06/18/13 – House Finance Committee (Budget Introduction)

5:16 p.m.
Well, I’m sitting in House Finance awaiting the budget. I see the House is still on the floor, dealing with the first bill on their agenda. Brought work; brought chargers; brought beverages; brought snacks; hopefully that’s enough.

Interesting moment on the TV screen. Debating a bill on penalties for cheating at Twin River, Rep. Doreen Costa moved to recommit, Speaker Gordon Fox objected, and then seemed… testy… over her challenge: “You want to challenge me?” Only nine representatives voted with Costa.

5:29 p.m.
On the bill to create a commission studying the sales tax elimination, it seemed like the greater part of the House actually seconded the bill. I’m still not sure what’s gained by that. (Bill passed unanimously, with 71 votes.)

6:10 p.m.
Well, the Floor session is over. I’m hearing there’s a press briefing to begin around 45 minutes from now, so the committee hearing will probably kick off somewhere around 7:30 p.m.

As I said… brought work; brought snacks; brought chargers.

6:14 p.m.
Long wait notwithstanding, the hearing room is already filling up, including with legislators, but mostly lobbyists. Somebody asked the committee’s clerk how long it would take for the budget articles to get online, and he said it would be within an hour after they wrapped up the live proceedings.

Take it as a symbol of our government’s problems that there are so many (very well paid) special-interest representatives for whom it’s worthwhile to sit around doing nothing for hours just to get a slightly earlier glimpse of the House’s adaptation of the budget.

6:44 p.m.
All of the media folks have left the room. I don’t know whether they’re off to jockey for positions in the speaker’s office for the budget briefing or just wandering elsewhere in the building where it’s not quite as freezing as House Finance tends to be.

David Klepper of the AP just came by to plug in his laptop and tells me that the briefing has not begun. Putting my headphones back on now…

6:48 p.m.
Appropriately, given debate about gambling, earlier, and tonight’s unveiling of the budget, my mp3 shuffle served up “Lady Luck” by Maceo Parker.

Biggest shock of the night, thus far: a passing legislator just told me that school choice is not in the budget.

6:53 p.m.
While I’m doing nuthin’, thought I’d mention one of the worst examples of media bias I’ve yet seen in this state: There was general agreement at the press table a little while ago that these last few weeks of late nights at the State House are no fun. (The language was actually a bit stronger than that.)

I kid you not: one journalist actually complained about seeing the sun come up on her way home last year.

7:14 p.m.
Jim Baron tweets that the press briefing has not yet begun and predicts that the hearing won’t begin until at least 8:00 p.m.

7:42 p.m.
Whispers in the hearing room suggest that anybody hoping for movement on the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls within the budget is going to be disappointed.

8:05 p.m.
The press briefing has apparently started. I remember there being more lobbyists in the room last year. Specifically, I haven’t seen a single NEA-RI representative here, yet. Last year, executive director Bob Walsh held court for the entire waiting period.

8:51 p.m.
Chairman Helio Melo has entered the hearing room.

9:17 p.m.
And we’re off. I’m hearing at the press table that there’s nothing on tolls. The sales tax on alcohol is eliminated, but the revenue is made up in the alcohol excise tax. Some changes to Chafee’s municipal funding proposals (pothole funds and stuff).

9:20 p.m.
Article 2 is the governor’s Medicare for state retirees proposal. Article 3 is stopping health coverage for former spouses of state workers as of the end of this year (still can’t believe this one is necessary in the first place).

9:22 p.m.
Really flying. Article 4 has to do with FICA retirement for state workers. Article 5 stops excess funds after an audit from going into the cash stabilization fund. Article 6 changes vehicle registration fees.

9:26 p.m.
Article 7 appears to repeal the public telecommunications authority. Article 8 has to do with leases of the Department of Corrections.

Article 9 is still warm from the copy machine… which is nice, because the room is still freezing. It’s a big article dealing with a variety of taxes. Includes a nod to help Newport Grand.

Alcohol sales tax has gone away, but the excise taxes on all such beverages has increased substantially. That provision sunsets in April 2015. (As an experiment.)

The tax-credit scholarship program (for scholarships to private schools) gets an increased cap, from the current $1 million, to $1.5 million (which doesn’t begin, I’d note, to answer the demand for either giving or receiving).

