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Senate Approves State Budget With Sakonnet Bridge Ownership Transfer

The Senate passed the state budget proposal, leaving in tact a plan to transfer ownership of the Sakonnet River Bridge to the Bridge and Turnpike Authority.

The Senate voted 30 to 7 on Monday to approve an $8.1 billion state spending plan, of which $3.3 billion is supported with state revenues. The budget invests in additional school funding, includes restorations to selected human services programs, such as those supporting the developmentally disabled, and protects the tourism and hospitality industry from tax increases, such as a 25-percent increase in the meals and beverage tax as proposed in the governor’s budget plan.

The amended bill does not alter the governor’s proposal to transfer control of the Sakonnet River Bridge to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RIBTA). The legislation (2012-H 7323Aaa), which , is now headed for the governor’s desk.

Reached late Monday night, Sen. Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) said he made an amendment to the budget to remove article 20, which is the East Bay Act to transfer ownership of the bridge from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to RIBTA.

"Just about every single East Bay senator supported the amendment to remove it," DiPalma said, noting it's expected Gov. Chafee will sign it. "The likelihood of tolls is something that's not sitting very well."

Read more here in our archives on the coverage of the Sakonnet River Bridge toll debate.

DiPalma noted other major sticking points to the spending plan, such as restoring last fiscal year's "deep cuts" to health and human services, and particularly, the developmentally disabled and additional funding to nursing homes.

"At the end of the day, when we see people at the State House talking about tolls on the bridge, we won't see those other people talking about the impacts of those [health and human services] cuts," he said. "A budget is a policy document. It’s a statement of priorities, both conspicuous by those that are there and inconspicuous by those that are not there."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Da Ponte (D-Dist. 14, East Providence, Pawtucket) said the budget represents very difficult choices and tries to strike a balance between making critical investments to move Rhode Island's economy forward, such as the transportation and IT initiatives, while limiting the impact the budget will have on taxpayers so they can take care of their families.

“For example, we finally got off the path of perpetual borrowing to support our transportation needs," he said in a press release. "We will not have to put any more transportation debt in front of voters again.”

The bill restores nearly $10 million in state and federal funding for programs for the developmentally disabled to restore a substantial portion of reductions in the current year. It also restores dental coverage for adults on Medicaid, and provides additional funding for nursing homes in both fiscal years.

It includes $22 million to fully fund the second year of the new state education aid formula, as well as an additional $11 million, as the governor proposed, to accelerate the implementation. The budget restores funding for the textbook reimbursement program, and restores funding for school breakfast administration. The budget restores funding for Channel 36, but with an understanding the administration will return with a proposal to begin moving the authority and its license to private funding.

Additionally, the proposal includes the governor’s plan for cities and towns to alleviate pressure related to “maintenance of effort” – so that municipalities are not penalized for resolving school budget deficits. In addition, to assist struggling municipalities with their cash flow needs, lawmakers concurred with the governor’s proposal to accelerate state aid payments to communities.

The budget focused on ensuring the Ocean State’s tourism industry was not adversely affected by proposed tax increases. The budget removes the governor’s proposal to increase the restaurant meals and beverage tax by 25 percent, and also rejects an expansion of the hotel tax to include vacation rentals. Additionally, it repeals a tax enacted last year on scenic and package tours.

The budget does subject luxury clothing costing $250 or more to the sales tax for the first time, generating a projected $5.9 million, and includes taxi and limousine rides and pet services other than veterinary costs subject to the sales tax. The General Assembly did not approve a provision to add a sales tax to car washes and warehousing, moving, and storage services.

The bill includes $209 million in bond questions that will appear on the November ballot, including a $94 million proposal for a new Veterans’ Home and assisted-living facility and rehabilitation of the current facility, and $25 million for affordable housing. Rather than asking voters to approve an additional $21.5 million in bonds to support the state’s transportation program, the budget uses Rhode Island Capital Assistance Program funding to provide the highway match and one-time funding to purchase buses through FY 2017. This final step builds on the work the General Assembly began last year, and permanently eliminates the need to issue more debt to support the state’s match for highway programs.

The bill takes bold steps to begin reforming how the state provides higher and elementary and secondary education programs and services. It establishes a new single 11-member Board of Education to better coordinate and streamline the state’s education systems to ensure the state offers a world class education system from kindergarten through lifelong learning. 

In addition to the actions taken to thwart many of the tax increases on the tourism and hospitality industry, the budget includes a number of initiatives to help invigorate the state’s economy. Authorization was given to invest $174 million at T.F. Green airport, and adds funding to complete the sale of the former I-195 highway land and to operate the I-195 Commission for the next three years. In addition, funding was included to institute electronic business permitting to make it easier to do business in Rhode Island.

Also, the bill expands the field for those who can apply to the film and television tax credit program, adding theatrical and musical touring productions mounted in the state and allowing smaller-budget documentaries to apply, but it also sunsets the tax credit in 2019. The proposal also sets a $5 million cap for each individual production (within the $15 million cap on the program overall), and adds a new rule excluding any entity from receiving the tax credit if they apply for a state loan or loan guaranty.

