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No clear plans on RI budget as state lawmakers await more federal relief

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The Senate Finance Committee received an update from Rep. David Cicilline Thursday evening regarding the latest coronavirus relief package.

Cicilline said the HEROES Act, if passed, would provide Rhode Island with an additional $5.3 million to offset the financial impact the coronavirus has had on the state.

He said he’s worked specifically with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to ensure the money voted on in Washington D.C. would benefit the people of the Ocean State.

“There are several funding priorities that I knew were important to Rhode Island, including the trillion dollars for state and local aid that would include $3.6 million dollars in funding for Rhode Island,” Cicilline told the committee during a virtual hearing on Thursday.

That state funding was the main topic the majority of the meeting, as lawmakers acknowledged it’s not a done deal just yet. 

The Senate Finance Committee also heard from Department of Administration Director Brett Smiley and received an update on how the coronavirus relief funding is being spent.

As lawmakers prepare to consider the state’s budget, some raised questions on what’s next, since many feel as if they’re in limbo.

Smiley said plans can change depending on if and when the state receives more federal funding.

“We have such different options ahead of us, we’re either trying to balance a budget of $800-to-900-milliion-deficit, or we are about to receive a couple extra billion dollars in federal aid. It’s an impossible binary choice we find ourselves in at the moment,” Smiley said. 

Earlier this month, the House Finance Committee met and discussed how to possibly address a nearly $800 million plunge in revenue caused by the coronavirus downturn.

“I don’t have a whole lot of confidence that Congress is going to move as quickly as we need,” Sen. Jim Seveny said. “I guess, part of what I am looking for from you is a risk-benefit analysis that isn’t in the plan now but could be in the plan. So what’s the date? When are you going to tell us more?”

“This version is different than last week’s, every week we learn more and are able to plan more,” Smiley responded. “As we have more budgets, we will be sure to share them. There are no secret budgets.”

Gov. Gina Raimondo also weighed in on the budget Thursday during her daily coronavirus briefing.

She said she is taking things one day at a time, and is waiting to see how the federal relief package plays out. 

“Maybe we’ll have to get creative,” she said. “I talk to our legislative leaders every week – we are looking at it every week. We are supposed to have a balanced budget passed by July 1. That’s the goal. If our senior senator says ‘You’re not going to have relief until July 1.’ Then we might have to go month-to-month for a month.”

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