State of agreeance
Most constituents on board with Raimondo’s $9B budget proposal
PROVIDENCE — After receiving a proposed state budget from Gov. Gina Raimondo members of the General Assembly on Wednesday were beginning the process of its upcoming review.
The Governor proposed a $9 billion state spending plan on Tuesday that includes more than half that amount under federal grant and Medicaid supported spending.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pointed to the Governor’s continuing focus on improving the state’s economy as a positive starting point for her proposal.
“She concentrated on jobs, the economy, improving the economic climate of Rhode Island, and education and infrastructure — two important pillars of our economy,” Mattiello said. “So the general themes that the Governor always came back to and repeated over and over again are important themes and I’m pleased that she has that concentration,” he said.
The specifics of the Governor’s budget proposal, however, will require a “much more nuanced evaluation” and Mattiello said he would be leaving it to the House Finance Committee to begin study of the budget plan and hold public hearings in the weeks ahead. “And then we will formulate an opinion on the specifics of the budget,” he said. “But I liked the concentration and the emphasis. It was all jobs and she kept coming back to that. With every new subject she somehow reverted back to jobs which I strongly
support and agree with,” Mattiello said.
As the process moves forward, Mattiello said he expects he will not agree with all the aspects of the budget proposed by the Governor, including some of the provisions regarding education that will come with a spending increase or changes in levels of support.
“I’m not necessarily sure I’m going to agree with all of those initiatives by the Governor and we’ll have a further chat about it,” he said.
The Governor, for example, proposed a $5 million funding increase that would help college graduates in certain field repay their student loans so they will continue to reside in the state and Mattiello said he could agree “generally” that is a very good idea. “But we will have to look at that from the perspective of the total budget,” he said. “We will have to look at where the money is coming from and the mechanics of the budget, all the revenues all the expenses,” he said.
The Speaker said he also wants more information on the budget’s “structural deficit, both in the long term and even in the coming year, a factor influenced by the state’s commitment for retirement plan funding and other long-term expenses. “I know there is a lot of spending in the budget and I know that the structural deficit is growing if you look at the out years and even next year and I have to take a look at what is causing that and evaluate what we can afford,” he said.
For now, Mattiello said the House has only just received an initial pass budget analysis and he will be awaiting a more detailed overview in the coming days. The next step will be the opening of hearings by the Finance Committee, he noted. “We will start holding hearings as fast as I can schedule them,” he said.
Senate President M. Teresa Pavia Weed was also giving Governor Raimondo initial high marks on her budget goals while noting her emphasis on the state’s economy.
“The governor has continued her focus on improving the economy and in prioritizing the investments in education, both in K-12 and Higher Education, she has demonstrated a commitment to identifying one of the last pieces of the puzzle necessary to attract and keep Rhode Island businesses here,” Paiva Weed said.
The Senate President pointed to the additional $5 million for the state’s student loan forgiveness program to retain graduates in fields related to growing the state’s economy as one of the initiatives to be lauded and pointed to her proposal ensuring “there will not be tuition increases at our institutions of higher education,” as another. The Governor also provided additional funding for elementary and secondary education, and funded the next phase of the state’s school funding formula as added support to education.
The Governor has also “recognized the costs of the local school districts as a consequence of the growth of charter schools and has identified the recommendations that the (Working Group on Fair Funding) commission made regarding English Language Learners and high end special education costs,” Pavia Weed said. The related funding revisions are expected to help local district’s cope better with the financial costs of district students going to charter schools and recognized the areas where that change is needed, according to Paiva Weed.
The Senate President said she supports the Governor’s education initiatives as a way to improve the state’s economy and its quality of life.
“I sincerely believe as we move the state forward, businesses are looking to live in a place in which they can provide their children a better education and looking for a work force that is a well educated work force,” Paiva Weed said.
In addition to her education proposal, the Governor also maintained the “safety net for Human Services,” Paiva Weed noted, and proposed an increase is assistance for foster care parents, a longtime Human Services priority.
“Certainly we need to examine and hear all the articles, bonding and cuts, and all have to be heard through the committees,” the Senate President said. “But I commended her on the budget and its focus on growing the economy and growing jobs in Rhode Island by investing in education,” Paiva Weed said.
In the House on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (RDist. 48, North Smithfield and Burrillville) was taking a less positive view of the Governor’s proposed budget and suggested that it actually contains some additional spending that the House should consider cutting.
“Her budget proposal is a mixed bag and I wouldn’t point to anything in there in particular that I would support,” he said.
Unlike last year, when the General Assembly made some important reductions in state spending that were intended to lower the costs of doing business in Rhode Island, this year’s budget does not offer a similar conservative approach to spending, according to Newberry.
“This budget doesn’t do a lot to advance the state like last year’s budget did,” he said.
Then again, he said this is an election year and you might describe the Governor’s budget as a “vanilla budget because it doesn’t really contain much.”
Newberry added that he is concerned about the $230 million in proposed bonding that would be included in 6 or 7 bond proposals in the budget.
“I’m not saying all of them are bad and some may be necessary but it looks like most are shoveling out money to her constituent groups,” he said.
State Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland and Lincoln) took a different view of the budget. “I’m very optimistic,” she said while noting that she too wants to look further into the budget’s provisions.
“Once we begin having committee meetings we will be able to look at the details but I am optimistic about the budget,” she said. “The economy is always a big issue and the Governor is focused on jobs,” she said.
“Her budget proposal is a mixed bag and I wouldn’t point to anything in there in particular that I would support.”