PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio met privately Tuesday to discuss their standoff over the state budget, an impasse that has now lasted for well over two weeks, and both say a resolution may be near.
Mattiello, D-Cranston, stunned Smith Hill on June 30 by sending the House home to protest an amendment Ruggerio, D-North Providence, wanted to add to the state budget relating to Mattiello’s proposed car-tax phaseout.
Both Democrats issued statements after Tuesday’s meeting, which was held at an undisclosed location.
“Senate President Ruggerio and I had a very productive meeting in discussing moving forward to resolve the budget stalemate,” Mattiello said. “We will continue to meet in the near future and we will provide further updates to the media and the public.”
“The speaker and I began discussions tonight that will continue over the next several days,” Ruggerio said. “My goal and hope is that we reach a conclusion that benefits all Rhode Islanders in the near future.”
Eyewitness News caught up with Mattiello Tuesday evening outside of the Capital Grille in Providence, but Mattiello said he and Ruggerio didn’t meet there. Instead, he said they met earlier in the day at an unspecified restaurant.
“I had coffee and the Senate president had juice,” Mattiello said. He described the hour-long conversation as “professional, friendly,” and “productive.”
“I believe we’re moving in the right direction,” he said, adding, “Hopefully the stalemate is resolved very shortly.”
Mattiello said he believes the pair “needed time” following the events of June 30, and believes their conversation was more productive because they waited to have it. He said he hoped to meet with Ruggerio again as soon as Wednesday.
“Hopefully this resolves for what’s in the best interest of the state of Rhode Island, and I’m sure that the Senate president hopes the exact same thing,” Mattiello said. “We’re working to get on the same page.”
Rhode Island has been operating under last year’s spending levels for the first 18 days of the new fiscal year due to the breakdown in the Assembly, which left the $9.2-billion proposed tax-and-spending plan as well as other bills in limbo.
At an unrelated event earlier Tuesday, Ruggerio said he was “hoping to have a very friendly, informative discussion with the speaker, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Ruggerio, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 1980, noted that unlike Mattiello he was in the legislature when the last car-tax phaseout was approved in 1998 and when it was reserved about a decade later.
“We went through this before – the speaker didn’t go through this before,” Ruggerio said. “This happened before, where we had to rescind the car tax because it wasn’t sustainable, it wasn’t affordable. That wasn’t a great experience.”
House Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi, who was at the event with Ruggerio, had little to say about the impasse but offered, “I think the fact that they’re meeting is good.”
The Senate’s proposed amendment would pause the phaseout during an economic downturn if the drop in tax revenue forced the state to dip into its rainy-day fund.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo on Tuesday again urged the two legislative leaders to resolve their dispute.
“I’m urging them, as strong as I can, to do the right thing, put aside their differences, don’t worry about whose fault it was in the first place – put the people first and pass the budget,” she said.Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook