RI House marathon session on budget comes to abrupt end

By Abbey Niezgoda


Update: The $8.2 Billion budget battle at the State House ended around 130 a.m. Wednesday, after heated debate over pensions and the 38 Studios loan payback.

The temperature ran high and so did the tensions as the budget hit the house floor on a long summer night at the Rhode Island State House.

The marathon session kicked off with a surprise addition that would put the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls on hold until next spring. They were supposed to start next month.

“It's a huge victory for all of the people who worked on it and also for everyone who lives there,” Representative John Edwards, D-Portsmouth, said., “Newport county would have been devastated by this.”

Even as RIDOT warns of higher tolls on other bridges as a result of the delay, East Bay lawmakers are seeing it as a win and so are advocates.

“It means our businesses can survive,” resident Jeanne Smith said. “It's a great day for Aquidneck Island!”

However, the $8.2 billion budget plan isn't without its sticking points. It took House lawmakers more than two hours to approve the revival of Rhode Island's historic tax credit program. Meanwhile, plans to renovate the Superman building or any other building would still be capped at $5 million.

An article to do away with the sales tax on wine and spirits for a trial run of 15 months sailed right through.

“Finally, finally we have an advantage over neighboring states. Let's hope we take advantage of it,” Rep. Jan Malik, D-Warren, said. 

By far the biggest controversy centers around one of the smallest dollar amounts. $2.5 million is slated to go toward paying back the bond holders for the 38 studios disaster. House Speaker Gordon Fox says not paying at all would only make it tougher for the state to borrow in the future, while others say they will vote down the entire budget if the payback is included.

“I said from the get go that I would not support this budget if 38 studios was in there because there's a lot that we don't know and I think something is just not right,” Rep. Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown, said.

The House must reach a two-thirds vote in order for the budget to pass.