As the General Assembly returns from its spring break this week, it will face some important decisions — namely, about the state budget for 2015 — in a relatively short time frame, as the legislature generally adjourns in late June.
On Monday, the Revenue & Caseload Estimating Conference was scheduled to hold the first of four public meetings to estimate the state’s general revenues and expenses for the current fiscal year and the budget year. The General Assembly and the state Budget Office will use the projections to prepare the budget. The last public hearing will be held May 9.
That is just a week before the 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge will expire. On May 16, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority has said it will start collecting 50 cents per trip from motorists with Rhode Island E-ZPass transponders and $3.75 per trip from all others.
The General Assembly approved an extension of the deadline, originally set at April 1, to May 15 as it considered legislation that would raise $1 billion over the next 10 years for transportation infrastructure projects across the state — while prohibiting a toll on the Sakonnet bridge, and without raising the toll on the Pell Bridge.
If any decision on those bills, sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, D-Middletown (S2335), and Rep. John G. “Jay” Edwards, D-Tiverton (H7432), are to be part of the budget process, another extension may be necessary.
Unfortunately, after hearings by the two chambers’ respective finance committees last month, both bills were recommended “to be held for further study.” That typically is a legislative purgatory.
Meanwhile, however, the Senate earlier this month approved legislation (S2555) to create a new specialty license plate for the Boston Bruins Foundation, the professional hockey team’s charitable organization. A portion of fees from sales would go to the foundation to support Rhode Island community groups. The legislation was referred to the House.
There’s nothing wrong with offering a Bruins’ license plate, per se — Rhode Island already offers similar plates benefiting the charitable organizations of the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox.
But we wish the legislature would spend more time and energy debating complicated but critical matters — such as transportation funding — than feel-good legislation involving vanity plates and a proposal to designate calamari the state’s official appetizer.
As the General Assembly returns this week, we hope it will act with urgency on issues involving the state’s finances and its economy. Rhode Island simply can’t afford any more delays.
This editorial appeared Monday in the Newport Daily News.