PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Monday legislative leaders are exploring options for the emerging budget crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, even as they are unable to meet because of the virus.
Mattiello wrote in letter to House members that short-term borrowing was being explored to cover “delayed revenues,” such as taxes that will come in later because of the filing deadline being moved to July 15. But the borrowing may not solve the problem, Mattiello said.
“Lost revenues and increased expenses will have to be solved as well,” he wrote in the letter. “We are evaluating the extent to which approved and pending federal aid will assist us in covering these budget gaps.”
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner has said he expects to soon present lawmakers and the governor with proposals to get the state through its looming cash crunch.
“The state’s not going to run out of money,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday. “It’s going to be very, very difficult, but it isn’t something Rhode Islanders should be worried about.” Still, she added, “Clearly our revenues have fallen off a cliff.”
The General Assembly has stopped meeting amid directives from health officials that groups of 10 or more not gather. It’s unclear when lawmakers will return to the State House, but when they do they’ll have the tough job of passing a balanced state budget amid the COVID-19 crisis by June 30.
“Unfortunately, things are changing rapidly, but I want to assure you that we are working collaboratively to address these issues,” Mattiello told the other representatives in the letter.
The crisis has major implications for the state budget: the closure of restaurants, bars, hotels, Twin River’s two casinos and other businesses means far less sales tax and income tax money will be coming in to the state.
“Those two sources account for nearly two-thirds of all state general revenues,” Mattiello wrote. “The casino shutdowns also present an immediate impact to revenues, likely over $25 million per month.”
An increased need for state assistance programs to help those impacted by the crisis will also affect the budget, Mattiello said.
House spokesperson Larry Berman said it’s too soon to say when the General Assembly might return, but he said the lawmakers may come back to the State House and work five days a week — instead of three — to compress the year’s business into a short period of time.
State Sen. Sam Bell wrote in an op-ed Monday that the General Assembly should start meeting virtually, in part to pass a stimulus package to help small businesses forced to close by the state.
“We need to provide direct cash incentives for displaced workers,” Bell, D-Providence, wrote on the progressive news website UpriseRI. “And we need to bail out businesses facing special economic damage. Restaurants, always operating on tight margins, need a bailout, and they need it now.”
“The House and Senate are researching the possibility of virtual meetings, but no determinations have been made yet,” Berman said in an email. “All options are being assessed.”
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.
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