Friday, June 10, 2022
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The House Finance Committee voted late on Thursday to approve the $13.6 billion state budget for the 2023 fiscal year.
The budget now goes to the full House of Representatives next Thursday.
The budget includes accelerates the six-year phase-out of Rhode Island’s car [motor vehicle excise] tax.
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The elimination of the car tax was the brainchild of former Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello and began in 2017.
That means almost all Rhode Islanders will not see another automobile excise bill. (East Providence, which operates on a different fiscal year than most municipalities, is one year behind other cities and towns on the phase-out.)
The state budget office has reported a budget surplus of nearly $900 million.
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Not Included – Cut to Gas Tax or Funding for Pawtucket Soccer Stadium
But, the legislature did not provide relief on inflation, specifically relating to the price of gasoline. Rhode Island has one of the highest gas taxes in the country.
On Thursday, the cost of a gallon of oil hit $5.00, according to AAA Northeast.
The budget does not include any additional funding for the fledgling Pawtucket soccer stadium project. The Arizona-based Fortuitous Partners has asked for an additional $30 million in funding for the stadium construction.
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Budget Elements Includes
– Access to Fruits and Vegetables to Low Income RIer Gets $11.5M Boost in Budget
The committee approved a pilot program that would grant SNAP recipients a 50-cent credit to their EBT cards for every dollar used to purchase fruits and vegetables. $1.5 million would be appropriated for administrative and technology costs and $10 million would be appropriated to cover the cost of the benefits.
“The Nourish Rhode Island coalition is pleased that the General Assembly has included an $11.5 million allocation to support a statewide Retail SNAP Incentive Program in its FY23 budget proposal. By providing the more than 140,000 Rhode Islanders, many of whom are senior citizens or young children, who rely on SNAP benefits with a 50% discount on fresh fruits and vegetables in retail grocery settings across the state, this crucial program will make an immediate, positive impact on public health in Rhode Island’s underserved communities, and serve as a first step in finally addressing Rhode Island’s growing hunger crisis,” said Dr. Amy Nunn, executive director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute, on behalf of the Nourish Rhode Island coalition.
– For families with children, the committee added a one-time child tax credit of $250 per child, for up to three children per family. The credit will be automatically sent in the fall by the Division of Taxation to those who filed taxes indicating they had children under 18 in the 2021 calendar year and made less than $100,000 for single filers, or $200,000 for joint filers. The credit is expected to go to about 190,000 filers, providing $43.8 million in relief.
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– $250 Million of American Rescue Plan Act federal funds for affordable housing and addressing homelessness included. Among the initiatives included in that funding is $30 million for down payment assistance for homebuyers and $10 million toward a new shelter for the homeless services agency Crossroads Rhode Island.
– Drivers will not have to pay an $8 fee that was originally slated to be charged upon registration renewal to every car owner over the next two years for the cost of replacing license plates with new ones. The amended budget will instead provide the plates for free.
– The committee added $4 million to increase the “circuit breaker” tax credit available to qualifying elderly and disabled residents, raising the maximum credit from about $400 to $600 beginning in tax year 2023 and indexing that amount to inflation. The committee also made the credit available to more Rhode Islanders by increasing the income threshold for eligibility from $30,000 to $35,000.
– For veterans, the committee supported the governor’s proposal to eliminate income taxes on military pensions, but eliminated it entirely in the 2023 tax year instead of phasing it over five years, as the governor had proposed.
– The committee added a provision to dedicate $100 million to the unemployment trust fund to reduce businesses’ unemployment tax rates for 2023. The trust fund took a significant hit during the pandemic from people being out of work as well as from fraud, and adding to the fund will reduce what must be paid into it by employers.
– The plan fully funds the state’s education formula, and includes a commitment to nearly double the number of pre-kindergarten seats to 5,000 statewide over five years. This was an initiative of former Governor Gina Raimondo.
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3 Ballot Questions:
– The budget includes three bond questions on November’s ballot: The first seeks voter approval for another school construction bond for $250 million, and allocates an additional $50 million from the capital funds toward school construction. More than three-quarters of voters approved a similar school construction bond in 2018. The demand according to a blue-ribbon committee in 2017, found there were billions of dollars in need.
– A second ballot question will seek voter approval for $100 million in borrowing for new construction and repairs at the University of Rhode Island Narragansett Bay campus, doubling the amount proposed by the governor. While the governor initially included $12 million for construction at the Community College of Rhode Island, the committee funded that project from the capital fund instead of borrowing.
– A third ballot question will be a “green bond,” asking voters to approve $50 million — $38 million for conservation and recreation, and another $12 million for the education center at Roger Williams Park Zoo.
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Healthcare Receives Hundreds of Millions in Relief
– Rhode Island’s hospitals will receive most than $100 million in relief.
– The plan includes $30 million from ARPA to support community behavioral health care clinics to help them serve Rhode Island’s surging mental and behavioral health needs, and permanently establishes a mental health treatment court, paid for through general revenues.
– In addition to continuing ARPA support first authorized in January for a total of $42 million, the committee approved provisions to increase rates the state pays for child care services and expand eligibility for those services. Those earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level would quality, and participants could earn up 300 percent before losing eligibility.
– The committee allocated $190 million in ARPA funds for future COVID response costs.
– Addressing concerns raised by lawmakers and advocates about the lack of any in-state psychiatric facility for girls, the committee included $12 million to expand existing in-state capacity at private facilities and initial design of a new facility. The committee committed $45 million over three years from Capital Plan funds for construction of that facility.
– The committee kept the governor’s plan to invest $168 million in upgrades to Eleanor Slater Hospital, including $108 million to construct a new long-term acute care hospital at the Zambarano campus in Burrillville.
– The plan expands the Wavemaker fellowship program, currently used to strengthen the workforce in STEM fields, to health and mental health professionals.
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Broadband, RI Foundation and RIPTA
The committee approved a cottage food program to allow individuals to sell food items such as baked goods prepared from their own homes, with certain health and safety requirements and permits.
The committee included a yearlong pilot program to provide free service on the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s busiest route, the R line that runs from Pawtucket to Cranston.
– The budget doubles to $20 million for an initiative to use ARPA funds on a grant program for nonprofit organizations, giving the Rhode Island Foundation responsibility for distribution.
– The committee appropriated $1 million to study the feasibility of erecting suicide barriers on the three bridges that connect Aquidneck Island and Jamestown to the Rhode Island mainland.
– Broadband infrastructure planning work, including a needs assessment, statewide mapping of broadband access and cost, and one new Broadband Director position at the Commerce Corporation was also approved by the committee. A broadband advisory committee is also created within the amended budget.
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