PROVIDENCE— A proposal for public subsidies to help fund a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox was immediately introduced in the Senate Tuesday as the Rhode Island General Assembly opened its new legislative session.
The bill comes as the state grapples with overspending that caused a budget deficit of about $60 million in the fiscal year that ends in June.
Even worse is a structural deficit of more than $200 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said they're focused on closing the budget gap.
In the Senate, Democratic Senate Finance Chairman William Conley Jr. introduced the bill to help the Boston Red Sox's Triple-A affiliate. The finance committee plans to hold a hearing on the proposal Thursday, but that could shift to next week due to an expected storm.
Conley, who represents parts of Pawtucket and East Providence, said he's excited for the progress because of the project's importance for Pawtucket and for the state. The state would pay for $23 million of the $83 million stadium.
Ruggerio said he thinks the Senate will be "comfortable" with the stadium proposal. Conley also said he expects passage in the Senate, and that members of the Pawtucket delegation in the House plan to introduce a matching bill in that chamber soon.
Mattiello has said that while he believes people want the team to stay in Rhode Island, he is unsure whether they want to spend state money over 30 years to keep it here.
Within the budget, Mattiello's top priority is to continue phasing out the state's car tax. Mattiello told the House that the next budget proposal will still include $50 million to continue the phase out.
"This is going to be a challenging year," Mattiello said. "However, we will produce a balanced budget that addresses all of society's needs while continuing the car tax phase out."
Ruggerio is also looking to allow sports betting if a forthcoming ruling from the Supreme Court legalizes it and he plans to prioritize a bill to ensure gender pay equity.
"We're going to hit the ground running," he said.