RI budget rollout delayed to Friday; no deal on pre-K yet

Politics
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island lawmakers have punted release of the 2019-20 state budget to Friday as nonstop negotiations continue over some of Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s biggest legislative priorities.

The House Finance Committee had put reporters on standby for a final tax-and-spending plan to be released — and immediately approved — Thursday night. But around 6 p.m. the committee’s chairman, Newport Democrat Marvin Abney, said the unveiling would be put off a day. It is now scheduled for Friday around 7 p.m.

High-level talks continued well into the night Thursday. Around 9:30, Raimondo and her chief of staff, Brett Smiley, were spotted in the waiting room outside House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s office. Exiting about a half-hour later, the governor declined to detail the discussions, but said she is working hard to advance policies that will improve the economy.

While the governor unveiled her nearly $10 billion budget proposal back in January, real negotiations rarely begin until the May release of updated estimates for tax revenue. After that a compromise plan is hammered out in private negotiations between the governor, the House and the Senate.

Raimondo’s aides took Thursday’s delay to be a somewhat hopeful sign as they fight to keep some of her flagship proposals in the final document. A top priority for them is her push to expand pre-K, which some lawmakers have seen as too expensive. Roughly $6 million in new state money is also needed to replace expiring federal funding for existing pre-K classrooms.

The governor’s team privately expressed more hope about pre-K than they did about another of her marquee education proposals: expanding the Rhode Island Promise free tuition program to Rhode Island College. That idea was still being discussed but appeared to face more legislative skepticism.

Raimondo’s team was also pressing to preserve funding for the R.I. Commerce Corporation’s economic development incentives. Her biggest ask on that front is an additional $100 million in Rebuild RI tax credits for property development.

Spotted returning from a meeting with Speaker Mattiello in the evening, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said he remained hopeful.

“We remain in active dialogue and negotiation,” Pryor said.

State House insiders agreed there was almost no chance that lawmakers would support Raimondo’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. But an expansion of medical-marijuana compassion centers remained on the table.

On the revenue side, legislative leadership remained wary of many of the governor’s proposed tax and fee increases, though aides acknowledged some could make the cut in order to get the numbers to add up.

Mattiello was said to remain adamant that there be no changes in the timing of his plan to phase out the car tax by 2023. Raimondo had suggested lowering the size of the cut included in next year’s budget from $84 million to $68 million.

If past practice holds, the House Finance Committee will release the compromise budget plan on Friday night and then approve it right away after a brief presentation from their fiscal adviser.

Under the rules, the full House must wait one week before holding its annual marathon debate and vote on the budget, which would set up the vote for next Friday. Once approved by the House the budget will go to the Senate, which usually makes no changes before sending it on to the governor for her signature.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Eli Sherman contributed to this report.

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

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