By Gina Macris
The $9.2 million Rhode Island budget, which appeared poised for final passage by the Senate on June 30, now hangs in limbo on the first day of the new fiscal year, July 1, a casualty of a dispute between the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate over the Speaker’s signature car tax relief plan.
The situation means that by law, the levels of spending approved by the General Assembly a year ago remain in effect until the General Assembly resolves the Fiscal Year 2018 budget – and no one knows when that might be.
For Rhode Islanders who are elderly or have disabilities, the one exception to the spending freeze is separate legislation, on its way to the governor, which restores their free bus passes on the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, a $5 million item.
But increases to direct care workers in both developmental disabilities and home health care fields remain up in the air. So do millions of dollars in reimbursements to private developmental disability service agencies, some of them for expenses already incurred in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
The dispute between House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, centers on a Senate amendment which would freeze the level of Mattiello’s car tax relief if, at any time during the six-year phase-out, the state has to dip into its rainy day fund.
During the floor discussion, senators said the state needed a safety net in the event the state cannot ultimately afford the overall $221 million cost of the phase-out, especially in light of uncertainty in Washington over billions of dollars in proposed cuts to Medicaid nationwide. Those drastic reductions would deal Rhode Island a severe blow in many human service programs, including those supporting adults and children with developmental disabilities.
The Senate passed the amendment, with the rest of the budget that had been approved by the House, with just hours remaining in the old fiscal year.
But by that time, Mattiello had adjourned the House and sent the members home. He gave no indication when he might call the House back into session.
In a statement, he said “Despite the House, the Senate and the Governor reaching agreement on a responsible and balanced state budget, I learned today that the Senate was likely to amend the budget on this, the last legislative day. This would have resulted in a long and unproductive night for the members and the public. I urge the Senate to honor the original agreement and pass the state budget.”