Senate Passes Budget; General Assembly Ends With Marathon Session

Jun 18, 2016

Rep. Michael Chippendale (R-Foster) (right) offers a farewell to Rep. Karen MacBeth (R-Cumberland), who isn't seeking re-election.
Credit Capitol TV

The state Senate passed early Saturday an $8.9 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, and sleepy lawmakers pushed their final session of 2016 past sunrise before calling it quits.

"I have reached the point where I am voting 'no' on everything. We should have long since adjourned for the year and gone home," House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry (R-North Smithfield) tweeted at 3:28 a.m.

But the session continued, even as many lawmakers left, bills were considered shortly after the unveiling of committee meetings, and the significance of the issues being considered came into question from Newberry and others. The House closed its business at 5:37 a.m., and the Senate after 6 a.m.

Earlier, at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, on a 32-3 vote, the state Senate approved without changes the budget okayed earlier in the week in the House. It now goes to Governor Gina Raimondo for her signature.

GOP Senators Nicholas Kettle of Coventry, Elaine Morgan of Hopkinton and Mark Gee of East Greenwich voted against the spending plan. Republicans have generally criticized the budget for not being bold enough in tackling spending and trying to improve the economy.

Yet Democratic applause for the spending plan was echoed by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. "Building on the gains achieved in 2015, Governor Raimondo, Speaker Mattiello, Senate President Paiva Weed and their fellow lawmakers have crafted a budget and enacted additional measures focused on the state's economic competitiveness and growth," Chamber President Laurie White said in a statement. "The FY 2017 budget and economic development initiatives will continue to further strengthen the state's overall business climate."

Among other measures, the spending plan cuts annual unemployment insurance taxes by $30 million, cuts the state's $450 corporate minimum tax by $50, exempts some pension income from taxes for income-eligible retirees, and cuts fees for visiting state beaches. The spending plan also freezes tuition at state colleges and supports most of the economic incentives sought by Governor Raimondo.

One significant piece of legislation that died during the final session was a so-called justice reinvestment approach meant to improve public safety while saving money.

Lawmakers will now turn their attention to primary elections in September and the general election in November.

Democrats control political power on Smith Hill, with 62 of 75 House seats, and 32 of 38 senators. State Republican Chairman Brandon Bell hopes for the GOP to make gains in fall elections, but he said he remains unsure how many races will include Republican candidates.

As it stands, three Republican incumbents are leaving the House and one incumbent senator has announced plans not to seek re-election.