Optimism grows over budget stalemate resolution

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With a caucus of Senate Democrats scheduled for Monday, senators are growing more confident Rhode Island’s month-old budget impasse will come to a close, possibly as soon as this week.

“The short answer is yes,” said Sen. Lou DiPalma, D-Portsmouth, when asked Sunday if he believes the Senate will pass the state budget in the next seven days.

It’s been one month since House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, abruptly sent his members home in protest over Senate changes to the budget, ending the session for the summer and leaving the $9.2-billion spending plan in limbo.

Now – after several private meetings between Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence – Senate Democrats are scheduled to convene Monday to discuss a potential compromise.

“I think the Senate president is going to articulate to the Democratic caucus what he and the speaker have been able to negotiate and collaborate on with regards to the way forward with the budget,” said DiPalma. “And I think we’re expecting to see that the budget impasse will be broken.”

DiPalma, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, believes the Senate will reconvene to pass the House version of the budget, potentially by the end of the week.

On June 30, the Senate approved a version of the budget that amended Mattiello’s proposed car tax phaseout plan, implementing a so-called “trigger” to roll back the phaseout in times of economic instability. Before the Senate even took up the budget, Mattiello told his members he was sending them home, later saying in a news conference that Ruggerio had reneged on a pledge to pass the House version of the budget.

“When I shake someone’s hand, I expect the agreement to be honored,” the speaker said at the time. Ruggerio countered, “I don’t remember any handshake.”

The impasse has left the state running on last year’s lower spending levels, and last week Gov. Gina Raimondo met with mayors from across the state to discuss the potential effects.

“It’s getting more real for all of us by the day of how Rhode Islanders are going to get hurt if the impasse doesn’t end quickly,” North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi said after conferring with the governor.

State aid checks are set to go out Tuesday. Asked last week whether the administration might delay sending those checks if lawmakers are near a resolution on the budget, Raimondo spokesman Mike Raia said: “Right now we’re totally focused on Tuesday’s deadline and urging the legislature to pass a budget before then.”

As far as what will become of the Senate’s amendment to the car tax phaseout plan, DiPalma said that remains to be seen. However, he believes the topic is part of the compromise between Ruggerio and Mattiello, and he expects it will be taken up as an issue separate from the budget.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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