Providence, RI – The final vote was preceded by hours of meandering debate. But in the end, House Democrats passed a spending plan that cuts state pension benefits, restores some car tax revenue for cities and towns, and makes about a three percent cut in state education aid. House Finance Chairman Steven Costantino called it another budget for tough times.
"They're will be some who say we have not done enough on local aid and some who'll say we should do more on local aid," Costantino said. "The bottom line is, we cannot spend what we don't have."
Earlier yesterday, about 60 people attended a state house rally organized by the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, or RISC. RISC Chairman Harry Staley blamed organized labor for the removal from the budget of a mandate requiring municipal employees to pay 15 percent co-pays for their health insurance.
"Labor has an overwhelming voice in this House and with many of the members of this House," he said. "We are deeply concerned about it, and we are hopeful that that decision can be turned around."
But RISC supporters were long gone by the time when House Democrats easily defeated Republican Rep. Joseph Trillo's effort to reinsert the co-pay requirement in the budget.
Majority Democrats did have some internal disagreements, however. Rep. Scott Guthrie, for example, unsuccessfully tried freezing the flat tax that mostly benefits affluent Rhode Islanders, so the state could return more money to cities and towns. Critics like House Majority Leader Nicolas Mattiello said it's too soon to change a measure meant to improve Rhode Island's economic competitiveness.
"We can't try to make everybody happy at the expense of the economy," Mattiello said.
Instead, lawmakers backed giving cities and towns about $47-million more in car tax revenue than proposed by Gov. Carcieri.
House Democrats also approved restricting cost of living adjustments to the first $35,000 in pension income for newly eligible state workers and public school teachers.