The budget also includes a number of reorganizations, such as creating a more effective budget structure through a new office of Management and Budget, which will assume the Budget Office duties, but include performance management and federal grant management responsibilities.

Joe Sousa. June 12, 2012 at 10:31 AM
The Chickens came home to roost . Go along to get along brought Tolls along . If we had been funding DOT. for the last couple of decades, would we even need a new bridge ? The Democrats have turned our infrastructure in to a crumbling mess as they waste tax dollars on over the top social programs ,and crooked pension deals. IT'S TIME FOR A CHANGE ! Are you mad yet or do you want a toll on every bridge in the east bay ? IC FAT
Cranky Yankee June 12, 2012 at 11:48 AM
There was a time when the Senate Majority Leader had enough political juice to block something like this. Instead, Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed, of NEWPORT, allowed this travesty to pass (or was powerless to stop it) ... to the detriment of all Newport County residents as well as businesses in her hometown of Newport. If the Newport/Aquidneck Island business community does not rally to find a pro-business candidate to run against her this November, they are as gutless as she is. Shame On You, Teresa Paiva-Weed! And, to the residents of Tiverton, Little Compton and Portsmouth ... it's time to begin thinking about acts of Civil Disobedience. Suppose 2,000 cars decide to blow thru the tolls every day without paying ... do you honestly think that the State of Rhode Island could track down 28,000 toll violators every week?? Watch how quickly the toll booth will vanish ...
Rade June 12, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Perhaps we can sell stock in the Sakonnet River Bridge to, like, movie and video game companies so that it might qualify for a $75M state guaranteed loan that should cover future repairs? Look at it this way; the bridge is tangible, the bridge is open for full inspection 24 / 7, and at least we know the bridge is not going to fold up shop after 6 months and leave the state on the hook...
Themomma June 12, 2012 at 02:43 PM
You are so right Joe. Unfortunately most voters in this area were raised Democrats and refuse to change their opinions - or the way they vote. I really hope this wakes some people up.
r June 12, 2012 at 04:45 PM
they will bill you by your plate number
r June 12, 2012 at 04:47 PM
I will simply stop shopping in portsmouth/middletown /newport/ bristol
r June 12, 2012 at 04:50 PM
E-Z pass users will be charged $0.83 per transit, while non-pass vehicles will pay $4 for each transit. Bills for the toll fees will be sent to owners of the vehicles whose license plates are photographed. .
TECH June 12, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I am a registered Democrat who will be voting Republican across the board in November's election. The ignorance in the General Assembly is astounding. Bob Watson in the house of Reps and Dawson Hodgson in the Senate represent just a few legislators who are willing to stand up against the outrageous spending and backwards economic policies. We need more like them.
Jim L June 12, 2012 at 05:46 PM
This is just an unfunded mandate on the citizens of Newport county, nothing more , nothing less, i believe before this takes place an economic study should be taken before any tolls are in place, can our reps and senators get that done?It impacks every section of life, from going to South coast hospitol to have a baby to being buried at Pocassett and your entire life inbetween, nobody upstate will be paying a penny of this, If i choose not to use the Newport Bridge i can do so, but for my wife to drive from tiverton to portsmouth by way of bristol is just plain stupid, if this live's i could see a form of civil protest, picture smear mud on your plates, get every one in newport county in on that
David June 12, 2012 at 06:31 PM
TECH I am right there with you...to an extent. I WILL NOT vote for an incumbant this fall. Period! We need fresh people every few years. They should make the GA similar to jury duty - everyone gets a turn by lottery. That way the chances of big enough groups of "special interests" being in the GA at the same time would be slim to none. Do you think the current GA will have the GUTS to put themselves on term limits or do a lottery GA? Nope. Then they wouldn't be able to get money from lobbyists and wine and dine themselves. We need a petition started ASAP.
r June 12, 2012 at 06:46 PM
also out of state transponder passes will be charge $4.00. This is why I go around to providence than use the newport bridge. I got my transponder from NY more than 10 years ago for free. To add salt to the wound RI charges $25.00 per transponder. F Y I
smart June 12, 2012 at 10:54 PM
i was born in newport, i left 5 years ago with my family, an move in to mass. all of rhode island know that the school system , insurance, rent , taxes r way out of controll. i use to drive on to the island an head over the newport bridge 23 time a month. e z pass came a long an the toll went from 1 dollar to 1.75 which i thought was a good deal, which meant around 45 dollars a month. when i would go over the bridge i use to see a lot of mass cars, an then 4 dollars a toll came, an now i dont ever use my e-z pass, remember 42 percent that support newport grand r from mass, if you listen to the people in mass they call rhode island the welfare state. mass unemployment rate is 6.3 percent, rhode island 11.7 percent. here an idea , maybe rhode island should think more about the working class an they might find that the state would have more money to invest. mass just laughs at rhode island , creat job , ya you have it cost 75 million, lol what a bunch of MOES. remember a couple of years ago the rhode island residents did not pass the casino in warwick r.i. but when rhode island starts to lose money because nobody id comming in to newport, u will see a casino in warwick an there goes newport. i hope one day i can sell my home an move back to newport. good luck
Ralph Doliber June 13, 2012 at 12:32 AM
shafted? YES! surprised? NO..

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