to make a payment on the bonds that funded the $75 million loan to now bankrupt developer 38 Studios. Despite the lengthy debate that kept lawmakers in the chamber after midnight, the budget passed by a vote of 63-12. The budget bill will now go to the Senate for what is expected to be quick approval.
This is the first budget prepared under the leadership of new House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, who took over from Rep. Gordon Fox after the FBI raided the former speaker's home and office in March. Fox, who remains a lawmaker, was on hand for Thursday’s debate but did not speak. The budget debate lasted from around 3:30 p.m. to 12:21 a.m. Attempts by opposition to make changes to the budget were easily defeated.
As part of the budget, House lawmakers approved a cut in Rhode Island’s corporate tax rate from 9 percent to 7 percent. They also voted 68-5 to revamp Rhode Island’s estate tax by raising the exemption from around $922,000 to $1.5 million. Lawmakers voted 62-11 to get rid of a controversial toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge by increasing the gas tax and hiking in some vehicle fees, as well as "existing sources."
Being at the mercy of the election cycle, some lawmakers did some grandstanding during last night's debate to show they disapprove of paying down the bond debt.
Also part of the budget was $45-million for a parking garage at the Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence and a new state nursing school to be built at the old South Street Power Station in Providence.
WPRI has more details on the particulars of the budget bill here. One thing is for certain: those hoping to withhold payment for this year on the 38 Studios bonds have missed their opportunity.