Gov. Gina Raimondo has signed the state’s $9.9 billion budget for fiscal year 2020 into law – although she is critical of a number of the spending plan’s provisions and has reiterated her support for the adoption of line-item veto authority.
Legislative leaders, meanwhile, have defended the budget plan and suggested it contains needed measures to rein in the executive branch.
In a July 5 letter addressed to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Raimondo wrote that the budget does include “important steps forward for Rhode Island included in this budget.”
“Several of my top priorities that will significantly improve the lives of all Rhode Islanders are contained in this budget, and I appreciate the legislature working with me to enact them…However, in other important ways, the General Assembly’s budget restricts our ability to grow the economy and unwisely takes our foot off the gas at a critical moment in our comeback. By cutting our innovative and effective new economic development tools, our progress is put at risk,” the letter reads.
Raimondo’s letter indicates she signed the budget, rather than allowing it to become law without her signature, because of the “urgency of our shared mission to improve education and move Rhode Island forward.”
In terms of the line-item veto, Raimondo’s letter states Rhode Island has the “unfortunate distinction” of being one of six states without that authority vested in the governor’s office. She describes the line-item veto as a “critical tool for ensuring transparency and accountability.”
“The line-item veto is the single best tool to increase transparency and protect taxpayers from unnecessary or unwise spending,” the letter reads. “It has the support of a solid majority of Rhode Islanders and I look forward to working with the General Assembly to put it on next year’s ballot.”
In a joint statement, Mattiello – who has been cool to the line-item veto – and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio pushed back against the governor’s criticism and defended the priorities of the General Assembly’s budget.
“We are pleased that this pro-business, pro-education budget has gone into law today,” the statement reads. “This budget adheres to the fundamental principles we have established by properly funding essential services, while respecting the limit on how much we can ask of our taxpayers. We are proud that we are fully funding our commitment to phase out the car tax, something the Governor attempted to slow down.”
Raimondo’s letter points to additional Pre-K placements, “record investments in K-12 education” and increased funding for English Language Learners as among the positive features of the budget plan for the fiscal year that began July 1.
The budget also “enshrines the protections of the Affordable Care Act in Rhode Island” and invests $4.5 million in wage increases for direct support professionals who work with the state’s developmentally disabled community, the letter states.
The governor criticized changes to the Real Jobs Rhode Island job training program and Qualified Jobs program, writing: “Weakening these two initiatives runs the risk of putting the brakes on our economic momentum.”
The letter continues: “Instead of bolstering these proven initiatives, the General Assembly’s budget creates a new controversial tax incentive program benefiting wealthy out-of-state investors that could put $42 million of taxpayer money at risk and increase our structural deficit. Four years ago, we created a new way of investing in economic development – with taxpayer protections, transparent processes, and professional evaluation. This new program does not do this and I am concerned it returns us to the old way of doing things.”
The governor also asserts that the General Assembly’s budget “creates a costly and unnecessary tax that will force every driver in Rhode Island to pay for new license plates” and “fails to address the root causes of marijuana entering the black market while also taking the responsibility of writing regulations away from professionals and putting it into the hands of legislators.”
Raimondo asserts that the legislative budget “does nothing to reduce spending” and “appropriates more spending than the budget that I submitted in January.” She writes that the budget also “doubles our out-year deficits while ignoring proposals to address increasing costs in our prison system.”
“This budget places unprecedented restrictions on the ability of the executive branch to account for unforeseen increases in the number of children and families we serve as part of our legal and moral obligation to care of vulnerable Rhode Islanders,” the governor’s letter reads. “In the past five years we have had notable successes on this front: Rhode Island is one of a few states to actually see a decrease in the number of kids placed into loving foster homes as opposed to institutional settings. The General Assembly’s budget puts all of that progress, and more, at risk.”
Mattiello and Ruggerio’s statement continues: “In particular, the budget is responsive to concerns that the economic development policies of the last four years have not done enough to help home-grown small businesses. This budget also spares Rhode Island businesses the costly new taxes the governor had sought to impose.
“The General Assembly’s budget does impose greater accountability on the executive branch to curb overspending and encourage fiscal discipline while being responsive to health and safety concerns. As we continue to address the structural deficits, it is imperative that we get hiring and spending practices under control. Given recent management failures, it’s not surprising that these important measures would be met with such resistance from the governor.”