Senate passes $9.2B state budget, ending month-long impasse

The Rhode Island Senate passed the $9.2 billion state budget on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, ending an impasse with the House of Representatives that lasted over a month. (WJAR)

The Rhode Island Senate passed the $9.2 billion state budget on Thursday, ending an impasse with the House of Representatives that lasted over a month.

Rhode Island has been operating without a new budget since July 1. The stalemate caused uncertainty in local governments as the state government operated at last year's lower spending levels.

The Senate reconsidered the budget Thursday that had already passed the House and approved it by a vote4 of 30-5, sending it immediately to Gov. Gina Raimondo, who promptly signed it.

The budget was hung up over a disagreement between the chambers over details of phasing out the car tax. The Senate passed a budget amendment to block further increases in reimbursement to towns for lost car tax revenue if state revenue drops, which it withdrew on Thursday.

Legislative leaders struck a deal to consider car tax legislation separately to monitor the impact of the phase-out. The Senate approved that legislation Thursday. The House is expected to consider it in September.

Taxpayers might soon see changes in their car tax bills.

Providence, for example, already sent out car tax bills at the new lower rate.

But many other taxpayers will finally get their bills -- and a break.

"Tax relief is always good for everybody," Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian told NBC 10 News.

Avedisian's city is among those that held off on sending out car tax bills until the budget impasse passed. And he's glad he did.

"As long as the cities and towns aren't harmed, we think it's a wonderful idea," the mayor said. "Move forward. And I don't think anyone enjoys paying car taxes."

Meanwhile, Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said he wanted to thank Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for coming to a middle ground in terms of the budget. He apologized if municipalities were inconvenienced, but said the phase-out was a compelling issue.

"I'm proud of how the Senate handled it and I'm looking forward to moving on," Ruggerio said.

Sen. Ryan William Pearson, a Cumberland Democrat, said he's still not sure how the state will come up with more than $220 million annually to reimburse municipalities when the phase-out is fully implemented in 2024. Pearson also praised investments in economic development and said that while it's not a perfect budget, "We can no longer hold our state hostage." Senate Republicans voted against the budget.

Both chambers plan to reconvene in September to take up other pieces of legislation that did not get addressed before the end of the session.

Dozens of bills were caught in a legislative limbo amid the dispute, including a proposal to mandate paid time off for workers who call in sick and a bill that would require anyone on a domestic protective order issued by a court to surrender guns. Both of those bills are a priority for legislative leaders.

(NBC 10 News contributed to this report.)

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