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RI’s $8.9B budget clears Senate Finance Committee

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s next tax-and-spending plan is winding its way through the General Assembly and passed another hurdle Thursday afternoon.

The Senate Finance Committee made quick work of the $8.9-billion proposed state budget, passing it by a vote of 8 to 2. Sens. Edward O’Neill, R-Lincoln, and Juan Pichardo, D-Providence, both voted against.

The Senate panel’s vote came less than 24 hours after the House approved the budget proposal by a 59-13 vote late Wednesday, just before midnight. It raises no broad-based taxes and includes a tax break for some retirees. The House added a last-minute amendment for a $20 million bond referendum to help the expansion of ProvPort.

As expected, the Senate Finance Committee made no changes to the House version before quickly passing it.

Finance Committee Chairman Daniel DaPonte, D-East Providence, called the budget a good compromise, saying he would have supported more spending for certain areas.

“We’d certainly like to put more money into education,” DaPonte said. “We’d like to have more money for some of the economic development incentives.”

Republican Sen. John Pagliarini, an outspoken freshman senator, made the surprise move to support the budget crafted by the Democratic leadership when it came up for vote in the committee.

In an interview, Pagliarini told Eyewitness News he would not have supported Gov. Gina Raimondo’s original proposal, but was pleased with the measures the House removed from her version, including an increase to the cigarette tax, an increase to the minimum wage, and a high tag fee on marijuana plants.

“There’s a lot of bad things that didn’t make it into the budget that I look at as a positive,” Pagliarini said. “That helped push me to say yes on the budget.”

Raimondo acknowledged her disappointment Thursday about the decision to reject her proposed $10.10 minimum wage. “I wanted an increase to the minimum wage,” she told reporters. “The Assembly regrettably didn’t do that. I think it’s time to give working families a hand.”

Raimondo otherwise praised the budget as a good bill that would strengthen the economy.

Democrat Juan Pichardo voted against the majority in the Finance Committee, citing the cuts to the community-service grant program. Pichardo said he would have preferred a more gradual approach to the cuts.

The full Senate is expected to take up the budget Friday. If it passes there, it will go to Raimondo for her signature and then take effect July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

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