9:37 p.m.
Article 11 uses state aid to encourage municipalities to better fund their pensions. Article 12 is the annual hospital uncompensated care provision. Article 13 is school housing aid modifications (giving the state 20% of savings).

9:43 p.m.
Article 14 makes some changes to how the state will pay off its employment security debt to the federal government, somehow (they say) saving employers $30 million in payments or thereabouts.

Article 15 creates some employment-related programs, like the “State Work Immersion Program,” using state funds to subsidize hiring.

Article 16 is the annual restricted receipt accounts article.

9:46 p.m.
Article 17 makes some changes to the funding for emergency communications.

Article 18 increases the payments associated with welfare and child care, for a limited time.

9:51 p.m.
Article 19 expands healthcare subsidies, including the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion, as well as increasing RIte Share Health Insurance Premium Assistance income levels from 175% to 250% of the poverty level.

9:53 p.m.
Some quips in the audience about the fact that no members of the House Finance Committee seem interested in asking questions of the state budget experts at the hearing for the state budget. It’s hard to blame them, though, considering how little notice everybody gets with this stuff.

9:55 p.m.
Article 20 is the Raimondo-Fox road and bridge revolving fund plan.

Article 21 has to do with the existing revolving fund for state fleet replacement.

Article 22 is a return and revamping of historic tax credits. As Rep. Patricia Morgan highlights, the article would require contractors dealing with larger projects under the program to have approved apprenticeship programs (and their subcontractors, too).

10:03 p.m.
Article 23 creates a small business grant program.

Article 24 is Helio Melo’s bill reimbursing 25% of manufacturers’ capital investments, supposedly paying for itself through the taxes on the jobs that are required to be created (and the compensation that they will be required to pay).

10:16 p.m.
Everybody’s saying that Article 9 removes the sales tax from all arts in the state (the Paiva-Weed full-state arts district), but it’s not in the article that Rep. Melo said it was in, so I’m wondering if it’s in Article 10, which has still not materialized.

10:23 p.m.
We’re “at ease,” right now, waiting for staff to catch up.

Rep. Melo came by the table, and I tried to ask where the arts program language is, but he turned away to talk to a Council 94 rep. Luckily, Ted Nesi asked the same question, and Melo responded: What we’re waiting for is a reprinted Article 9, which contains that provision.

10:27 p.m.
Article 25 repeals the Economic Development Corp. program guaranteeing business loans (i.e., the 38 Studios program).

10:34 p.m.
The missing Article 10 is the revised 2013 budget. Article 1 is the 2014 line items.

Governor Chafee’s spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger is providing the press with the quote: “This legislature always balances the budget on the backs of the cities and towns.”

10:43 p.m.
We’re back in action, here. House staff came over a little bit ago to tell the press table to tone it down… lots of gabbing around the room, although it’s less than half full, at this point.

10:46 p.m.
Perusing the summary documents, I see that the statewide arts district is expected to cost $825,000 in sales tax revenue.

10:50 p.m.
The governor’s corporate tax phase down didn’t make the cut.

10:53 p.m.
The cost of the health coverage for retirees’ divorced spouses is expected to save $1.4 million, meaning that we’ve been spending that much.

10:56 p.m.
Budget is passed along unanimously, but with the Republicans (Leader Newberry and Rep. Morgan) abstaining. Not sure why they didn’t just vote, “no.”

And we’re done.


Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?

6 replies
  1. MoniqueAR
    MoniqueAR says:

    Bigger picture question for anyone who can answer:

    Is there any legislation currently pending – or passed – that would take steps towards improving Rhode Island's business climate? (In addition to the proposed document/regulation sherpa.)

  2. Justin Katz
    Justin Katz says:

    I can't be sure, but there may be a provision to remove "and Providence Plantations" from the state's name and replace it with "and Improved Business Climate."

  3. MoniqueAR
    MoniqueAR says:

    By the way:

    "Interesting moment on the TV screen. Debating a bill on penalties for cheating at Twin River, Rep. Doreen Costa moved to recommit, Speaker Gordon Fox objected, and then seemed… testy… over her challenge: “You want to challenge me?” Only nine representatives voted with Costa."

    WAY TO GO, LT GOV … er, REP COSTA!!!

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