Chafee to unveil budget plan, address lawmakers
Gov. Lincoln Chafee will deliver the final State of the State address of his term Wednesday, shortly after releasing his proposal for the next state budget.
The Democratic governor is scheduled to address lawmakers at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the House chambers of the Statehouse. The annual speech traditionally sets out a governor's priorities for the year. This will be Chafee's fourth and final such address. He is not seeking re-election.
He'll also release his recommended state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Lawmakers typically make big changes to the document before approving it in the final days of the legislative session.
This year, state leaders are predicting they'll have to eliminate a deficit of $100 million to $150 million. While that's not as large of a gap as in previous years, it's still likely to force them to make some tough budget cuts on top of deep cuts to many programs made in the years following the economic downturn.
Chafee and top lawmakers have said they oppose a tax increase.
Chafee has said he'll look to bridge the gap while protecting investments in education, roads and bridges and funding for cities and towns.
This year's budget debate is likely to center on whether the state should repay the debts related to its failed $75 million investment in former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's now-bankrupt video game company. Last year, lawmakers approved a $2.5 million payment after a sizable minority pushed to default on the debt. This year's budget will include a $12.5 million payment.
The budget could also prove to be another battleground over bridge tolls. Last year's budget legislation authorized a 10-cent toll on the new Sakonnet River Bridge between Tiverton and Portsmouth. The toll is likely to increase unless lawmakers can find an alternative way of paying for bridge maintenance. East Bay residents say it's a burden to commuters, businesses and tourists who use the bridge.
Chafee supports paying back the 38 Studios debt and keeping the toll.
Last year's budget totaled $8.2 billion.