PawSox, budget woes expected to dominate legislative session
PROVIDENCE — The General Assembly is set to open its 2018 session today with a focus on closing a $260 million budget gap and on a proposal for a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox among its priorities. A look at what’s facing lawmakers:
Legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate today for the state to help pay for a new stadium for the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has been a prominent supporter of a new stadium and said in December he would like to see the deal pass because it would generate revenue for the state and rejuvenate downtown Pawtucket. But Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has been less enthusiastic, saying that while he believes people want the team to stay in Rhode Island, he is unsure whether they want to appropriate state dollars for each of the next 30 years to keep them here.
The state is grappling 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. Mattiello and Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo both said the state has to become more efficient in delivering services, such as Medicaid. There are concerns the money problems could get worse, as potential cuts to federal funding for states loom.
The phase-out of the car tax was a major sticking point between the House and Senate last year, and there are signs that could continue. The state budget was hung up in 2017 over a disagreement between the chambers over details of the phase-out. Phasing the tax out is still a top priority for Mattiello, and he has said the next budget proposal will include $50 million to continue it. Ruggerio said recently that he is concerned about future budget deficits and that “everything is on the table” as legislators look at the budget.
Fixing the state’s school buildings is a top priority for Raimondo. A school infrastructure task force has recommended the state borrow $500 million to repair schools by 2022. Ruggerio said the state should borrow the money because many schools need major repairs. Mattiello said before that’s considered, he would want to know exactly how the money would be spent, whether enough thought has been given to school consolidation and how municipalities would help with repairs.
Among the other topics that could come up this session, a special legislative commission is looking into the potential effects of legalizing recreational marijuana in Rhode Island, and Mattiello and Ruggerio agree the state should consider allowing sports betting if the Supreme Court legalizes it. Raimondo has said she is generally in favor of allowing sports betting.
Legislation is expected to be introduced in the House in January to create a commission to review Rhode Island’s policies on sexual harassment, a move that has Mattiello’s support.
Ruggerio plans to prioritize a bill to ensure gender pay equity.