House passes $8.7B budget, next step is Senate

RI Statehouse

Debate at the Rhode Island State House went into early Friday morning, but just before 12:30 a.m., the House passed a $8.7 billion state budget by a 63-12 vote.

The budget goes to the Senate, where a vote is expected next week.

The budget cuts the corporate and estate tax, eliminates the Sakonnet River Bridge toll and covers the next 38 Studios bond payment over some lawmakers' objections.

Among the most debated items of the night was a proposal to raise the gasoline tax by a penny a gallon so the Sakonnet River Bridge toll can be eliminated and to fund road and bridge repairs. The proposal passed the House.

State Rep. John Edwards, D-Portsmouth, who long argued against the toll, said of the gas tax increase, "This is not going to be a hardship. We're talking about for my big car, $13 a year."

Critics argued against the higher tax.

"Every time we're turning around, we're constantly increasing the cost on our constituents," state Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-Coventry, said.

Also contentious was a plan from the Democratic leadership to cut the corporate tax rate from 9 percent to 7 percent.

Some Republicans, like Warwick's Joe Trillo, were the biggest cheerleaders.

"We need to change the perception of this state. The perception is we are the worst state to do business in," Trillo said.

Some businesses would have to pay in other ways, as they'd now be required to report out-of-state income, too.

The corporate tax cut passed despite critics on the left claiming the plan only helps a small number of bigger businesses. They would like to see a smaller cut more evenly spread out.

"And help those smaller businesses, the start-ups, the mom and pop businesses that could use that extra assistance," said state Rep. Maria Cimini, D-Providence.

Another tax cut that passed is a break on the estate tax, or death tax.

Opponents argue it only benefits a very few rich people.

State Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-Narragansett, said she was hoping to use the money given toward the tax break for school improvements instead.

"I prefer that we take this time and this money right now to invest it and building in our infrastructure," Tanzi said.

Supporters claim it will keep wealthy taxpayers in the state, therefore raising revenue in the long run, and any cash they say would help.

On the topic, state Rep. Antonio Giarrusso, R-East Greenwich, had the quote of the night.

"If you're going to eat an elephant, you have to start with one bite at a time. This is a step in the right direction," Giarrusso said.

Also passing in the budget: a $45 million courthouse parking garage in Providence; the creation of a task force to root out businesses that misclassify workers to avoid paying more taxes; and a measure barring cities and towns from setting their own minimum wage, like Providence wants to do.